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Countdown: 8 Days

March 25, 2018 Comments off

Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Tomorrow, all across Oklahoma, we will have school. Buses will drive through neighborhoods and collect children. Cafeterias will prepare and serve breakfasts and lunches. Teachers will teach. Nurses will treat scrapes. Secretaries will answer parents’ questions.

Hopefully, a week from tomorrow, the same thing will happen.

I copied the tweet at the top of this post because I like literature. For that matter, I also like history. Oh, and I like patterns. Events that repeat themselves, even in unfamiliar iterations, string together all of human existence.

Grapes of Wrath

It’s pretty easy to see why the quote works as a proxy for the current condition of public schools in Oklahoma. Many of the young people we educate in our public schools and train to become teachers in our universities know that leaving the state to start a teaching career makes much more sense than staying here. Over 35 years, if teachers in Texas make $20,000 more than teachers in Oklahoma…well, do the math.

When I started writing this, I googled the quote at the top for accuracy. Once I verified it, the first article in my search caught my attention. It was a 1990 New York Times piece titled, “Why Steinbeck’s Okies Speak to Us Today.” I clicked on it, expecting to find an article about the last mass teacher walkout, which was also in 1990.

Times.png

Instead, the article is a riveting analysis of the novel. Here’s an excerpt:

The true lesson of the times, he now suggested, was the importance of community – not community defined in traditional, geographical terms; not the community of a neighborhood, or a town, or a region; but a community of the human spirit, for which the only real model was the family.

Obviously, this post – just like every conversation I’ve had with anyone over the last couple of weeks – is about the threat promise of teachers walking off the job April 2nd if the Legislature doesn’t find a way to fund raises for teachers and support staff, along with operational costs. It’s a simple request with a nine-digit price tag – a HIGH nine-digit price tag.

The need requires little explanation at this point. Just in case you need a refresher, though, watch this Moore High School student tell us what we need to hear:

I’m losing count of the articulate, passionate Facebook posts I’ve seen from teachers about this current situation – not to mention posts from politicians expressing frustration over the lack of movement in the Legislature.

I’ve seen several plans, but no bills. We’ll know something is happening when we see bills. After the failure of two separate revenue plans in the two extraordinary sessions the governor has called, I don’t think we’ll see a bill until the House leadership thinks they have the votes to pass it.

From what I’ve been told, the Legislature has three days to avoid the teacher walkout. Someone needs to author a bill. It needs to pass the House and then the Senate. That’s the short version; everything our government does is always a little more complicated than that.

With that, I’ll close with another quote from the book:

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

We’re a week away, stronger, resolved, and hopefully relentless.

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On the Turning Away

February 6, 2016 2 comments

Fridays are typically fun times for catching up on Twitter. Take yesterday, for example. While waiting for an appointment, I came across this exchange between Tyler Bridges and Brent Bushey (and eventually Scott Haselwood and me):

On the Turning Away isn’t my favorite Pink Floyd song; it’s my favorite song that Pink Floyd released during my senior year of high school, though. And the lyrics remind me of how our state leaders have impacted public education in Oklahoma during the last several years.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away

Since 2008, Oklahoma has cut state funding for public education by more than any other state. My god, I don’t know how many times we have to repeat this. All I know is that we will soon get to update our bar charts. As our state treasurer reports, our  revenue situation is just getting worse.

GRC fuuuuuddddggggeeee.png

Oil and gas production is down. This leads to jobs being cut. This leads to people not being able to shop. This leads to another declaration of revenue failure in the coming months.

Whatever your school district has told you they’ve been cut in funds this year by the state, prepare for it to get worse. Much worse.

I’m angry. Yes, I get that oil producing countries in far-off parts of the world have created the market glut that has impacted our economy.

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What I don’t get is where the influx of money was just a few years ago. Right now, when we’re hurting, oil is trading for $30.89 a barrel. In June 2014 – merely 20 months ago – it was at $105.22. In April 2011, it was at $115.76.

Did our state leaders restore funding for education and other core state services during that time? Of course not. They cut taxes on corporations and the rich. The middle class really hasn’t felt that. Again, how many times do we need to repeat that before people understand it?

More Pink Floyd:

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

As a superintendent who recently conducted a district climate survey (with 400 responses and counting), I can tell you that I hear the calls for smaller class sizes and larger salaries. These are things I want to see happen. When our district faces cuts of millions of dollars next year, though I don’t see that it’s possible. That’s why we need more patron involvement.

It can’t just be educators beating down the doors of our elected leaders. We need parents and community members saying that enough is enough! And before any smart-aleck representative asks back, “How much is enough?” I’ll just let you know that we’re nowhere close. I don’t have a number.

Maybe enough is giving our schools funds to restore the class size limitations enacted over 25 years ago that the state suspended during the recession. Maybe enough is getting Oklahoma’s teachers paid something resembling something. Maybe enough is funding textbooks, technology, and buildings adequately so that districts don’t have to deepen the debt burden to their communities through bond elections – that is, the districts with any sizeable bonding capacity. Maybe enough is listening to the students, parents, and teachers who decry failed accountability measures such as ACE, RSA, TLE, and A-F, and the tens of millions of dollars we pour into preserving them each year.

I don’t have a number. You’re lucky I have my nice words. Just keep adding, and we’ll tell you when you get there.

Let me skip to the end of the song:

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

Who are the weak and the weary? It’s our students, most of whom qualify for lunch subsidies. It’s their parents, many of whom work multiple jobs just to elevate their household income from the free lunch range to the reduced-price range. It’s our teachers, who feel the lack of funding and respect from the state as intensely as anyone. It’s our support staff, who are often left out of the conversation when we talk about raises. It’s our building principals, who have less time to run their schools because of senseless mandates. And it’s our central offices, who – when we’re working at our best – try to bear the burdens of all of the rules and moving targets thrown at us by the federal and state government, so that the impact on schools is minimal.

What is the coldness? I’d have to say that this describes the words of the Legislature and Governor. Don’t say you support education. You had a chance when times were good, from 2011-2015. You missed it. And now, when things are tough? You’re all voucher this, A-F that. Well A-F that is right!

Look, I know that the Oklahoman wants us to keep the conversation civil. I also can’t forget that the most read post (by miles and miles) on my blog was a guest column written by a pissed off parent. Civil is good. Logical is good too. It doesn’t always change the world. Here’s from the paper this morning, though:

There will plenty of debate this legislative session over education funding, school choice and other issues. Here’s a call for voices on both sides to keep the rhetorical low blows to a minimum. Our concern stems from some of the things written by bloggers at #OklaEd, a site that allows educators to use Twitter to “share ideas, resources and inspiration.” One English teacher attached a graphic to his anti-education reform post that said, “Admitting you’re an a–hole is the first step.” Writing about Education Savings Accounts, an administrator at Sand Springs said, “If you are a parent who wants to use the Bible as your child’s Biology text, ESA’s are for you.” Passionate defense of education and educators in Oklahoma is one thing. But such uncivil discourse does little to help the cause.

First, it cracks me up that they refer to #oklaed as a site. It’s a hashtag. On the Twitters. I shouldn’t be too harsh, though. My own teens often tell me I’m Internetting wrong. Maybe it’s a site if you most recently checked your email from your Earthlink account that you installed on your Windows 98 computer with the disk that you picked up at Wal Mart. Or something like that.

Second, admitting you’re an a-hole is a step. It’s probably not the most constructive place to start a policy discussion, though. Maybe a better way to say it is that if you’ve consistently supported policies to over-regulate public schools in Oklahoma while draining them of funding and blaming all the regulation on the feds and then shown yourself unwilling to loosen those regulations once the feds told us we could, and if you constantly fight to send tax dollars to private schools that will have none of the fiscal or academic accountability as public schools…wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, I was explaining why we shouldn’t call people a-holes. Sorry, I’ll have to come back to that another time. I kind of got off track.

Third, we must be getting to them. It makes me think of two movie scene. First is from The Princess Bride:

“What did this do to you? Tell me, and remember, this is for posterity. Be honest. How do you feel?”

The most civil thing we can do is to be honest. It’s for posterity. We’ve said please. We’ll keep saying please. There is also a time to look people in the eyes and say, “You’ve failed us.” We can’t turn away from that.

The other scene comes from The Shawshank Redemption (of course it does).

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies”

Maybe this is why we stick with education. We know that our kids need us. We know that our colleagues depend on us. Maybe we’re just gluttons. All I know if that I’ll be civil and angry, to the extent that I can do both. And that I’ll take no part in the turning away. After all, it’s not enough just to stand and stare.

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