Posts Tagged ‘Rally’

One Year Later: How Far We’ve Come

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, but it has. On June 24, 2014, Oklahoma voters not only elevated Joy Hofmeister over the incumbent state superintendent; they did so with a more decisive margin than any of us had imagined. Many of us went into the day worried that Hofmeister would fall just short of the 50% tally necessary to avoid an expensive run-off election. As the evening unfolded, Hofmeister not only won the primary, she comfortably surpassed 50. Furthermore, if she had faced a run-off election, it wouldn’t have been against the incumbent. Janet Barresi had finished in third.

Among the Democrats in the race, voters had narrowed the choices to two. John Cox would eventually defeat Freda Deskin in a late summer run-off. Then something amazing happened. Hofmeister and Cox went around Oklahoma debating one another. In public. Pretty much everywhere. It was one of the most civil things I had seen in politics in a long time. When I finally saw them at Westmoore High School in October, the general election was but a few weeks away. By then, they probably didn’t have many surprises left for one another. Most of the discussions were on point. A few barbs by each were political in nature, but very few. It was largely a substantive discussion.

SIDE NOTE: I had this picture in the back of my head of the two of them driving all over the state in an old VW van continuing their debates as they moved from stop to stop. Yes, I know that’s not how it all happened, but don’t ruin this for me.

Meanwhile, Barresi had more than six months remaining in her term. During that time, she continued the work of the previous 42 months. The only difference was that more of us were speaking out against her. She defended herself rather crassly at the Vision 2020 conference. She created a crony position for an in-house investigator who paraded around Oklahoma trying to intimidate leaders in various district. Board members called her out. She swore at one of them. Even on her last day in office, she fired people pretty much just because she could.

At noon on January 12, Hofmeister took office. She then had an open house at the SDE to greet people and set a new tone for her upcoming administration. The big WELCOME #OKLAED banner in front of the building did that. As I chatted with several old friends, we all expressed optimism.

For me, that feeling hasn’t faded.

Superintendent Hofmeister has had some early victories in her administration. She eliminated the field test for fifth and eighth grade writing and announced that the prompt would ask students to write in the narrative mode. A few months later, when the tests came back with the exact same problems as last year, she wasted no time in announcing that the scores wouldn’t count in the A-F Report Card calculations. Last year, if you’ll recall, it took an entire tortured summer for Barresi to finally make that decision.

To me, the most impressive thing she’s done, is gather her assessment team and get Measured Progress to change the practice of a student’s score range appearing on the screen after finishing each state test. She did it quickly. Most Oklahomans were appreciative.

She worked with legislators to try to curb testing. If it hadn’t been for a few in leadership positions, they would have been able to eliminate the writing tests.

This needs to happen, by the way. Nobody values writing instruction more than I do. Lousy prompts on lousy tests lead to dubious writing that is scored by temporary labor who are poorly trained and poorly compensated.

Hofmeister even came to the rally at the Capitol in March and has continued fighting to curb the teacher shortage. At times, it has seemed as if her ideas are left hanging in mid-air because we still have the same governor, representatives, and senators we had before. She hasn’t won every political fight for us, but it was only the first year.

She still has some critics on the fringe of each party. Many of them hold dearly to petty, perceived slights and are susceptible to every conspiracy theory they can imagine. It’s to be expected.

The Oklahoman also hasn’t warmed up to Hofmeister, but then again, they still have Barresi’s first campaign manager’s husband writing editorials. Similarly, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs continues pushing back against her and all things public education. Expecting something different would be like asking the sun not to shine.

In spite of this, I do still feel optimistic. More importantly, I feel respected. I feel that my profession and the children we are passionate to serve have a voice – and that her voice will only become more influential during the next several years.

Going back a year – actually, a year and two days – I hosted the Sunday night #oklaed chat and asked several questions about the primary election. I want to share a few responses to the second question, which was, “What should a new state superintendent do on day one in office.”

Yes, there were a few snarky, Paul Lynde “center-square” type answers in there, but most were along the lines of inviting parents and educators to the SDE (done) and helping remaining SDE staff understand their role as a true service agency (visible progress on that front).

A year has made a huge difference. I’m still excited. I owe that feeling to Joy Hofmeister and the people of this state who decided a year ago that they had seen enough.

Today’s Rally (and why the Oklahoman hates it)

March 31, 2014 Comments off

As you probably know, today is the day that thousands of Oklahoma parents and educators will head to the State Capitol to rally for funding for public education. Many in attendance will also enter the Capitol to meet with their Representatives and Senators, discussing issues that range from funding to the relative merits of various school reforms. Yes, we will talk about more than money. We will also cover the Common Core (with many in both camps), the Reading Sufficiency Act (with most favoring HB 2625, giving parents and teachers real input about the retention decision; high-stakes testing in general; A-F Report Cards; Teacher and Leader Evaluation (particularly the quantitative piece).

As you also probably know, the Oklahoman absolutely hates this.

Don’t be fooled by Monday’s weather forecast in Oklahoma City — partly cloudy with the temperature about 80. For many of the state’s public school districts, this is a snow day.

Yes, administrators and teachers will abandon their posts in order to converge in Oklahoma City, to tell lawmakers that common education funding is inadequate. Students, having already lost several days due to real snowstorms, will get another day off for no good reason.

Not one member of the Legislature is unaware of how public schools feel about education funding. Lawmakers understand that school budgets have been cut in recent years. But they also know the check written to common ed is always larger than any other government entity. And they’re aware that no superintendent believes his or her district gets enough financial help from the state — ever.

That last line is probably true, but the tone of the editorial is entirely too flippant for me. That’s my thing!

Nobody is abandoning anything. As I’ve said before, no school district in the state is denying students of the 1080 hours of instruction mandated by state law. For the schools sending people but holding classes anyway, their staffs are taking leave (personal or professional). None of the transportation is being funded by taxpayers.

While we’re all aware that the legislators know of our frustration in public education, their actions during the last two legislative sessions don’t show much concern. Case in point is the editorial by Rep. Jason Murphey that ran in the Oklahoman yesterday.

Who pays this money? According to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report, each Oklahoman pays $1,596 per year in state and local funding for education. Provided a taxpayer lives to Oklahoma’s life expectancy of 72, he or his family will pay approximately $114,912 to state and local governments for his education. In addition to the many other forms of taxation, he will pay part of this fee through Oklahoma sales tax, which is the fifth-highest in the nation.

The observant will note that this amount exceeds the tuition at some of the area’s most popular private education institutions. Should it really be more expensive for a student to attend public schools than to attend the privatized counterparts?

There’s some tortured logic for you – extrapolating a lifetime of contributions for public education into an argument for private schools? Wait, I may be missing the point. It’s entirely possible. I often miss things that aren’t there at all.

At least the Tulsa World (as usual) is providing a different perspective, reminding their readers that in 1990, Oklahomans rallied to support HB 10 17, which was a landmark education reform measure.

As Oklahoma teachers, parents and supporters prepare to rally at the Oklahoma state Capitol in support of education funding, it is appropriate to look back at a similar effort nearly a quarter-century ago.

“Today truly is a day of excellence in Oklahoma. Today Oklahoma stands tall. A new day is dawning for education in Oklahoma.

“Our state will never again take a back seat in education.”

These words were spoken by Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon on April 19, 1990, after the state Senate approved the emergency clause of the landmark $230 million education funding and reform legislation, House Bill 1017.

Think about that. In 1990, educators had to lobby a legislature controlled by Democrats to get more funding. Their efforts were lauded by a visionary Republican governor. Of course, HB 1017 did more than pump money into schools and fund teacher raises. It also set the groundwork for Oklahoma’s first state standards, reduced class sizes, and implementing early childhood programs.

Recent legislative sessions have seen plenty of reforms, but always without the money to support them. That is the difference. That is why most of the legislators I’ve seen comment on the rally – from both political parties – have extended a welcoming hand. They want to fix what’s broken. They want to hear from us.

Rally hard. Fight the drizzle and wind. When you’re inside, use your inside voice. When you’re outside, use your outside voice. If you’re interviewed, calmly tell the world what is important to you and why you care so much. Tomorrow, read whatever drivel the Oklahoman editorial page prints and laugh. They know that parents and educators, speaking in unison are hard to ignore. That’s why they will say anything to discredit our efforts.

In the words of Miracle Max, Have fun stormin’ the castle!


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