I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
–Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer
One of my former students, Larin Sears Rottman, is a teacher in Washington, DC. Her husband is an assistant principal there. Both are University of Oklahoma graduates, and they still have family in this part of the country, but they love it out there. I mention this because of an article that she posted to Facebook over the weekend. She added this at the beginning:
This is a very short read that is very real for me. I am from Oklahoma, but D.C. is my HOME. I live in a real house, in a real neighborhood. I wake up each day and go to my real job to make the world a really better place. There are far more REAL people than politicians in my city. Respect D.C.
I won’t post the article here, but you get the basic idea. People who have real families and live in real neighborhoods and who work and send their kids to real schools there don’t like the generalization that it’s a swamp.
Sure, 220 years ago, when Pierre L’Enfant began to lay out the city design Actually, the District was never a swamp. It was a tidal marsh. But DRAIN THE TIDAL MARSH doesn’t really roll off the tongue, now does it.
Still, as of 2009, 46% of DC’s residents were actually born there. For that matter, OU President David L. Boren – the son of a congressman – was too.
Generalizations hurt. When you make them, even if you mean for this to happen, you’re probably hurting the wrong people.
Over the last couple of months, since the defeat of State Question 779, I’ve seen more of them on social media. Everyone is making them!
It’s the love language of identity politics. Liberals this. Conservatives that. Gender. Race. Religion. Sexual Identity. Wealth. Geography.
That’s one of my favorite ones. Remember when Ted Cruz was attacking Donald Trump for being from New York? Or have you heard a defensive Republican point out that Hillary’s popular vote margin over Trump is virtually erased if you exclude California? It makes sense. After all, that’s more American than discounting the opinion of voters in the most populous state?
Even making generalizations about voters is specious. Hillary supporters are just a bunch of whiny crybabies (or crybaby whiners, if you prefer). Trump supporters excuse all the horrible things he says. I’m probably doing this wrong because I never use exclamation points. Ever!
This isn’t a blog about DC, or presidential politics, or racism, or sexism, or class warfare, though. It’s an education blog in which I have tried, for nearly five years, to set the record straight. Mainly, this involves responding to the action (or inaction) of policymakers and false narratives presented by groups with influence.
Generalizations seep into the public education conversation too much too. Whether it’s a state senator talking about all the waste in public schools (without offering a single example), or another one making sweeping, disparaging remarks about school board members, this kind of recklessness does not steer us towards solutions.
With the First Regular Session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature set to convene in 19 days, I’m unwilling to make generalizations about this new group as a body. The book is closed on the 55th Legislature. I can comfortably say that they failed us – both sessions. They built upon the failures of the 54th and 53rd legislatures. For six straight years (three straight Legislatures), we’ve been treated to a menu of fiscal catastrophes.
I don’t blame all the legislators (lowercase). I blame the Legislature (uppercase) though. The body failed to help with teacher raises, specifically, and with so many other critical state functions, in general. Individuals within that body had good intentions, though. Many did. Maybe most did. They just couldn’t get it done. In the end, we won’t judge you by your intentions. It’s your outcomes that tilt our moods.
That doesn’t mean the 56th Legislature will be the same, though. We have 45 new legislators. Most of them love teachers. Just ask them!
We need to remember that they haven’t served during the session yet. We really need to remember that when we engage them on social media. Some of the returning legislators are on our side too. Maybe many. Maybe most.
My friend Blue Cereal Education posted a blog this morning titled Don’t Raise Teacher Pay (To Be Nice).
We shouldn’t tolerate the implication we’re somehow looking for charity; we’re not. It’s unbecoming to play on sympathy, especially when we’re not the only profession getting shortchanged at the moment. Besides, pity or warm toasties are horrible reasons to raise teacher pay or increase school funding. They’re emotionally driven, unreliable, and fundamentally inaccurate.
Public schools aren’t businesses, nor should they be. You’ll hear that a lot in the upcoming voucher battles, and it’s entirely true. But neither are we charities, or churches, or some type of third world profession. We’re not asking for handouts or love offerings while Sarah McLachlan plays in the background.
Nevertheless, teacher pay needs to go up substantially, and soon – but not for me. It needs to go up for you. And your kids. And your pocketbook. And your state.
A decent public education system is an essential function of civilization. We’re a fundamental element in the social contract that allows people to live together in relative peace, to specialize, to become more productive, and to progress artistically, culturally, medically, financially, and lots of other –allys.
Blue Cereal is right. All teachers need raises. I’m not saying that all teachers are fantastic or that all superintendents are worth what their districts pay them. I’m not saying I’ve never met a board member with an agenda. Nor am I saying that all legislators or all Republicans in the state are out to get us.
As an example, I recently had an exchange about school funding (and waste) via Facebook Messenger with a legislator I know. I won’t share his remarks (without his consent), but I’ll share a portion of mine:
I have some thoughts on waste. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the beholder. We have some patrons who don’t value athletics at all. To them, every time we buy a football helmet, it’s waste. To the mom whose son is on the field getting hit, it’s not. Some people want us to get rid of the arts. Or transportation. Or child nutrition. Or they want teachers to clean their own rooms (which I would highly suggest not proposing).
I managed a restaurant for four years in college. There I learned that limiting waste, more than anything, was about predicting the future. If we prepped a certain amount of food expecting customers and had to throw a lot of it away, which was wasteful. Some nights at closing, we threw away very little. Sometimes, we underprepared which then backed up the kitchen, and probably cost us business.
My point is that every enterprise has waste. Every government agency and every business does. Every superintendent I know tries to limit it – often to the point of increasing the frustration of the workforce. You won’t find one of us who hasn’t tried to find waste.
I get it. You’re trying. So are we. In trying times, that’s what we all do.
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
–Foo Fighters, Best of You
Edmond parent and fierce #oklaed activist Angela Little wrote a reminder to us this week on Facebook about the newly elected legislature.
In case you can’t read the image, here’s the text:
Let’s play pretend for a moment…. Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was a school where they taught kids nothing and just let them sit around and watch movies all day. Parents were obviously irate and didn’t want their kids at this school. So the district decides to clean house and hire new admin and new teachers. Fresh start for this school. Now pretend you are one of the brand new teachers or admin hired. But the parents still hated this school because of how it once was. Do you feel that’s fair to you and your abilities since the issue was with the past staff not the current? I can only imagine you would like the chance to show these parents that you are going to do things differently and want them to have an open mind on this instead of preconceived notions, correct?
It’s a brand new Legislature, folks. We have like 40+ freshman and an entirely new leadership. Don’t hold them accountable for mistakes of their predecessors. This doesn’t mean we should proceed without caution but we must give them a chance to show us what they can do to help our cause.
It’s a good analogy. It really is. I’ve told parents and community members for as long as I can remember not to judge a school today by the memories they have of it from when they were growing up. New blood is a good thing.
Or are you gone and on to someone new…
Still, there are 100+ returning members of the legislature, and some of them – I’d like to think fewer than 20 – are virulently against us. They have a vouchers or death mentality. They want to starve public schools to create larger gaps in services and then point out the schools’ shortcomings so they can divert funding to private schools. For years, we’ve listened to promises from many to support funding teacher raises, and nothing of the sort has happened.
In the past, those people have been in leadership roles. I won’t name them here. My perception is that those carrying the flag for such causes now have less sway among their colleagues.
I was too weak to give in, too strong to lose…
What concerns me is that we’re Oklahoma, and we have a type. Sure, we may have moved on to some new people, but on the whole, we tend to put up with the same behaviors we have said we would never again accept. It’s human nature.
Has someone taken your faith? It’s real, the pain you feel…
Rep. Michael Rogers (who authored last year’s bill revamping teacher evaluation – for the better) is proposing a $6,000 teacher raise. HB 1114 would raise the minimum teacher’s salary by $1,000 for the 2017-18 school year, another $2,000 for the 2018-19 school year, and another $3,000 for the 2019-20 school year.
I have three fairly significant questions about the bill:
- How will the state fund the raises?
- Will funding come on top of money to restore cuts that public schools have faced in recent years?
- Will districts paying above the state minimum have to give raises at least this large?
Let me be clear, though. I want this bill to pass. I appreciate Rep. Rogers putting it forward. I even emailed him today to tell him so.
The hope that starts, the broken hearts…
I just don’t want to get my hopes up yet. Teacher raises have been a long time coming. Even if this passes, we’ll continue losing teachers. A $1,000 raise won’t keep many people in Oklahoma. Implementation might be too slow for some, and that’s a problem.
New House Speaker Charles McCall has said he supports the bill, and that he thinks it has a good chance of passing. On paper, they believe it would raise Oklahoma teacher salaries to the highest in the region.
The surrounding states are bound to raise teacher salaries too. If HB 1114 passes and salaries climb by $6,000 over the next three years, we probably won’t be at the top. Also, the variance in teacher pay among districts in Texas varies much more than it does here. It has to do with the way schools are funded in the different states.
Still, it’s something. Senator Holt’s ideas for a $10,000 raise are worth discussing too. His plan lacks details, but he needs to get a chance to promote it. Maybe I was too dismissive of it myself last year.
It’s been two months since voters rejected SQ 779, which would have funded $5,000 raises for teachers.That sting is fresh. Because of all the build up, that amount is the minimum raise many teachers are willing to settle for.
In the halls of the Capitol Wherever there is a microphone at the Capitol, there is a representative or senator willing to give lip service to teacher raises – with strings attached.
I’ll support raises for teachers if you’ll agree to a merit pay system…
I’ll support raises for teachers if we’ll consolidate all of the school districts…
I’ll support raises for teachers if they’ll all burn their union memberships…
And where there is a legislator proposing raises with conditions, there is a chorus of usual suspects willing to add a loud Harumph!
That should be our challenge – to keep focus on the people like McCall, Rogers, and Holt. They mean well.While it’s rare a bill written in January passes as written, this should be our starting point.We should avoid the harumphing kind of people whenever possible.
If you can’t see staying in Oklahoma because of the hope of $1,000, I get it. You have to do what’s best for you and your family.
I’ve got another confession my friend, I’m no fool.
I’m getting tired of starting again, somewhere new…
I’m still here, and I’m going to support ideas that have the potential to move us forward.
Happy Groundhog Day!
Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin gave her State of the State speech to the Oklahoma Legislature. Among other things, she made her education agenda perfectly clear. I’ll address that below in my Tuesday Two Things post. Overall, I found it fitting that Fallin included inher remarks Yogi Berra’s quote, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
First, I have to say that I was impressed by one particular part of the speech. She proposed sensible sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenders. Oklahoma has overcrowded prisons; this is a long-standing truth. What is also true is the sociology behind these sentences. These lengthy sentences impact minorities and the poor disproportionately. They permanently remove people from the mainstream of society, often before they’re independent adults. I’m all for being tough on dealers and violent criminals. Let’s just not overly penalize people for the mistakes they make when they’re young – especially when the crime is more or less self-abuse.
Here were her suggestions:
- First, let’s allow district attorneys to have the discretion to file any first drug offense as a misdemeanor.
- Next, we lower the mandatory sentence from two to 10 years in prison, to zero to five years in prison.
- For second felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from two years to life, to zero to 10 years.
- And for third felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from six years to life with no probation to zero to 15 years.
- For property crimes, let’s raise the value of a felony crime from $500 to $1,000. The $500 benchmark has been in place since 2002, and it needs to be raised. A teen who steals someone’s smartphone today could be branded for life as a felon because smartphones cost more than $500; twenty years ago, most cell phones cost less than $100.
I don’t know if the Legislature will move on this proposal or how much money it will save if they do. I just know that this makes sense in terms of human potential. Unfortunately, that doesn’t provide for a seamless segue to Fallin’s comments on education.
- Fallin proposed $178 million in new money for a permanent $3,000 raise for teachers. If that happens, Oklahoma teacher pay would rise all the way to 44th in the country. It’s not enough to make our salaries regionally competitive, but it’s at least something. As always, something is better than nothing.
- Things I didn’t like:
- The 3% funding cut to education prior to the infusion of $178 million in new money. So we’re supposed to go ahead with the cuts we’re trying to absorb and then reward everybody who survives with raises? They’ll need it. Things are going to be tougher on our remaining teacher, for sure. Districts will still have to cut teaching positions to balance budgets.
- Her push for school consolidation. I know she’s only talking about the K-8 districts, but honestly, we don’t really save money through her scheme. It’s just a distraction.
- The flexibility to use district’s building funds for salary. This is great for the districts with high assessed property valuations, but for many districts, there just isn’t a lot of “there” there.
- Her love of A-F Report Cards and the RSA law. These are two failed reforms. Ask teachers and parents what they think of them. Better yet, ask kids.
- As for her “100 percent support” of vouchers, they’re my line in the sand. You can’t say you support them (especially with zero accountability) and also say you support public education. This is all just the ALEC playbook. It shows no original thought. It has nothing to do with Oklahoma values, whatever that really means.
That’s all for now. I’ll spend some more time processing/writing later in the week or over the weekend. In the meantime, here are a few links for you, if you want to read more:
- Text of the governor’s speech
- The governor’s budget proposal
- Superintendent Hofmeister’s response to the teacher raise proposal
- Oklahoma Policy Institute statement on SOTS
- A great poem by e.e. cummings (just because)
And because today is Groundhog Day, I thought you’d enjoy this: