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Posts Tagged ‘Teacher Shortage’

The Best of You

January 14, 2017 Comments off

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Foo Fighters, Best of You

fullsizerender

Edmond parent and fierce #oklaed activist Angela Little wrote a reminder to us this week on Facebook about the newly elected legislature.

lets-pretend-for-a-moment

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.

not-the-football-again-charlie-brown

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:

  1. How will the state fund the raises?
  2. Will funding come on top of money to restore cuts that public schools have faced in recent years?
  3. 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.

regional-teaching-averages

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.

two moons have passed.gif

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!

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.

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Who’s Still Here?

I love basketball. I don’t think I should have to prove that statement, but in case you want some evidence, let me introduce you to my children Jordan, Stockton, and Duncan.

IMG_4766

Pictured: No actual basketball players

Yes, my very tolerant wife and I named our children after professional basketball players. Two of their namesakes – Michael Jordan and John Stockton – are already in the Hall of Fame. In the mid-90s, when we chose the names, this was a foregone conclusion. When we named our youngest after Tim Duncan, he was in his third year in the league. I guess there were no guarantees he’d be a Hall of Famer, but it looked pretty certain. Besides, we threw out the name Barkley because it was the dog’s name on Sesame Street.

Not that you asked.

I say all of this today, though, because Twitter and Facebook and everything else under the power of social media have been losing their minds with the announcement that Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has signed with the Golden State Warriors. Here are some of my favorite reactions:

There’s uncontrollable grief…

There’s ridding yourself of reminders…

There’s pragmatism…

There’s the bright side of life…

And then there’s the musings of a politician with a who thinks he has a mandate

There’s also this – a tweet for which I refuse to transcribe the responses in my head…

There’s also this, from a friend who has held season tickets since … well, pretty much since the franchise moved here from Seattle:

JPeezy voice of reason.png

The way I look at it is that Durant weighed all the things that matter in his life – most of which we don’t have any way of knowing – and when he placed them on a scale, leaving made more sense than staying.

KD isn’t dumb. He knows that he’s now a supervillain here. He’s also not a jerk. What he says about how much the city and state mean to him is probably true. Still, this is the path he chose. I can’t know all the reasons why (probably the state’s shriveling support for public education), and I wish he had chosen differently, but life will go on.

I still love basketball, but I only make it to a couple of games a year. That will still be true. The Thunder probably won’t be as good as they were with Durant, but things change. I’ll still root for the team. And I still wish Durant well. He brought a lot of pleasure to the city, and that memory sticks around.

Leaving is a part of life. We can say our words and  move on, but moving on means that we embrace and try to thrive with the people who are still here. The Thunder still have (for the time being) Russell Westbrook, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams – not to mention Josh Huestis.


On the other hand, if Durant had stayed, he could have spent more of his free time schmoozing with the Governor:

“If Kevin Durant thinks about leaving, which I hope he doesn’t — Oklahoma loves Kevin Durant and Kevin Durant loves Oklahoma. But if he’ll stay, I’ll make him a Cabinet person for health and fitness on my Cabinet,” Fallin said.

The announcement drew applause from the room, before Fallin noted that a place among her advisers “might not be as attractive as a couple of million dollars.”

It also might not be as attractive as a vice-presidential nomination. Even though the offer was (probably) tongue-in-cheek, the fact remains that Fallin knows she may have options in a potential Trump presidency. A couple of days after the Durant-to-Cabinet comment, she and other governors met with the presumptive Republican nominee.

Fallin’s name has been mentioned in speculation about the vice presidential selection process, but Trump has not contacted her to talk about being his running mate, said Michael McNutt, a spokesman for the governor.

McNutt said one of the other governors arranged the meeting. He didn’t have the names of the other governors in attendance. Fallin has been active in the Republican Governors Association.

If this comes to pass, should we expect the same response in tears? Rending of clothing? Outrage on Twitter?

psych group hug.gif

No, if the governor were to leave Oklahoma to go back to Washington, we would simply swear in the next guy – Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb – and expect him to handle the job with the same aplomb as his predecessor. That’s all you can do. You work with the people who stay, no matter how you feel about the people who leave.


This has been a mindset in public education in our state for a while. We have people leaving for higher-paying jobs in Texas. We also have the ones who stay in the state but move on for what they perceive as greener pastures.

One of the hardest jobs in education is “turning around” a high-poverty school that fails to live up to state and federal testing metrics. Whether it’s the lame duck A-F Report Cards, the extinct API scores, the Annual Measurable Objectives or other acronyms that we use to rank our schools, there’s no question that high-poverty schools have it tougher. Simply put, there are schools with poverty so low that they’re going to appear at the top of the scale – no matter which scale you lose.

This isn’t an excuse, and it isn’t a reason to quit trying. It’s a fact. It’s a fact that should drive us. I’ve seen principals proud of getting a B or C on the report card because of the growth it showed. I’ve seen teachers driven to help the school reach that perfect API score (prior to 2012) in order for the whole staff to get a bonus (if funds were available – which they usually weren’t).

I’ve also seen the principals who worked three, four, five years to create the climate leading to this change pulled out to open new schools, promoted to central office positions, or recruited to other districts. If they stay, they’re always playing defense to keep their best teachers from other principals who would recruit them.

miss you so much it hurts.jpg

I’ve seen bitter battles over a fifth grade math teacher that centered on the ideas of loyalty and timing. How could you leave this group of kids? They need you so much! Or, how can you wait until July to make a move like this? I’ve seen teachers lose friends among their colleagues, anger their principals, and start wars between personnel departments. Usually, these personal conflicts settle calmly, out of the eye of the public.

The critical question here, though, is why do they leave in the first place? Why would you leave a faculty that you joined when things were bad and with a new principal, when you believed in her and helped her turn the school around? Maybe your family situation changed. Maybe the principal left. Maybe you were tired because of all the extra work that went into that school’s success. Sometimes, you’re just spent.

Should we resent teachers who leave under these circumstances? I don’t think so, but then again, I can find friends who disagree. Instead, we hire the people we need to hire, and we try to give them what they need to help the kids who come to them.


Maybe Durant looked at Oklahoma City and he didn’t see a long-term contender. The Utah Jazz were great – near the top every year – when John Stockton and Karl Malone were on the roster. Then they weren’t, and the team collapsed. The San Antonio Spurs have been a playoff team for about 20 years straight now. Having Tim Duncan will do that for you. They also prove that a small-market team can be a winner. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have been irrelevant for several years.


Schools are hard places to work. Some of our teachers leave the profession altogether. Lately, we’ve been seeing this with our support people too. We conduct exit interviews, and we pay particular attention to the staff who take lateral positions in schools that seem just as challenging as the ones they’re leaving. Why? What can we do differently? Is it the leadership? Is it the kids?

By the way, if it’s the kids you’re abandoning, then good riddance. We’re proud of our kids, so good luck wherever you go next.

We look at the information we can observe. We try to make sense of it. In the end, though, we just move on. We’re trying to improve. We have kids to teach. If you’d rather be somewhere else – for whatever reason – that doesn’t change our mission. The Thunder want to win, no matter who is on their team next year. Schools want to teach, no matter who is on the faculty.

For those who choose to show up, I say thank you. If you’ve left, I don’t have time to think about you anymore. I’m just too busy.

Hair of the Blog

January 1, 2016 2 comments

As with the rest of us, our two biggest state newspapers are waking up resolved to find hope for what 2016 will bring. Take this cheerful outlook from the Tulsa World this morning:

Meanwhile, the state Board of Equalization certified a preliminary general revenue projection for the coming budget year that is $900 million less than the year before.

That’s roughly the equivalent of overall ticket sales so far for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Unless creator George Lucas can spare some change, or the price of oil makes a meteoric climb, the new year isn’t going to feel very new. Rather, it threatens to be a rerun of 2015 with further downsizing of an already shriveling state government.

Those who argue that is not the worst thing that could happen, should say that to the face of a public school student or teacher. Ranking at the bottom of the barrel in per-pupil spending for common education is never acceptable, no matter what the circumstances.

On the promising side, Oklahoma has ridden the energy price roller coaster before and always rebounded eventually.

The last line is my favorite. The editorial board is basically saying, We know we’ll see better days. We always have, right? That’s what I call forward thinking. Surely there’s a unicorn out there somewhere!

Still, as usual, it’s better than what the Oklahoman editorial writers have given us this morning. In their 2016 wish list, they have two Thunder-related items, but just one for education: vouchers.

Education Savings Accounts: Status-quo forces in education often claim Oklahoma students’ academic performance will never improve unless huge spending increases are provided. Yet if parents were given the ability to use their child’s per-pupil allotment, as would be the case with Education Savings Accounts, those officials may be shocked by how quickly improvement occurs. ESAs would allow parents to use a portion of the tax money already dedicated to their child’s education to spend on tutoring, online learning, or private school tuition. It’s time Oklahoma lawmakers provide beneficiaries the same flexibility with education funds that they are provided for other government programs, such as food stamps. One size does not fit all students, and it makes no sense to act as though children will receive a better education if they’re assigned a school based on geographic proximity to one’s house rather than based on a child’s individual needs and parental involvement.

This is where that morning-after blurry-eyed effect hurts me. I’m going to have to go through this one sentence by sentence.

Status-quo forces in education often claim Oklahoma students’ academic performance will never improve unless huge spending increases are provided.

I’m glad to see they didn’t use the trite verbiage Education Establishment. Maybe that’s a sign of a resolution they’ve made. Actually, what those of us who teach students and lead districts illustrate is that huge cuts in state aid have hurt our ability to provide services for students. We point out that the state’s abdication of responsibility vis-à-vis funding public schools at a proper level has made providing teacher raises of any significance impossible. This, combined with mandates that create meaningless work for already over-tasked teachers, has driven quality people out of the profession.

We’re not asking for huge spending increases; rather, we want a reversal of the huge funding cuts that we’ve seen since 2008. Let me just point out that for the 2013-14 school year (the most recent available data), Oklahoma districts received less than half of their funding (48.0%) from the state. The rest came from local and federal sources. This continues a 15 year trend that shows no sign of reversing. Year-by-year, the Legislature has been less committed to funding public education, and more committed to regulating it.

School Year % Funding from the State
2013-14 48.0%
2008-09 52.0%
2003-04 53.4%
1998-99 57.1%

Yet if parents were given the ability to use their child’s per-pupil allotment, as would be the case with Education Savings Accounts, those officials may be shocked by how quickly improvement occurs.

Picture0005Actually, we wouldn’t see any improvement, because the voucher pushers in the Legislature and the newspaper also insist that we shouldn’t hold private schools accountable in any way for student achievement. In other words, they want the money, but not the rules.

As for schools, we just get the rules.

ESAs would allow parents to use a portion of the tax money already dedicated to their child’s education to spend on tutoring, online learning, or private school tuition.

As Alex Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason James pointed out a few months ago, a voucher isn’t going to help the poor families get into private schools to the extent that their supporters insist:

The voucher bill currently on the table, SB 609, would provide benefits to a student who “previously was enrolled in the first one hundred (100) days of the prior school year in an Oklahoma public school district.” In other words, students currently enrolled in private schools wouldn’t have access to the voucher – for now. If 609 passes, expect to see a lot of school-flipping.

Another important consideration is that private schools don’t have to accept everybody. And they shouldn’t have to accept everybody. They have a specific mission, which is why parents choose them. Our mission as a state – as a system of public schools – is to educate everybody who shows up. Given that charge, we do a damn good job, no matter what narrative serves the convenience of voucher proponents.

If voucher supporters truly believe that private schools are better education providers, they need to support doing the schools that would accept voucher students committing to two things:

  1. Accepting all students.
  2. Meeting all state and federal mandates.

Otherwise, this isn’t a serious conversation.

It’s time Oklahoma lawmakers provide beneficiaries the same flexibility with education funds that they are provided for other government programs, such as food stamps.

I’m glad the Oklahoman supports flexibility for how people qualifying for public assistance, such as public school employees, spend their benefits. On the other hand, the paper also supports cuts to the food stamps program.

To be clear, food stamps are a benefit for people living in poverty. Vouchers are a benefit for people in the middle class. Those are the students that private schools would accept. Those are the students whose families could make up the difference.

A food stamp recipient can shop anywhere. The merchant will accept the business because it has cash value. A customer spending food stamps is a paying customer, in their eyes.

A voucher recipient will not have these same choices.

It’s just not the same.

One size does not fit all students, and it makes no sense to act as though children will receive a better education if they’re assigned a school based on geographic proximity to one’s house rather than based on a child’s individual needs and parental involvement.

I agree. That’s why thousands of parents have chosen to transfer their students across school district boundaries. It’s also why I oppose many of the mandates that this paper supports.  We could provide more choices within our arguably-publicly funded schools right now, if the Legislature passed a few simple bills.

  • Replace the EOIs with the ACT.
  • Repeal ACE.
  • Cut all tests not required by the feds.
  • Take quantitative measurements out of teacher evaluations.
  • Create an accountability system that focuses less on testing.

Simpsons_24_10_P1We’re the educators. We would love to focus more on meeting each child’s individual needs. We don’t want to spend another minute preparing our most profoundly disabled students for state tests or the portfolios that serve as their proxy. We don’t want to spend another minute slowing down our gifted kids in classes that continue to get bigger while we prepare the masses for poorly-developed state tests.

The upcoming legislative session is critical. I can think of at least three term-limited legislators who would love nothing more than to pass a voucher bill. Doing so would serve as their springboard into some of the statewide races that will be up for grabs in 2018. Every vote for SB 609 – or anything resembling it – is a vote against public schools.

 

2015 Year in Review (Part III)

December 24, 2015 Comments off

In Part I of my year-end review, I covered some of the changes from January to June of this year. We were all warm and fuzzy because we had a new state superintendent and she liked us and listened to us and invited us to hang out at her office and all that good stuff. More than that, she was in the same fights we were, but – and this was the real departure from the previous four years – she was on our side. We didn’t win all of the fights, but some that seemed to go away on their own actually disappeared because of political finesse. That’s still a win in my book.

Part II had less focus. I blame me changing jobs and having less time to write. Still, in the last month or so, I seem to have found a groove. Over the last six months, we have gone everywhere from the collective apathy around the state over A-F Report Cards to the return of voucher propaganda around the state. We also learned, sadly, that we’re broker than broke. We’re MC Hammer broke. We’re not Greece, but we’re not exactly Monaco either. And it’s not that people in this state aren’t making money either. Let’s just say that if somehow, all of Oklahoma had been responsible for all of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and its billionty dollar opening weekend, our state leaders would have found a way to keep from generating any state revenue from it.

Not good with money

Now, to the top five posts for the year:

  1. I am okeducationtruthsFor all the people who supported the blog when I was writing anonymously, I had no idea that the number of readers and followers would grow so much once I removed the mask.

I couldn’t have done what I did for the first 29 months of the blog without support from so many friends and colleagues who didn’t even know they were contributing. As more blogs have emerged during the last few years, we’ve collectively built something really special here. Our blogging presence, the success of our EdCamps, and our Sunday night #oklaed chats are gaining national recognition. While our writing has a pretty limited focus, mostly to pushing back against bad education policy in this state, our story parallels so many others. We are both a cautionary tale and a success story.

  1. Save API didn’t write much on this post. Mainly, I included a few lines of discussion from legislators who were questioning whether or not it was ok to have Advanced Placement classes in Oklahoma at all since they resembled Common Core, with the critical thinking and all. The main issue was the scheduled course redesign of AP US History, which Southmoore High School Teacher David Burton covered thoroughly. More specifically, a few legislators were afraid that we were teaching students bad things about the country.

Here is a page from a presentation made by College Board Vice President Trevor Packer at a conference I attended in February.

APUSH

Of the five points shown on this particular page discussing World War II, four are clear statements about the strengths of our nation. Only one – mention of the internment of Japanese Americans – is negative. And I don’t see anything wrong with including that. The framework leaves it to the teacher’s discretion which battles, treaties, events, and individuals to emphasize during the course. Most of it will be positive. We studied Japanese internment camps when I was in school, and we were deeply disturbed by it – most of us to the point that we’d never want to see that happen again.

There was nothing to see here. Sometimes, I guess birds just flap their wings to hear the sound of the wind.

There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

  1. 182 Emergencies and Counting!Well, now we’re up to 977 for the current school year.

977 emergencies

As I’ve said previously, some teachers start with emergency certification and become great educators. Unfortunately, many – lacking teacher preparation courses and hours logged as student teachers under veteran teachers – succumb to how difficult the job is and last a short period of time. Some leave within days, and then we’re back where we started.

  1. Shortage of Teachers, Shortage of PayThis was my first post of the year, and it was even more popular in March than it was in January. In fact, this post has had a decent number of page views during each month of the year. This is the conversation we can’t quit having. There’s a teacher shortage. Teachers haven’t had an increase in pay in years. There’s no change in sight to this cycle.
Salary bars

(from Washington Post)

Keep in mind, as you look at the chart, that this includes all compensation – salary, insurance, and retirement. This does not include administrator salaries in the averages. Every time I use the chart, I get comments along the line of I’ve taught for 20 years and I still don’t make $44,000. And you are correct. But if you add the benefits together, this is the cost to your district of employing you. Or something like that.

We also know that with a $1,000 raise, Oklahoma teachers would still be in 49th place. With a $5,000 raise, Oklahoma teachers would move up to 36th place. At least we would if everyone else were standing still.

Sigh. We’re the ones still standing still.

At least we still have Mississippi and South Dakota below us.

  1. Guest Post on the Teacher Shortage from a POed Parent – It’s no coincidence that the three most popular posts on okeducationtruths from this year have to do with the teacher shortage. At this point, we’re all frustrated about where we are now and worried about the future. By we, I mean educators, parents, and even legislators. That’s right, the majority of our elected officials are worried about this too.

Dan Vincent, the post’s author, was very clear about why – other than just money – people aren’t flocking to the profession:

Over the past several years I have also observed waves of educational reforms crashing into the doors of classrooms and onto the desks of students—reforms initiated and passed into law by our state legislature. If you are a student or teacher, you’ve felt it; my kids have felt it. The changes included things like the A-F, the RSA, the ACE and the TLE to name a few. These have been widely recognized by educational leaders in our state as doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to teacher morale and student engagement. Professional associations, parent groups, blogs and personal anecdotes have documented how these reforms are negatively impacting Oklahoma districts, classrooms and kids. There has also been much written about how these reforms are DRIVING GOOD TEACHERS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. Legislators have been told this over and over. Personally, I have had civil discussions about the issues I see; I have written umpteen letters to lawmakers pleading for change. I have friends who written many more.

I always say that the teacher shortage comes down to two things: money and respect. Some legislators really do understand that teacher pay is too low. Unfortunately, several of those think that there are solutions other than the state coughing up more money to put into the formula. Combined with the group that just doesn’t get the magnitude of the problem at all, we’re just not getting anywhere.

Roll all of that together with an alphabet soup of reforms that have been copied after Florida and thrown at schools, and it just keeps getting harder to keep good people around.

Maybe now that more parents are catching on, legislators will listen more too. If not, let’s get some new ones.


So those were my five most popular posts of the year. What follows are five more – they weren’t as popular, but they meant a lot to me. Mostly, they remind me why, in spite of the issues we face, I’m glad I chose this career.

Blogger Challenge: The Things We Pretend

Throughout the spring and summer, many Oklahoma bloggers responded to various blogger challenges. I love these, mainly because it’s like an extended thought version of one of our Sunday night chats. In many cases, it helps me see that there’s some substance beyond the 140 character universe to which we often limit ourselves.

This challenge stemmed from Iowa’s Scott McLeod, who writes at Dangerously ! Irrelevant. If you click to his link, you’ll see ideas from across the country. This is a question we need to ask ourselves frequently.

Blogger Challenge & The Heartbreakers

This was a response to another blogger challenge.

When I was in the classroom, my favorite thing to do was to challenge people to like things that wouldn’t ordinarily appeal to them. This was true with poetry. Teaching sophomore English, I could have just jumped in with Wordsworth or Teasdale or some other ancient that English majors love. No, I started with Free Fallin’. Because I could.

Good Luck in Austin

IMG_3899Maybe it’s because she’s a middle child. Maybe it’s because Austin is a fun place. Maybe it’s because she could. In any case, my daughter left her comfort zone in August and started college at the University of Texas. Yes, even though her mother and I have four degrees between us from the University of Oklahoma, she headed south. So far, it’s been a good choice for her. And we have more reason to go to Austin and eat at my favorite breakfast place (it’s really more of a lean-to than a structure, per se).

 

Why Teach Here? Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

This was the second part of my response to the blogger challenge, Why Teach? Given the teacher shortage, I think the second question, why teach here? is equally important. I want teachers to want to be where I am.

Using Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and a ten minute video that gives a pretty good explanation of motivation, I distilled my goals for the people around me into these three words.

Drive - Motivation

If teachers, principals, and even crazy central office people had more of this, they’d have a lot more satisfaction.

So would our students – and this is the kind of district I want Mid-Del to be.

Welcome to New Teachers

I stressed pretty hard over this one. As a first-year superintendent, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say to 180 people I’d never met before and who were really curious about what they were getting into. What I do when I’m uncomfortable is blog, so I treated the moment as I do so many of the other significant milestones in my life now.

If you’ve heard me speak, you know there’s a pretty big gap between what I intend to say and what actually comes out of my mouth. I’m more comfortable walking to the front of a stage or moving throughout a room winging it than I am standing behind a lectern. I want people to know where my passions lie.

So if what I wrote here was any good, I can’t say that it’s what I delivered the next morning. We’ll call it close.

Oh, and since it’s Christmas Eve, here’s some Annie Lennox and Al Green:

Guest Post on the Teacher Shortage from a POed Parent

September 20, 2015 18 comments

I received the following this week from UCO professor and #oklaed advocate, Dr. Dan Vincent. I present it to you, unedited. 


I’m a public school parent and I’m pissed off. I keep hearing that our state has a teacher shortage but I don’t see it this way anymore. I see an unusually high causality rate from the WAR ON TEACHERS.

Dan Vincent BAT

Let me explain….

As a parent with two kids in public school I try to keep informed on issues related to education. I read the news, follow legislation and even research topics to be more informed. For the past few years, at the start of the schoolyear, I have read stories about the growing number of vacancies in Oklahoma classrooms—vacancies that districts cannot fill. Class sizes get larger and courses get cancelled. This number has gradually been creeping up and it has hit larger urban districts particularly hard. Now, even large suburban districts, where there has historically been an abundance of qualified applicants, are being hit by this shortage.

Over the past several years I have also observed waves of educational reforms crashing into the doors of classrooms and onto the desks of students—reforms initiated and passed into law by our state legislature. If you are a student or teacher, you’ve felt it; my kids have felt it. The changes included things like the A-F, the RSA, the ACE and the TLE to name a few. These have been widely recognized by educational leaders in our state as doing more harm than good, especially when it comes to teacher morale and student engagement. Professional associations, parent groups, blogs and personal anecdotes have documented how these reforms are negatively impacting Oklahoma districts, classrooms and kids. There has also been much written about how these reforms are DRIVING GOOD TEACHERS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. Legislators have been told this over and over. Personally, I have had civil discussions about the issues I see; I have written umpteen letters to lawmakers pleading for change. I have friends who written many more.

So what I fail to understand with the ‘teacher shortage’ in our state is why –  WHY – legislative leaders have stood by and allowed this to happen. The teacher shortage is not an unforeseen consequence of a poorly timed tax cut, but the steady attrition of teachers who have HAD ENOUGH of nonsensical educational reform policy and poor pay. The teacher shortage is not an unavoidable crisis caused by federal laws, but a compounding of state-level educational policies that fly in the face of what is known about learning. And as a parent, I hold legislative leaders responsible; they have created a WAR ON TEACHERS and our teacher shortage is a sad result of this war. It is a moral failing by our state leaders in not taking seriously their job of properly supporting a free public education.

We know that money matters and we know that teaching climate matters. Legislative leaders have tremendous power over both and have done little to nothing to create REAL SOLUTIONS for teachers. In fact, I am not big on conspiracy theories but I am now seriously thinking our legislative leaders are purposefully making a teacher’s life miserable so they can justify their own policies meant to ‘help’ the problems in education—problems they have created with the war on teachers. And this is all being done TO OUR KIDS.

Imagine if we had a shortage of qualified STEM candidates to fill the jobs in our state. Do you think our current legislative leaders would do anything to attract quality candidates? Do you think they would initiate policy to help the STEM industry will those positions? Do you think they would be advocating for the STEM industry? Would our leaders actively seek out leaders in the STEM industry for ideas on how to attract applicants? Would they try to fill the STEM pipeline with qualified applicants?

You bet. In fact, Gov. Fallin says there is a STEM shortage in our state, and our leaders have already done the things above (in fact, our governor’s 3rd annual STEM Summit is a few weeks away). But not for our teachers. Not for our kids. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.

A few weeks ago, I felt a glimmer of hope when I read House Speaker Jeff Hickman and House Republican education leaders calling for a “more cooperative approach” to address the teacher shortage. Not three weeks later however, Speaker Hickman wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Oklahoman blasting district administrators for not doing more themselves to pay teachers a higher salary; I also suspect School Boards felt targeted. I wonder if Hickman cooperated with any Oklahoma administrators on the ideas for this OpEd? I doubt it. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.

Just this week, the Republican leadership offered up a plan to allow retired teachers $18,000 per year to come back to the classroom and teach. On the surface, this sounds admirable, but honestly, how many retired teachers would be willing to work for that pay under the same educational environment that drove many to retire in the first place? Does this address the current issues our teachers face—pay and climate? Sounds like a Band-Aid solution to a war-time wound. WAR ON TEACHERS continues.

In short, the solutions offered up by republican leaders thus far only deepens my suspicions of how serious they are about addressing our state’s desperate need to put well-qualified teachers in EVERY classroom. My kids deserve better. Our state’s kids deserve better. So here are some things I would offer as solutions. I would encourage every parent, grandparent and relative that has a kid in school to write their legislator and tell them to end the WAR ON TEACHERS with some of these bullet points (no pun intended):

  1. First and foremost, do your part to fix the educational climate in Oklahoma. Stop the blame game and be real about solutions to our teacher shortage. Ask the educational leaders in our state (who are really informed about the issues they see firsthand) for input and take it seriously.
  2. Stop the High Stakes Testing (found in the RSA, the ACE, the TLE, the A-F). This would also save some money on administrative overhead and ink for signing RSA documents.
  3. Seriously rework the TLE. It is well known that value added measures are junk science yet our state leaders insist they can work. This could also save money by reducing administrative overhead.
  4. Stop the A-F charade. OU and OSU put together a pretty good summary of the charade. And this also could reduce administrative overhead.
  5. Publicly support teachers, but more importantly seek out educational leaders so your public support can be turned into fully-informed legislative action.
  6. Develop a workable plan to increase teacher pay. Money matters. Our state invests public money to support the STEM industry and others. Let’s get real about how to invest in the profession that can support all industry.
  7. Either UNMANDATE or FULLY FUND. There are many unfunded mandates placed on schools and this solution could both create a better climate in schools AND free up money that could be used on teacher salaries. One good example would be to eliminate the ACE graduation requirement.

In closing, I honestly hope our legislative leadership can do something soon to refresh the souls of educators in our state. I hope parents will a) get pissed off with me and b) constructively express their frustration to leadership in our state. Their current attempts are a far cry from the real, workable solutions needed to address the root causes of our teacher shortage. With the upcoming session being near an election cycle, I think more ears will be open to listening.

Let’s end this war.


Dan Vincent is a former public school teacher, turned university professor who has two kids in elementary school. Although he was not teaching in the K-12 schools when many of these educational reforms were passed into law, he and his wife are frequent volunteers in schools and have seen firsthand the impact of these reforms on classrooms, teachers and kids.

With All Due Respect, Vol. 3

September 13, 2015 10 comments

This morning, while I was out on a run, my phone was buzzing with friends responding to an editorial written by House Speaker Hickman and published in the Oklahoman today. The piece purports to address the Oklahoma teacher shortage with facts. I seem to have missed some of them, and I’ve read through it three times now.

The first paragraph sets a negative tone. Pretend it’s 2002, you’re in my English II class, and note the author’s diction:

Recent claims that Oklahoma schools can’t fill 1,000 teaching positions have education proponents again demanding the Legislature provide more taxpayer dollars to increase teacher salaries. Education organizations argue that schools are unable to find quality applicants because Oklahoma’s best teachers move to neighboring states to earn more money. Yet Oklahoma’s starting minimum wage for first-year teachers is higher than Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and New Mexico.

The first thing I notice is the word claims. We aren’t claiming anything. We’re reporting the conditions that impact our ability to  provide the best possible education to all of Oklahoma’s public school children. We  really don’t have the applicants. Next is his use of the phrase taxpayer dollars, which is really all we have access to in schools. During Hickman’s time in the Legislature, state aid for schools has decreased. Later in his editorial, he claims that school funding is at an all-time high. I’d love to know his methodology for that claim.

It’s good to note here, even though it’s not germane to the teacher shortage per se, that the Legislature last spring cobbled together a budget with one-time funds from the cushions of the couch in order to fill a $600 million dollar budget shortfall. Well, it’s happening again. We’ve all been warned – not just education.

OPI QOTD

The third and fourth paragraphs of Hickman’s piece squarely lay the blame for low teacher salaries on local school boards:

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education shows it may be because local school boards have committed a growing percentage of their funding to salaries and benefits for administrative and nonteaching staff.

Between 1992 and 2013, enrollment in Oklahoma schools increased by 14 percent while the number of teachers increased by 11 percent. Administrative and nonteaching staff increased by more than 33 percent. If nonteaching staff had increased at only the same rate as enrollment, Oklahoma schools would have nearly $300 million more available annually to pay teachers higher salaries.

The problem with newspaper editorials is that they don’t link to source documents. That’s why I only read them when they’re blowing up my social media accounts. Perhaps the report Speaker Hickman references is actually this report from the Friedman Foundation, which uses data collected by the USDoE. I suspect it is, since Oklahoma’s leading non-profit conservative think tank trots it out from time to time (and since the editorial’s language mirrors that of the report; see page 19), failing to mention that the foundation’s namesake, Milton Friedman, was all about abolishing public schools. In Friedman’s own words:

A radical reconstruction of the educational system has the potential of staving off social conflict while at the same time strengthening the growth in living standards made possible by the new technology and the increasingly global market. In my view, such a radical reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system–i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools. Such a reconstruction cannot come about overnight. It inevitably must be gradual.

Yes, that’s been the political agenda for a segment of conservatives in this state, and in this country, for more than two decades. On the other hand, in the very same paper, Friedman also said this:

If the widening of the wage differential is allowed to proceed unchecked, it threatens to create within our own country a social problem of major proportions. We shall not be willing to see a group of our population move into Third World conditions at the same time that another group of our population becomes increasingly well off. Such stratification is a recipe for social disaster. The pressure to avoid it by protectionist and other similar measures will be irresistible.

Surprisingly, the aforementioned think tank never addresses income inequality, except to dismiss it.

Wow, I’ve really digressed from the main point. That’s what happens when I don’t have much free time to blog.

Sorry, back to Speaker Hickman, who deserves my undivided attention at this point. He was talking about the growth of non-teaching positions. Others have previously pointed out, as I will here, that much of that growth is to help meet ever-increasing state and federal mandates.

Allow me to illustrate. Each school district communicates and reports information through the Single Sign On (SSO) system with the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Different users have different access levels in the system. As a superintendent, I can see them all. The next seven screenshots show them. Indulge me, as I show you why we’ve added staff.

The top of the alphabet has so much of the good stuff: A-F Report Cards; Accreditation (featuring Highly-qualified teacher verification); three separate areas for the Achieving Classroom Excellence morass; and a place to check allocation notices.

SSO1

Page two starts and ends with routine reporting and plans. Let me point out right in the middle of this page is the District Arts Assessment Report. There are mandates that make me mad (ACE, A-F, RSA) and mandates that just make me want to say, Really!?! (Sorry, Rob – I know that’s your schtick.)

SSO2

When you click on that report, you see this notice:

As stipulated by Oklahoma law, 70 O.S. § 1210.508, “each school district shall administer to each student in the district in Grades 3-8 an assessment designed to assess the student in the fine arts of visual art and general music.” This method of assessing the arts in Oklahoma public schools has given school districts greater control and flexibility in integrating and assessing the arts in the classroom.

The new online assessment report is similar to the .PDF documents you are used to completing. For each grade that your district serves, data must be entered for at least one Visual Arts standard and one Music standard. Please save each page before going to the next screen or the data will be deleted. Once the report has been submitted, the superintendent will need to certify the report.

This is how some school employees spend their time. One sentence of the instructions is so important, they’ve added emphasis. Twice.

Why are we assessing the arts? If it’s to ensure that students get to experience it, then the moment has passed. I don’t want to audit the amount of time that we spend on the arts in grades 3-8 – in my district or any other. Too often, schools have cut this time (or taken it for remediation) because of the other mandates. In my mind, the logic goes like this: We’ve sucked the soul out of education with all of this testing. Let’s make sure the arts aren’t lost. Let’s test them too! I’ve never ascribed to the if you value it, measure it mentality. You can’t measure love or passion. At one high school’s open house last month, I heard a parent express excitement over her daughter’s love of music. That matters. I value that. I can’t measure it. I won’t try.

Page three is where any of us who have ever managed Federal Programs budgets and plans for a district formed those red spots on our foreheads. They came from hitting our heads on our desks repeatedly while operating in the Grants Management System application. I’m tempted to get more screenshots inside the tab, but trust me – there are just some things that can’t be unseen.

SSO3

Page four is another place district employees have to spend a considerable amount of time. I personally spent two hours last week signing RSA forms. Some were for retentions. Some were for promotion. If I, as a superintendent, spent two hours just signing and dating papers, how much time was spent by the school and district staff preparing documentation, remediating and retesting students, contacting parents, and meeting as committees?

SSO4

Page five is just old tabs of school personnel records going back several years. There are a lot of records in there. When you have more than 14,000 students, you have a lot of employees. I know I’ve only been in my new role about six weeks, but I haven’t found one we don’t need yet.

SSO5

The highlight of page six is the Wave. I even like the logo, although a surfer on an actual wave might have been better. This is where all the student data lives.

SSO6

All the free/reduced meal data, academic records, online courses, testing, and so forth is stored. I can see this portal, but I’m afraid to enter it. If I do, I might have to read messages like this:

We were having issues sending the STN’s back to local SIS systems earlier in the week, and have corrected the issue. If you are missing STN’s in your system and you have zero students on the STN Wizard please send in a help desk ticket toHelpDesk@omes.ok.gov and we will have them re-published back to your local SIS.

And this:

If on the Data Validation Wizard you are seeing the warning “Lunch Eligibility Determination” was not provided, check the spelling of the word “Determination” in PowerSchool for the SIF agent.  If it is missing the letter “a” that is the issue that needs to be corrected.  If you have corrected the spelling and still have the same error, be sure to restart your SIF Agent so the change in the spelling can be applied to the agent.

On the last screen, we have a few more reports for Federal Programs and the TLE Reports. Inside of this well of data, I can view the value-added reports for teachers and administrators. Well, I could, but they’re not in there. Or maybe they’re just not loading for me. These things happen.

SSO7

I’m just fortunate I have great people around me who take care of all of these very detailed reports. They may not be classroom teachers, but their positions are important too.

The Hickman piece continues with a suggestion: just eliminate the minimum teacher salary scale:

Roughly half of states have no statutorily mandated minimum salary for teachers, and it is interesting how they compare to Oklahoma. On our borders, neither Kansas nor Colorado has a mandated salary, yet they pay teachers an average salary of $48,000 and $51,000, respectively, compared with the average salary of $44,000 in Oklahoma. This is basic economics: Mandated minimum salaries restrict wage growth potential. In states where no minimum salary is mandated, schools pay what they feel the market warrants to attract and retain quality teachers. It should also be noted that, unlike Kansas and Colorado, Oklahoma provides health insurance for our education employees.

First – and this always comes up – anyone claiming the average teacher salary in Oklahoma is $44,000 should note that this figure includes insurance and retirement. That means the teachers in Colorado have a larger total compensation package, even though they have to find their own health insurance. For 2015, the health benefit for teachers is $499.42/month – roughly $6,000 per year. Teachers struggling to feed their families – and there are many – get rightly frustrated hearing the larger amount when they know their taxable income is far lower. Eliminate the minimum salary? I don’t think so. It’s a safety net.

I’m still in the same place I’ve been since I began blogging when it comes to the treatment of teachers. It’s going to take serious money to recruit more people into (or back into) the profession. We need higher starting salaries, bigger annual increases, and more of a bump for earning advanced degrees. We need fewer mandates. We need elected leaders who don’t think that testing is how you tell the value of teachers or kids. We need respect for the teachers we have, however they got here.

The shortage is real. These 506 emergency certifications granted at the August SBE meeting aren’t a figment of anyone’s imagination. I should know. I signed the request for several of them.

182 Emergencies and Counting!

First thing first: if you’re teaching in an Oklahoma classroom next year, I’m rooting for you. I want you to be successful. I want you to have students you love, parents who support you, colleagues who help you grow, and administrators who provide you with the resources you need. Once you’re signed, sealed, and delivered,  I really don’t care about how you got here.

You might have been a 4.0 student in college, or you might have just squeaked by. You might have chosen the teaching profession at age 20 or age 50. You might be in that classroom for one of 100 different reasons, and you might have taken one of 100 different pathways to get there. I don’t care; I wish you well.

I say this because, as you may have heard, the State Board of Education issued 182 emergency certificates this week. Think about that number: 182. These aren’t alternatively certified teachers. These are people who’ve reached agreements with schools to fill classrooms while working on earning a teaching certificate. Here’s how state law (p. 269) explains the distinction:

Nothing in the Oklahoma Teacher Preparation Act shall restrict the right of the State Board of Education to issue an emergency or provisional certificate, as needed. Provided, however, prior to the issuance of an emergency certificate, the district shall document substantial efforts to employ a teacher who holds a provisional or standard certificate or who is licensed in the teaching profession. In the event a district is unable to hire an individual meeting this criteria, the district shall document efforts to employ an individual with a provisional or standard certificate or with a license in another curricular area with academic preparation in the field of need. Only after these alternatives have been exhausted shall the district be allowed to employ an individual meeting minimum standards as established by the State Board of Education for the issuance of emergency certificates.

In other words, if a school district can document the tall buildings it has leaped in trying to find a teacher, when there are just no suitable applicants (yes – we still reserve the right to interview and decline to hire people who we just can’t imagine putting in a classroom with children) it can petition the SBE for an emergency certificate for a prospective teacher. Keep in mind that there are many pathways to gaining either a traditional or an alternate teaching certificate.

Procedures published by the Oklahoma State Department of Education provide nine columns of pathways to earn a teaching certificate. That’s right – there are eight ways in addition to simply going to college, earning a degree, and beginning your career in the classroom at 22 or 23 years old.Teacher Pathways 1

  • Option 1 – Traditional
  • Option 2 – Alternative
  • Option 3 – ABCTE PassPort to Teaching
  • Option 4 – Troops to Teachers

Teacher Pathways 2

  • Option 5 – Teach for America
  • Option 6 – Four-Year-Olds and Younger Certificate
  • Option 7 – Career Development Program for Paraprofessionals to be Certified Teachers
  • Option 8 – Out of State Teachers Seeking Oklahoma License or Certificate
  • Option 9 – Non-traditional Special Education

So these teachers getting emergency certification don’t fall into any of the above categories – 182 of them. Allow Tyler Bridges to put that number in perspective:

It’s staggering – 182 emergency certificates this month, but 189 for the entire year of 2013.

As I said at the top, though, I’m rooting for these people. I’m cheering on all of our teachers. Still, even with the pathways and emergencies, we just don’t have enough teachers to staff our schools. Back in March, during the #oklaed chat prior to the rally at the Capitol, several of the usual suspects commented on how the teacher shortage has impacted their schools.

Last year, hundreds of positions were never filled by a permanent teacher. I’ve heard more than one legislator say that businesses have this happen all the time; there are always an acceptable number of positions open.

This is yet another reason that public education doesn’t fit a business model. Maybe these numbers are acceptable at AT&T, Apple, and Dell. They aren’t acceptable where we’re trying to teach seventh grade math, AP Physics, or first grade everything. If you don’t believe me, ask the parents and students impacted by these shortages.

If the AT&T store is shorthanded, I have to wait a little longer for my service. If a school is shorthanded, instruction can grind to a halt. If a teacher materializes two months into the school year, that time is just lost.

This is still the most critical issue in public education. It’s going to take a serious investment to get more teachers into classrooms – an even greater one to get them to stay.

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