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Posts Tagged ‘okeducationtruths’

Five years to a modicum of renown

April 24, 2017 2 comments

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today marks five years that I’ve been writing this blog. To commemorate the accomplishment my endurance, I thought I’d make a list of the top five things that have improved for Oklahoma schools during this time.

5 gif

Then I decided not to; I’m not sure I could list five.

Funding has fallen to the point that school districts are decreasing the number of days of attendance. We still have A-F Report Cards, though we hope they will be kinder and gentler (and less tied to poverty) when we have new tests. We still have our annual fight with voucher supporters who call us names and block us from public venues. And we still have legislators thick-skinned enough to run for election but so thin-skinned* that they can’t bear to hear of our frustration. Worse yet, we’ve continued to send many of them back to the Capitol so they can try to replace real science with a Folger’s substitute.

second cup at home.gif

What has changed is that more people are sharing their experiences directly with policy makers. Teachers, parents, and students all have given their voices to the cause. What has this budget cut meant? How has that policy change impacted school climate?

Thanks to all of us, the people we elect have better understanding of the struggle than ever before. The result is that our state leaders now tweet pictures doing what educators have been doing for decades – catching up on work on a Sunday evening.

I don’t doubt that their work is hard. After five years, though, I’m too tired to hope for a better plan outcome right now. So instead of the post I had intended to write, here are some stats on my blog that probably interest only me.

796,846 total page views
10,970 views in one day
2,658 comments

Total stats

That’s an average of about 13,000 page views per month. As the bar chart above shows, some months have much higher traffic than others. Here’s a better illustration.

month by month stats.png

In June of 2014, the blog had over 68,000 page views. Something about a dentist and a primary election may have helped there. Hard to say.

I also enjoy responding to the comments I receive – the ones I allow to post anyway. Believe it or not, I have deleted a few nasty attacks from time to time. Let’s face it – not all of the people who follow and read this blog are fans, of me or of public education.

5897 Twitter followers
4265 Facebook likes
606 email recipients
115 WordPress followers

Twitter Blog Count
FB Blog Count

Followers

In spite of the modicum of renown my friends at the OCPA say I’ve earned as a blogger, I can’t tell you that what I write moves the needle. I don’t wake up and see how much better it is. I’ve made great friends in advocacy. I frequently discuss ideas with other writers, many of whom have better blogs and more readers.

I’ve learned some pleasant (and unpleasant) things about myself. I’ve even advanced in my career during this time. Because of that, I’m more focused day-to-day on what I can do for the students in Mid-Del than for the students in Oklahoma. I have to be.

And I still need a constructive hobby that isn’t directly tied to my career.records in the rectangle.gif

I don’t know where we go from here. Maybe our leaders really will find a way to help schools. Never say never, right?

For those of you who stop by and read, I can’t thank you enough. For those of you who fight the fight, I hope you’ll keep going. The job is never done.


*Not you. Definitely not you. I’m obviously referring to somebody else.

4 Things for 4 Years

April 26, 2016 3 comments

Yesterday marked the four year anniversary of my first blog post.

imageToday, I’ll give you a double dose of Two Things for Tuesday to celebrate four years. First, here are some cool stats:

  • This is my 633rd post.
  • This blog has been viewed over 683,000 times.
  • In June 2014, the blog had 68,688 page views, mostly fueled by the ouster of Janet Barresi.
  • The last two months have had the most traffic since then. I guess #oklaed is a little worked up.
  • I didn’t even write the most popular post on the blog.

Without further ado, here are four thoughts on blogging, and social media activism in general:

1. I have met some incredible people who’ve left indelible marks on my life. Some, still, I only know through their words and our online interactions. Many though, I’ve had the pleasure to meet in real life. We laugh. We riff. We pontificate. We commiserate. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

2. I still find it strange when people know who I am. I’m just a guy – a really opinionated guy.


3. There are more data nerds in Oklahoma than I ever would have suspected. My first post was heavy on data. Many others have been too. People seem to like that. How do I know? Numbers – of course.

4. There’s still so much work to do. We still have End-of-Instruction tests tied to graduation. We still have a 3rd grade reading test tied to promotion. We still have colossally under-funded schools. Our state government is broken. And it’s broke. Activism by educators is at one of its highest levels ever. We can’t be complacent.

There’s a reason we have 400 people running for public office in Oklahoma this year. We basically have a choice: people who favor oligarchy or people who favor public education, for the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

More than anything, thanks for reading my blog.

 

 

School District Size; School District Spending

September 23, 2015 1 comment

I’m used to reading ill-informed attacks on school funding. They come from newspapers. They come from think tanks. They come from academic-type folks. Today’s editorial in the Oklahoman from Ph.D. economist Byron Schlomach with the 1889 Institute hits the myth trifecta.

Among his claims:

  • The 300 smallest school districts in Oklahoma account for less than 13% of all public education expenditures.
  • The 12 largest school districts in the state account for 40% of all public education expenditures.
  • The 12 spend about $500 more per pupil than the 300.
  • Oklahoma districts overall spend more than $10,000 per pupil.
  • The state makes it hard to find information about school spending.

I’ll start with the last claim. It’s not that hard to get data on school districts and spending or really anything else. Just contact the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability and ask for their most recent database. This one happens to be for the 2013-14 school year. They’ll send you data going back to 1997 if you ask.

I’m against using geographic or other differences to pit school districts against each other. On the other hand, I’m superintendent of one of those 12 mega-districts that Schlomach thinks should be torn asunder. Using the 2013-14 database, I ran a few numbers on the whole state, the 12 largest districts, and the 300 smallest ones.

Variable 12 Largest 300 Smallest All Districts
Enrollment 249,916 83,087 668,054
Economically Disadvantaged Students 157,461 56,260 413,578
Special Education Students 34,463 15,626 101, 090
ELL Students 31,536 1,885 42,271

The 12 largest districts in the state actually educate 37% of the state’s students. The 300 smallest districts educate about 12% of the state’s students. The numbers of economically disadvantaged and special education students follow within a couple of percentage points. The ELL population heavily leans towards the biggest districts; these 12 have 67% of all the state’s ELL students. Hold that thought.

Variable 12 Largest 300 Smallest All Districts
Total Spending 1.95 billion 777 million 5.26 billion
Local Funding 47% 43% 10%
State Funding 35% 52% 14%
Federal Funding 40% 48% 12%

The 12 largest districts spend a lot of money. According to these figures, during the 2013-14 school year, they accounted for 37% of all school spending in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the 300 smallest districts accounted for about 15% of all spending. This sounds about right. It’s pretty close to the enrollment percentages too.

The Oklahoma City and Tulsa districts have a number of factors that complicate their districts, but overall, this group has the ability to provide broader, unduplicated services in their larger settings. Small districts can’t be as efficient. It’s a fact. It’s just not a clarion call for consolidation. Remember, I’ve worked in rural schools too. I see their value.

The other issue with his research is the $10,000 amount. He’s including bond debt – twice. That’s what happens when you count debt repayment and the sinking fund separately. They’re the same thing. He’s also counting activity funds. Yes, that volleyball cookie dough fundraiser is counted as revenue and expenditures in his methodology. Technically, it is money in and money out, but it is not tied to the direct instruction or operation of the school district.

The problem with bond debt is that it’s very localized and quite varied. More than 130 districts have no debt repayment listed. That means either their patrons haven’t passed a bond recently or that they just don’t have the assessed property valuation to make a bond issue worth it.

Whether you’re one of the 12…

Or one of the 300…

300 movie

…one thing is certain. State aid is still lower than it was in 2009 – to the tune of about $149 per pupil. The districts that have the bond indebtedness have moved more instructional and operational costs into here than ever before. This stymies capital improvement, such as modernizing heat and air systems for aging schools.

This is nothing but a distraction from the fact that schools still teach more students under more mandates and with fewer teachers and less funding than they did 6 years ago.

I’m no economist. I’m just an administrator who wrote his dissertation over Oklahoma school district expenditures, with a focus on economies of scale and diseconomies of scale. If you were one of the 12 people who read it, you would’ve been dazzled with passages such as this:

Ok, none of it was really exciting. It’s a dissertation.

I also did a little research on the group Dr. Schlomach represents, the 1889 Institute. According to their website:

The 1889 Institute is an independent non-profit 501c3 education and research organization that analyzes and develops state public policies for Oklahoma based on principles of limited and responsible government, free enterprise, and a robust civil society. We disseminate analysis and recommendations to both public policy makers and the general public. Our focus is on education, healthcare, welfare, economic liberty, and state finance.

The 1889 Institute does not engage in policy advocacy but does provide policy expertise to public policy makers and advocacy groups. The Institute does not have members or engage in grassroots organizational activities.

Funny, his editorial sounds like policy advocacy to me. Maybe I’m just reading this part wrong:

Diseconomies happen when enterprises get so large that it is impossible to manage them well. The state’s 12 biggest districts seem to have entered diseconomies territory. Instead of a big effort to consolidate our smaller school districts, let’s work to split up some of our largest.

Sure, there’s no real plan there. Sure, the facts are quite specious. Still, he’s taking a position.

Since they’re a non-profit, I decided to look up their funding sources on GuideStar. What I found is that this organization formed in 2014. Since they’re that new, there’s no 990 tax form on their website as of yet. I can make some guesses, based on the people who were excitedly retweeting the article today. That would be speculation, however. I’ll stick to facts I actually know.*


*On the other hand, since the 1889 Institute shares the same physical address as a prominent right-wing Oklahoma non-profit think tank, maybe I wouldn’t be speculating all that much.

mic drop

I am okeducationtruths

January 18, 2015 56 comments

Hi! My name is Rick Cobb. I am the author of okeducationtruths.

In this post, I’m going to write about myself. You have no idea how uncomfortable that makes me. For the most part, I won’t resort to humorous images, classic rock, or references to Shawshank. I’ll just try to be as real as possible.

My first teaching job was in Muskogee in 1993. As my winding career path has led me to the position of Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in Moore, I had only ever worked under one state superintendent – Sandy Garrett – until 2011. During Janet Barresi’s campaign against Sen. Susan Paddack in 2010, she had said several caustic things about teachers and about schools, but you never really know how campaigning will translate to leading. I voted for Paddack, but I was willing to give Barresi a chance. Elections have consequences, after all.

Then that crazy first State Board of Education meeting happened. Barresi wanted her own people, and she didn’t care how they were paid. She fired many great educators with a long history of helping schools help kids. I resigned myself to waiting out her four-year term in silence.

Obviously that didn’t last. Below, I attempt to capture the journey that led to me being an outspoken blogger, and eventually more vocal in real life.

Why did I start blogging?

Three events during Barresi’s first 15 months really accelerated my frustration.

  1. Serving on the ESEA waiver committee – In the fall of 2011, I was invited to serve on one of three subcommittees at the SDE to help draft Oklahoma’s waiver request. By the first break, many of us had come to realize that we were just there as window dressing. The essence of the waiver had already been written, with greater input from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence than any of us.
  2. Nobody to listen to the A-F public comments – In March of 2012, when the rules for the A-F Report Cards were still in draft form, the SDE held a forum for public comments. Apparently, attending this forum was not a priority for Barresi, her top staff, or the state board members.
  3. Observations about the reward schools – The next month, I had the privilege of attending a ceremony at the SDE to receive certificates for the schools in my district that were deemed Reward Schools by the SDE. We have more than 30 campuses in Moore. Of these, 17 have a Title I program. Eight of our nine Reward Schools were not. While all of these schools have staff that work hard, so do our schools that didn’t make the list. I inquired about the criteria, but I couldn’t get any answers. I got a complete list of the schools, though, and I started doing some research. There was a strong correlation to free/reduced lunch percentages. The system artificially creates winners and losers. In the process, it demeans both groups. We have a lot to be proud of in Moore – more than just those nine schools.

I wish I could find the picture of Barresi, SBE member Baxter, and me posing with those nine certificates. It would have been a great image to include here. After the SBE meeting in which he called for her resignation and she called him a name, that picture immediately popped into my head. Unfortunately, it was probably lost in one of the moves our Administrative Service Center has had to make in the last couple of years. No, I never framed it.

Why did I write anonymously?

Fourth Generation Teacher, Claudia Swisher, is a long-time family friend. Her son and I graduated from high school together. She drove our basketball carpool in middle school. After the Reward School ceremony, I put some numbers and language together and sent her an unsolicited guest post for her blog. I emailed her the draft of my first blog post on April 17, 2012. We tried, but we couldn’t make it work with all the tables I had made. After some consideration, I started okeducationtruths eight days later.

I didn’t want to put my name to the blog for several reasons. I didn’t want the attention on me or my school district. I didn’t want the principals, teachers, parents, and students in Moore to think that I didn’t appreciate the schools that were rewarded. My point, which I was afraid might get lost, was that we have great schools NOT being rewarded – including two Title I schools that had recently been named Blue Ribbon Schools by the USDE.

I don’t know how I came up with the title, or the motto, when the record on public education in Oklahoma needs to be set straight. I guess they’ve worked pretty well, though.

As the number of readers grew, I did occasionally receive interview requests and invitations to speak at events. I seriously considered these. However, I decided that what made this blog work was the ideas – not the personality.

I’ve had many people send me information that has helped me shed light on public education issues that otherwise would not receive attention. I can’t count them, and I’ll never name them. Their anonymity is just as valuable as mine has been.

Who knew, and when?

Other than Claudia, my wife was the only person I told right from the beginning. My only promise to her, as far as the blog was concerned, was that I would never publish anything using Comic Sans.

Until the last few months, I hadn’t even told anybody in Moore. Until the last few days, I hadn’t even told my mom, who was a 29 year special education teacher.

Over the last three years, a few people have figured it out, either through mistakes I’ve made (like tweeting from the wrong account), or just similarities between things I say publicly and the content of this blog. I’ve even had people let me know they had figured it out but that they wouldn’t tell. I assume more people know than I realize. The discretion of those in the know has impressed me. I’m grateful beyond words.

I will mention, however, how I revealed my identity to fellow blogger Rob Miller. (This is almost identical to how he told it last night on A View From the Edge, which was funny to me because I already had this section written.) I wanted to introduce myself to him at the March rally at the Capitol. There were so many people, that we couldn’t connect. I told Rob that if I saw him, I would identify myself with a gesture (yes, it’s the same image he used). Since The Sting is one of my all-time favorite movies, I chose this:

Newman Nose

In early June, I saw Rob in Norman at a conference and made the gesture and introduced myself. Until then, he didn’t know who I was. He told me he had suspected, based on some of my comments under my real life Twitter handle (@grendelrick). Since then, we have shared a number of ideas.

Did I ever consider quitting?

There have been a number of times I wanted to quit. One of the biggest reasons is time. Almost all of the countdown from last June (20 reasons to vote for anyone other than Barresi) was written over coffee and cereal. I find writing both cathartic and exhausting. After June, I was exhausted. That’s part of the reason I haven’t written as frequently since then.

From the beginning, I never planned on being a blogger. I wanted to write one piece, present it as something of a white paper to Claudia for her blog, and go back to my under-the-radar life. I was in the middle of writing my dissertation, and I needed to focus on that. I did find that writing the blog helped me get into a zone and finish my dissertation, though. So that was a nice thing. I successfully defended in March 2013 and figured I would write more. Two months later, everything changed.

Those who personally know me understand why I don’t like to talk about the tornado. For a while after the storm, I figured the blog really didn’t matter. Eventually, it was one of the things that helped me heal. I have rarely mentioned the storm or our district’s recovery on okeducationtruths because I don’t feel like that’s my story to tell. It’s a shared experience among all of us who’ve been through it. I decided this really wasn’t the place to open a window into the district.

The next month, when Barresi sent every Moore Public Schools employee an email – a really badly written email – explaining state aid, I decided not to write about it. Then I received several copies of it in my blog email account. I decided I should share it. Then last June, when Barresi compared recovering from the tornado to the state losing CCSS, I lost it. Rob let me know he’d be writing about it, which gave me some time to calm down before I started. When our superintendent, Dr. Robert Romines, commented on Rob’s blog, I was proud of both of them. I don’t speak for the district, especially when it comes to the tornado.

There have been many times I just haven’t felt like blogging. I’m like each of you with jobs and families. Sometimes, other things are more important than what I do Because of this, I’ve probably missed a few news cycles. When I do, it’s really no big deal. There are always other bloggers out there to catch things I miss. When I take little breaks, I miss it for a few days, then not at all. So far, something has always brought me back.

Has blogging interfered with my job?

No, it hasn’t. Barresi’s SDE has interfered with my job, but blogging has not. If anything, it has helped me do my job better by broadening my professional learning network.

As Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in Moore, I wear many hats. I supervise a talented group of curriculum specialists. I serve on the district’s Professional Development Committee. I directly manage the Title II program and indirectly supervise the Title I program. With so many responsibilities that were new to me when I came to the district in 2008, I came to find value in several groups that met at the SDE. One of these was the School Improvement Advisory Council.

For years, the SDE had hosted SIAC once a month. Most who attended were in similar positions in other districts around the state. Individuals from higher education and career tech also attended. We discussed initiatives in our own district and legislative/policy issues. At some point during Barresi’s first year, those meetings stopped. A group of nearby schools formed the Metro Teaching and Learning (MT&L) consortium in its place. This is still the group I call when I have questions or ideas that need vetting.

In fact, this group gave me much of the language I needed when I wrote about A-F, RSA, and countless other issues. On occasion, they would even wonder openly about the identity of okeducationtruths. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or uncomfortable. Honestly, given the early content, it could’ve been any of us.

Early on, I decided that if I said something at work, I wouldn’t use it on the blog. I might write about the same issue, but I wouldn’t use the same language. My commitment to the people who pay my salary is greater than my commitment to blogging.

This stance changed last June. Principals and teachers in our district were upset about the irregularities with the state writing tests. We had too many examples where we disagreed with the score to just sit idly by. The MT&L consortium had an impromptu meeting at the CCOSA conference, and we decided somebody should speak at the next State Board of Education meeting. My superintendent was fine with me speaking, so I did. Below is a picture of me addressing the SBE two days after Hofmeister won the primary.

Speaking at SBE

What I said that day was the same message I had on the blog. It was the same thing I was saying to the people at work. I trust our students and teachers more than I trust the testing company. In August, when the SDE threw out the writing tests, it was for reasons similar to what I had said in front of the SBE in June. Much of the language came from the MT&L consortium. More came from people in Moore. Some even came from stories my readers were sending me and details posted to other blogs. It showed me how interconnected we all really are.

What are some other awkward moments I have had as a blogger?

One of the first worlds colliding moments I ever had was when a co-worker sent me my blog via email. I think I just replied that it was really interesting. Then in August 2012 – four months after I started blogging – I was sitting at a funeral in Norman when Superintendent Barresi sat down right beside me. I didn’t introduce myself.

By the first Vision 2020 conference, I began to realize that I was making an impact. I overheard SDE employees talking about the blog during one of the general sessions. I also began hearing about the blog from several of my colleagues around the state. Soon, I would see long-time friends posting my blog to Facebook. Social media is the lifeline of this blog, and learning how to use it effectively has been a trial-and-error process. I must be doing something right. Thousands follow the blog’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, and that still blows my mind.

I have heard me quoted back to me now more times than I can count. It’s probably the highest form of flattery I can imagine.

What do I think the blog has done well?

Rob has told me that he owes his blog to me having mine. Similarly, I owe mine to Claudia writing hers.

This blog has helped me find my professional (and occasionally unprofessional) voice. It has rekindled my love of writing – something graduate school had killed. When I’m firing on all cylinders, I think I effectively articulate common frustrations. Also, since I used to work at the Office of Accountability (now the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability), I am fairly familiar with some of the more useful sources of data concerning education. I think I do a pretty good job of putting those numbers in perspective for others.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve united the #oklaed community, but I have started a lot of important conversations. I’ve been in the middle of some pretty nasty spats too. I’ve enjoyed watching more and more educators start writing themselves. I think they look at mine and think blogging is so easy even a caveman can do it!

Collectively, we have turned back a wave of people who seek to destroy our schools. Most Oklahomans support public education. Those who don’t have to manufacture a crisis to chip away at us. I think people understand this better than they did before I started writing.

Do I have any regrets?

I have many.

My best posts are well-researched, but some miss the mark. Occasionally, I have taken shots at some of Barresi’s hires, intending to focus on the position and process rather than the person. I have not always effectively made that distinction. One such employee began an email conversation with me last year and explained that to me. It made me feel as if I had become the bully. While I regret nothing I have written about Barresi, I wish I had been more matter-of-fact in discussing some of the SDE employees. None Few of them have ever done anything to me personally.

I also hate that my blog became so focused on Barresi, but I don’t know how I could have avoided that. She is the embodiment of the false narrative that Public Education is failing. For four years, she was Oklahoma’s messenger. I have written about the Oklahoman and it’s obsession with preserving her legacy. I have written about other policy-makers. I have even written about the national parallels to what we’re dealing with here. Mostly, I have written about Barresi, though.

Smaller things bother me too.

For example, I had several good sources when I wrote in the fall that Barresi’s chief-of-staff Joel Robison had resigned. That turned out not to be true. I respect journalists too much to think that I am one. Someone with training probably would have avoided that mistake. He’s gone now, but I was wrong at the time.

Those aren’t the only regrets, but it’s a decent sample.

Why reveal my identity now?

Honestly, I wanted to open when I spoke to the SBE in June with the same thing I have at the top of this post. I would have loved seeing their reactions. For that matter, I would love seeing the look on many of your faces right now. That would have made everything I said after that pointless though. I never wanted the blog to be about me. It has been a great place to share and discuss ideas.

At the same time, I really didn’t want to draw the SDE’s attention to my employer. After everything else, we really didn’t need that extra hassle. We do our jobs and serve our community. We follow the rules. Nonetheless, with Barresi’s reputation as a vindictive leader, I didn’t want to invite her wrath. Ask Rob Miller. Ask any number of employees at the SDE who feel fortunate to still have their jobs. This was a concern of mine until noon on Monday.

Now that I’m not writing as much and that I don’t worry about retribution, I don’t see the point of staying anonymous. I didn’t want to take any of the attention away from Superintendent Hofmeister this week, so I waited. She was gracious at her reception at the SDE, and she was on point when speaking at the OASA Legislative Conference on Wednesday. On Thursday, coincidentally, she was in Moore to speak to a group of stakeholders from around the state who had come together to discuss high-stakes testing. Revealing my identity before that meeting didn’t seem right either.

Will I continue writing?

Yes!

What I write isn’t that different than what I say or do publicly. I don’t have a separate set of opinions or values for the two separate worlds. I also don’t claim to speak for anyone else.

Of everything I’ve ever written, my favorite post was probably I am a Teacher; I Add Value. I wrote that two years ago as Oklahoma was just starting to try to figure out how to measure a teacher’s contribution to each child’s education. I don’t believe you have to measure everything to show that it matters. I also don’t believe you can ever assign a number to a teacher’s effectiveness. I will say that to anyone, anywhere, anytime. In case you’ve missed it, some of the administrators in our district have done a great job of explaining what’s wrong with the quantitative portion of the TLE.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the content or the video, which just shows that I don’t have to be the one speaking all the time in order for the message to be heard. Our state leaders are listening – to all of us. I’m no more insightful than anyone else. I just took the time to say what I was thinking.

If you think you can make a difference, start your own blog. Just buckle up first. It’s quite a ride.

Reason #12 to Pick a New State Superintendent: Holding Back State Aid

I know you’ve been expecting at least one post a day from me over the last couple of weeks. Maybe today the things that are necessary won’t get in the way of the things that provide release. Two-for-Tuesdays, right?

Maybe I didn’t show up yesterday because I thought there was a candidate debate and I was the incumbent! Wait, that’s not me. I’m thinking of someone else. In case you were wondering whether Dr. Barresi was still making public appearances, I assure you she is. In fact, here she is Thursday in Bartlesville at an event sponsored by ConocoPhillips.

Barresi Campaign 1 Barresi Campaign 2

To be fair, the guy in the second picture looks vaguely like fellow MIA Republican candidate Brian Kelly. Maybe she was debating him.

Janet Barresi, this spot in our countdown is for you. Since you never show up at debates anymore, we’ll make it our Long Distance Dedication. First, a reminder of the last few memories we’ve painfully relived.

#16 – Questionable Personnel Decisions

#15 – Pulling out of PARCC

#14 – Value-added Measurements

#13 – Being Damned

#12 – Holding Back State Aid

While Rob Miller has been weaving through the tangled financial web of the SDE for the last few days, I have been wondering how things would have been different in this state if Janet Barresi trusted schools. She spends a lot of money on out-of-state firms to help us understand how to teach to Oklahoma values. She has increased personnel spending at the SDE (in spite of what her campaign ads say), while hiring (in many cases) inexperienced policy people to do a job that had previously been done well by a veteran educator. She even let a guy work via Skype for a few weeks and make more money than a beginning teacher.

As I mentioned when discussing the #17 reason last week, the SDE made the inexplicable decision in July 2012 to withhold more than twice the mandated amount of funding from school districts at the beginning of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The SDE has made the conscious decision to withhold a greater portion of state aid for schools. As the Tulsa World explains, “the education department withheld nearly $64 million, or 3.52 percent, of all state aid, compared to the $41 million, or 2.26 percent it kept in reserve at the beginning of 2011-12.” The article is a great read, with typical flimsy excuses from SDE staff, comments from Tulsa-area administrators about the real impact of this decision, and even a caustic remark from a legislator who is frustrated with all of this.

The World goes on to discuss the fact that all the large districts in the Tulsa area will receive less aid than last year. In short, the SDE tells districts not to worry – the money will come at the mid-term adjustment. In the meantime, it would be irresponsible for districts to set staffing levels based on what might happen in December. Districts that are growing at a fast pace will be teaching more students with less money. All of this occurs in the backdrop of numerous sea-change reforms to public education, all of which are costing school districts tremendous amounts of money.

This arrogant cash grab was made either in ignorance of the fact or with full knowledge of the fact that school districts need to make as many of their personnel decisions before the first day of school as possible. Holding out money until December forces schools to under-hire for programs such as tutoring. When they finally got the remainder of their allocation, it was less than expected.

This came at a time when Barresi was actively trying to increase charter school and virtual school enrollment – at the expense of your neighborhood schools. At the same time, districts were being forced to wait half a year on having their federal claims reimbursed by the SDE. In some cases, they were out millions.

Schools have to function with the funds they have available. During this particular school year, the SDE – partly by design, partly by incompetence – made sure those funds were low. If this really had been a good idea (doubling the amount of State Aid held back), the SDE would have done it twice.

I half-heartedly laugh now, thinking of all the places where the SDE has thrown the state’s money during the last 42 months. REAC3H (network and coaches) – gone! Common Core – gone! Measured Progress – gone! CTB – oh wait, they seem to have more lives than a cat! As Rob points out, we have hired all kinds of people from out of state to develop a statistical model for good instruction (which anyone will tell you is fool’s gold). Why couldn’t we hire our own university researchers to do that? It’s also a wasted opportunity to build on the relationship between Common Ed and Higher Ed in this state.

With that last paragraph, I’ve inadvertently previewed the next two spots on the countdown.

11 Evolution of the REAC3H Network

10 Ignoring the OU/OSU Researchers

If you need me today, I’ll be the one practicing my “air quotes.”

Okeducationtruths Turns Two!

April 25, 2014 7 comments

On April 25, 2012, when I made my first post on this blog, I had no idea that I’d find this to be such an effective form of catharsis. I had no idea I’d get to be a part of so many compelling conversations about public education. Here are a few numbers that blow my mind:

  • This is my 413th post.
  • 2,029 people follow the blog’s Twitter account.
  • 1,920 people follow the blog’s Facebook page.
  • 294 people receive each new post in their email.
  • 44 WordPress followers receive each new post in their WP Reader.
  • 55 posts have more than 1,000 page views on the WordPress site.
  • One of the most important posts, Education Blogs I Follow, has more than 1,500 page views.
  • Since day one, the blog has received more than 286,000 total page views.
  • Zero personal gain for me.

When I made the first post, I had no plan for the second. The first time I had something get 50 page views, I thought this blog was big time. Now, I have a different idea of what constitutes success. As with measuring student achievement, it’s more than numbers.

Many of the other bloggers who write about education in Oklahoma have told me they do what they do because of me. That’s probably what makes me proudest as a blogger. I certainly am a product of my influences, and if this little adventure helps others find their voice, I’m more than happy for them – and for all of us. Collectively, we’ve raised awareness to educators, parents, and community members about the policy disasters that plague us. Just last night, we (at least temporarily) stopped the expansion of charter schools to the entire state.

The one little thing that still causes some readers to take this blog with a grain of salt is my anonymity. In fact, back in February when I wrote to all the members of the House and Senate education committees in my blogger persona, I had a total of four responses. One of them was quite pointed:

I appreciate the reply. However, you’re anonymity causes me grave concern… …I have read many of your posts and found some of them to be very a chat [sic] and some to be remarkably in error.

I’m not sure which posts he thought were in error. Maybe this legislator meant that I don’t hold to his opinions and allegiances. And he’s not my only detractor. I typically let the comments people make to the blog stand on their own, even when they’re critical of me. I have deleted a few really inflammatory ones, and I’ll continue to do that. My blog, my rules. And yes, I still plan to write anonymously. I enjoy the separation of my professional self and my activist voice. There may be a time when that changes, but it’s not coming soon.

To this point, I’ve been learning to crawl, walk, and talk. I’m sure it’s been adorable to watch. Now that I’m entering my terrible twos – and since it’s an election year – don’t expect me to behave any better. As hard as we’ve fought, the legislature is still intent of cutting taxes and teeters weekly with outsourcing control of our schools to privateers. The governor has shown no interest in funding education adequately. Barresi still holds office. We have much left to work for.

As always, I appreciate you coming by and checking this site out. I hope you’ll be back soon. And if you haven’t yet, tell your friends to check out this and other great blogs in this state. Too many people care about public education and the schools in their communities, and we need all hands on deck.

The Real Meaning of “For the Kids”

Every education discussion about policy, reform, funding, or anything else eventually dissolves into both sides saying some version of “It’s for the kids.” In times such as these, we find out what it really means. Story after story of teachers protecting children with their own body in Moore yesterday reminds us that the very essence of education is ensuring that tomorrow is better than today.

After this teacher used her own frame as a shield over children, she explained herself to CNN by saying, “It’s just our job.”

Remember that our classrooms are full of potential heroes who hope they never get that chance.

Pray. Hope. Cry. Collapse. Wish. Help. Do what you need to do. For the kids, their teachers, their families, and their community.

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