Monday, December 11, 2017

The "Dirtiest" Word in #oklaed School Libraries

Cherity Pennington is continuing her series of guest blogs here with a discussion of the dastardly secret of why school libraries are facing such troubles in Oklahoma. Surprise! It’s funding.

There used to be school requirements about staffing school libraries, and supplying books for the libraries. But, after 2008, when the legislature began cutting funding to schools, they gave schools a ‘Sophie’s Choice’: you can use that money for library aides, and for books...or you can spend it in other ways. Like to make up for the cuts from the legislature. Some school districts felt they had to do that, even though they knew it wasn’t right.

A couple of years ago I ‘testified’ at a school funding House Interim Study. The big boys talked about the big picture. I tried to make funding cuts in the schools real. I talked about the cuts to funding school libraries and how short-sighted such cuts are. This deregulation of requirements is not a new problem, but as cuts continue, more and more schools are faced with the realization they are running out of options for keeping their schools afloat.

Please read Cherity’s piece here, her first one, and the ones to follow.

School libraries are under attack. Schools are under attack.

Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been making headlines for years now. This year, we have seen a record number of emergency certified teachers filling open teaching positions. These emergency certified teachers come to the profession with a variety of skill and experience levels, but what they all have in common is a bachelor’s degree. Yes, all emergency certified teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in order to fill a teaching position in our schools.

We would be outraged if our schools were allowing people without a college degree to fill a certified teaching position, wouldn’t we?

Prepare to be outraged.

The use of uncertified personnel to fill certified positions is precisely what is happening to many of Oklahoma’s school librarians. Many school districts are replacing school librarians -  certified teaching positions that require master’s degrees -  with paraprofessionals who are not required to have a bachelor’s degree. As I pointed out to a friend recently, communities would be livid if a school filled a science teaching position with a person without a bachelor’s degree. Why do we not have the same outrage when we are replacing school librarian positions with people without the required education?

In my previous guest blog, I explained why it is important for Oklahoma students to have access to a certified school librarian. School librarians not only teach their students necessary technology and information literacy skills, they also help their students achieve more in all other subject areas. The State of Oklahoma has known for a long time this positive impact of school librarians. In fact, Oklahoma even requires its schools to have a certified school librarian on staff.

When I tell people that schools are required to have a school librarian, I am often met with confused looks. It is true, though. Our schools are required to have school librarians. According to Standard VII of the Standards for Accreditation of Oklahoma Schools, each public school in our state should have library staffing appropriate for the size of the school. A small school with fewer than 300 students, for example, must have either a half-time school librarian or a fifth-time school librarian with a full-time library assistant. I teach in a much larger school, so my school is required to have a full-time school librarian and at least a half-time assistant.

So why do so many Oklahoma schools no longer have a school librarian? One word: deregulation.

It has been widely reported that since the recession began in 2008, Oklahoma has made deep cuts to education funding. Many schools, facing this severe lack of funding, are reducing or eliminating school library services. In order to change library services, districts must ask permission from the Oklahoma State School Board to deregulate their school library services. What that deregulation looks like is different for each school. Sometimes, districts deregulate to eliminate the library assistant requirement but still keep the certified school librarian. Other times, a certified librarian will oversee the library programs of multiple schools with assistance from paraprofessionals. Too often, districts eliminate the school librarian position completely and replace with library assistants.

I cannot say with accuracy how many schools in Oklahoma no longer have a certified school librarian, but I know it is many. Almost 50 districts requested school library program deregulation for this school year in the month of November alone. Not all of those districts eliminated their school librarian position completely, but many did. Deregulation of school library programs is a part of almost every Oklahoma State School Board meeting and has been for at least the last two years. One can only imagine how many schools still have certified school librarians.

Please let this fact sink in. Many of these deregulations mean that teaching positions are being filled not through an emergency certification process but through no certification process at all. These accreditation standards are supposed to ensure that Oklahoma’s students all have access to a quality education. The schools that deregulate their school library programs may have official permission to do so, but they are not meeting these accreditation standards, and our students are not receiving the level of education that they deserve.

What can we do to ensure our Oklahoma students are receiving the teaching services of a certified school librarian?

First, I encourage school administrators to examine all other cost-saving measures prior to considering library deregulation. A certified school librarian’s expertise in technology, professional development, and teaching can be a low-cost investment for schools.

Then, I urge our state education leaders to work with school districts to protect the position of school librarians. Help our schools find ways to fund this important teaching position. I also encourage our state-level leaders to require schools that deregulate to have a plan to return to full library staffing in a short amount of time.

Finally, I urge the school librarians in Oklahoma who still have their jobs to tell everyone about the important work they are doing. Our communities will not understand why school librarians are important unless our school librarians teach them. OKSL invites schools and school librarians who have been affected by library deregulation to share your stories with us.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

School Librarians-Teachers First and Always. A guest post by Cherity Pennington

I will be devoting my blog to Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of Oklahoma Library Association, and especially friends, Cherity Pennington and Amanda Kordeliski, school librarians extraordinaire. You'll learn about what school librarians know and do. You'll learn about the deep neglect (MY word) our policy makers have showered on our school libraries and librarians. 

I've been a school librarian and know my training helped inform my work in the classroom.

So, let me introduce my friend, Cherity. She has an assignment at the end. Please do your homework.

Anyone who has been in education for even a short amount of time knows that teachers often teach a new concept more than once before their students completely learn it. Reteaching is not a sign of failure; true learning usually takes some repetition.

I had to remind myself today that I am not a failure, but I do have to do some reteaching.

You see, one of my goals when I became the chair of Oklahoma School Librarians this year was to make sure the stakeholders in Oklahoma education understood the role, the purpose, and the necessity of school librarians in every school. Because if our stakeholders - the administrators, teachers, students, parents, legislators, community members, etc. - completely understand what school librarians do, then these same stakeholders will become just as concerned as I am about what is happening to school librarians in our state.

Bear with me, then, as I do some reteaching.

First, school librarians are teachers.

Yes, school librarians are certified teachers. In fact, if I may be so bold, school librarians could be viewed as super teachers. In Oklahoma, school librarians must possess a master’s degree before they can become a school librarian. Most other teachers may be certified with a bachelor’s degree.

What causes many people pause when I declare that school librarians are teachers, though, is that many people are blinded by the stereotype of the school librarian. The stereotype is that school librarians sit behind a desk, check books out to students, and shush students who are too loud in the library. Occasionally, the stereotype might emerge from the circulation desk to put some returned books back on a shelf. The stereotype, though, is nothing like the truth.

The truth is that school librarians are teaching vital skills to the students in their schools. School librarians are teaching students how to find information from a variety of information sources, how to evaluate that information for trustworthiness, how to be safe online, how to use advanced technology tools, how to adapt to changing technology, how to read information sources critically, how to read and evaluate fiction books, and how to collaborate with others. School librarians also work collaboratively with the rest of the teaching staff in a school, so, in reality, school librarians support and teach all academic standards in all core subjects.

In the next few days in my school library, I have plans to help eighth grade students create a commercial with an iPad and a green screen so they can practice their persuasive writing skills along with their speaking skills. I am helping a drama class complete a research project and teaching students how to cite information sources. I am working on lesson plans with a fellow teacher for another research project for a group of sixth graders who are learning to summarize and evaluate editorials with opposing views. I will continue teaching more than 20 students who are choosing to create a project for National History Day and are in the midst of intense historical research. Along with these teaching opportunities, I will also find time to help install a classroom projector, work on three grant proposals for my school, and, yes, check out books to students.

Second, students and teacher succeed with a certified school librarian

Multiple research studies show that students who have access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian have higher test scores and have a better chance of being college and career ready upon graduation.

Other teachers benefit from having a certified school librarian on staff. Certified school librarians are usually professional development leaders in their schools. Fellow teachers may benefit from the technology and information expertise of the school librarian who leads school wide professional development training. Research also indicates that students succeed more when classroom teachers and school librarians collaborate and teach together.

Third, school librarians are not administrators nor support staff.

Yes, I have already established (I hope) that school librarians are teachers. Why, then, does the distinction among these three titles matter? First, allow me to point out the difference among the three titles, and then, I will explain why the distinction matters.

Because school librarians are certified teachers, they are paid on the same scale as other certified teachers who possess master’s degrees. The only exception to this pay scale is for those school librarians who work additional hours or days in their contract due to the high demands of the school library. School administrators are typically paid much more and have supervisory status over multiple employees or programs within a school or school district.

In the world of education, the support staff title is associated with the personnel in a school who are essential but who are not required to possess a college degree, such as a paraprofessional, school secretary, custodian, nutrition services worker, etc.

Now, this is why the distinction among the three titles matters. Recently, Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order that calls for consolidation of administrative services of public school districts that spend less than 60% of their budget on instruction. However, as Sen. Ron Sharp explains in this blog post, some specialized education positions, such as school librarians, are classified as non-instructional or administrative despite the instructional impact they have. Therefore, if we do not make the distinction between school librarians as teachers and not as administrators, then school librarians could lose their jobs.

Also, because school librarians are certified teachers, their positions should not be filled by a person qualified for a support staff position. Again, support staff positions are vital in our schools, but these positions typically do not require certification or advanced degrees. Unfortunately, many school districts are replacing certified teacher librarians with support staff members who are not qualified to be teachers. Examine the agendas and handouts of recent Oklahoma State School Board meetings, and you will find numerous instances of school districts asking permission to do just this. For example, the Nov. 16, 2017, board meeting handout shows multiple districts requesting to replace their certified library media specialist positions with full-time paraprofessionals.

I originally began this writing by stating that I had to remind myself that reteaching does not mean I am a failure. I, and many other Oklahoma school librarians, have been working hard to get the word out about what it is that school librarians do and why these teaching positions are important for our students’ success. Today, I read a school district’s Tweet about its teacher of the year who happened to be a school librarian. Congratulations to that school librarian and to her school because that school understands the amazing teaching that school librarians do every day. Unfortunately, that announcement was almost immediately followed by someone else complaining that school librarians are not real teachers. We obviously have more work to do. We must reteach.

So, here is your assignment.

If you are a teacher or administrator, get to know your school librarians. Work with them and reap the benefits. If you work at a school without a school librarian, tell your decision makers why it is so important to have one. If you are a legislator, spend some time with a school librarian so you can witness what these teachers do each day. Prepare to be impressed. If you are a school librarian yourself, keep being your awesome self and keep teaching your school community why your students and fellow educators need you.

Cherity Pennington is the current chair of Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of the Oklahoma Library Association. She is halfway through her 19th year of teaching in Oklahoma public schools and her 7th year as a school librarian. She was the 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year for her school district. Contact her at or on Twitter @cherity7 and @OKSLlife.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Couple of Jokes -- One of Which is HB1019X

I did not have the heart or the will to watch the debate and vote on HB1019X today. Everyone with a brain knew the outcome, and the outcome will not be pretty for any of us who have friends or family in our state.

I DID watch on my computer (after my husband shut the door to my guest room/office...I watched the debate and the vote. And I wept bitterly.

I tried to take notes and characterize Representatives' arguments clearly. When my mouth would not be still, I added my own commentary in italics. 

FORREST Bennett, NOT to be confused with the no-taxes Bennett: (Against) He had to reclaim 6 seconds for his debate because his colleagues were being rowdy. Chair reminded the House of the need for decorum in the Chamber and reminded them to disagree with dignity and respect. If they can't do that, maybe they all need to go back to school and work on their people skills.

Rep. F. Bennett said he felt duped and deceived, taken for a ride by the leadership. They had said they wouldn't cut funding, and this bill cuts funding. He pointed out that after the failure of HB1054X, this bill mysteriously appeared...all ready to go. He urged a NO vote to hold the House accountable to voters..."You can do better if you have the will to do better."

Matt Meredith: (Against) He said the House is playing games with people's lives. He reminded the body that the Speaker promised the minority party that if THEY could deliver 75% yes votes on HB1054X, it would pass. The minority party delivered over 80%, but the bill failed when 12 Chairs, including the Chair of the Common Ed Committe, voted NO. He apologized to teachers, to the County Commissioners who came to advocate, to elderly and to children. He called the O&G employees who were bused to the Capitol for the debate last week, "paid protesters." I will add paid protesters who had a cushy ride from and back to work. He decried the weeks of time wasted in the Special Session and said the Senate was their only hope.

Collin Walke: (Against) He promised he wouldn't yell, and I can testify to the fact he did not raise his voice; he still brought his passion. He reminded the House that he told members the cigarette tax bill they passed in session was unconstitutional - BEFORE they voted. He reminded them he said it was a bad bill. They passed it any way. He evoked the Speaker, 'who dares not darken the floor of the House.' He did not yell.

Cyndi Munson: (Against) spoke eloquently about meeting students from a public school honor society. She spoke of her own alma mater, UCO, and told the body that 1500 A and B students have left the university before completing a degree. She warned that scholarships will be withdrawn because the funding is not there. She ended by saying Oklahoma deserves better.

Josh West: (For) He complained that others had called him a bully. Not sure about the context at all. He said his wife works in mental health...Then began decrying bureaucratic waste...In a swipe to the County Commissioners, I assume, he said their choice was people or asphalt. I wondered at his last sounded like a threat to any counties represented by members who vote NO. Surely not.

Jason Dunnington: (Against) He talked about one-time funding and deficits every year. He reminded the body they do the same thing every year. He challenged the House: next Session, beginning in February, members should not file any bills unless they include recurring revenue for the state. "We are the problem." He said they must be hyper-focused on recurring revenue, not social issues.

Scott Fetgatter: (For) Says we must choose between jobs, roads and bridges, and elderly and disabled people. People are losing services without this bill.

Johnny Tadlock: (Against) He told the body that it will be hard to go home and tell the people he voted for a bill to cut funds and services. Warned members they will return in February in a worse position than they're in now. He said he was going to be real about his vote.

Chuck Strohm: (For) Told members this bill IS the compromise. The only solution that protects state agencies. I may have cursed at the screen...just a bit. Rep Strohm only likes the bill in my mind because it cuts...cuts...and cuts. As a proud Grover Norquist no-tax-pledge signatory, he is not as interested in protecting agencies in my mind, as he is in never raising taxes.

Cory Williams: (Against) He called up the ghosts of OCPA and OICA as the big winners in this bill. He admitted he took heat on his vote last week. I might have brought my own blowtorch. He said a yes vote was doing 'more of what got us to 50th in the nation. How can we tell Amazon to invest in us if we don't invest in ourselves?' This is not a compromise in his mind.

John Bennett: (For) He began his debate with a story of a husband and wife who were charged with shooting the other to death. I got lost in the metaphor. He said this bill helps them make hard decisions...that it satisfies needs until next session. That it is the only alternative without taxing Oklahomans to death. Then he went on the familiar 'audit-audit-audit' rant. My eyes rolled into my head...I lost the thread at that point. He returned to his other favorite talking point: HB1017, the biggest tax increase in state history. He claimed 'total' state spending has increased. He called all opposition "scare tactics." Then, as I've come to expect, he went off the rails, accusing OU of encouraging abortion, of wasting money on monasteries. NOW he cares deeply about the vulnerable in our state...this from the man who called state agencies 'terrorists' the last time he debated. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along.

Todd Thompsen: (Against) Rep Thompsen is a Republican who also brought up the fact that his own leadership voted against HB1054X...'our leaders were not jumping on.' He also reminded Democrats that their own leadership voted against the former bill. He sounded like a very reluctant NO vote, but a NO vote. 

Jon Echols: (For) The Floor Leader said he'd looked up the debate rules and could not call others liars, but he could say they lied. "I looked it up. I can say that." He said, "The truth is not in you. I cannot call you liars." He reminded the body that Department of Health would not be able to make payroll at the end of the month without the bill. This must have been in response to several others who asked the members to keep working on a better bill -- he warned that we are out of time. I'll admit, I got lost in this commentary. Never was sure who were the people-lying-who-were-not-liars. I think I missed a few seconds due to a glitchy connection.

David Perryman: (Against) He began by saying OCPA never saw a government program they didn't want to kill. He warned that the cuts in this bill would create long term problems for the state. He asked the body to stand up for people not corporations. He said that this moment was a natural result of years of neglect.

Kevin Wallace, Chair of Appropriations and Budget: (For) Chairman Wallace, who had just stood and answered an hour of questions about the bill with good humor and respect closed the debate. He reminded members that the failed cigarette tax, recently deemed unconstitutional by the Court, is the reason we are back in Special Session (Actually, I learned on the first day, it's called an Extraordinary Session). He said 12 agencies where held flat in this bill, with no cuts...Common Ed is one he mentioned. He didn't mention the fact there are MORE students for the same dollar allocation. That means the state invests less on each student. So, that is a cut. He warned the members that we are all racing toward a cliff, and said this bill will save us.

Someone in debate told one of my favorite jokes about digging into a pile of poo...the optimist does it with glee, because 'there's a pony in there someplace.'

They voted. It passed (no new revenue, so it only needed 51 votes). There was no pony.

Now, I'm going to go write thank-you emails to the NO votes. They seem to have more faith in our ability to truly help our fellow Oklahomans than the people who voted yes. My head hurts.

Eight Weeks. Eight. OK, Seven and a half . And THIS is the plan??

Update -- The sky has officially fallen. Governor Mary Fallin and I agree on something...she doesn't like this bill any more than I do. My question all Extraordinary Session has been:Why is the Speaker flying in the face of the Governor's wishes? I know she's a lame duck at this point...but to so completely ignore her intentions...It mystifies me.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Votes

I've 'donated' my blog tonight to Crystal Davis, a former student and fellow activist. We sat together Wednesday afternoon during the questions, debate, and vote for HB1054X, which needed 76 yes votes to become law, and save crucial social and medical services for our citizens. It fell short of the required 3/4 margin. Crystal is one of those treasures of my advocacy journey. Seeing her now, a fierce adult, making time to show up and stand witness. And she's a crackerjack analyst. She thinks in numbers and can use words like weapons. I appreciate her questions and her research. Why DID the vote fail?

Crystal, in her own words: "I'm a 4th Generation Oklahoman and a statistician who actively advocates for 7% GPT and the most vulnerable Oklahomans."

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to save services for the most vulnerable in Oklahoma.  

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to give teachers and state employees a pay raise.  

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to pass the ‘Grand Bargain’.

‘The Grand Bargain’ is a bill which includes a tax increase on fuel, tobacco, and low point beer; along with an increase of the gross production tax incentive rate from 2% to 4%.  A previous version of this bill which included all of the above except the gross production tax failed to receive the required 76 votes in the State House . ‘The Grand Bargain’ has the required number of votes needed in the Senate and the Governor’s support, but fell short by 5 votes in the State House on Wednesday.  Many people are asking who is to blame for the failure of 1054X?

The Democrats?  

23 Democrats voted yes, 5 voted no. It would be easy to point a finger to those 5 Democrats and say, “If those 5 Democrats had voted yes, this would of passed.” The Democrats delivered 82.14% of their caucus.  Speaker McCall said in an earlier statement, ‘If the Democrats deliver 75% of their caucus, we’ll deliver 75% of our caucus.’ Last I checked 75% of 28 is 21.  The Democrats delivered 2 extra votes.  With 2 vacant seats in the State House, House District 51 and 76, the Democrats went above and beyond making up for those vacancies.

The Republicans?

There are currently 71 Republicans in the house.  75% of 71 representatives is 53.25.  The Republicans needed to bring 53 votes.  Combined with the 23 Democratic votes, the bill would of passed with the 76 votes needed. Only 48 Republicans supported the ‘Grand Bargain’, 67.6% of their members.

It’s worth taking a closer look at those 22 no votes from the Republicans. Of those 22, 7 voted yes on a previous version of the bill which did not include Gross Production Tax. Those 7 Republican Representatives are:

Bobby Cleveland
Jeff Coody
John Enns
Mark McBride
Lewis Moore
Terry O’Donnell
Michael Rogers

Often times in politics we ask ourselves, what does a politician have to gain by changing their vote? I looked at the campaign contributions, wondering how much Oil and Gas had donated to their campaigns.  According to these numbers provided by Oklahoma Watch, there is Oil and Gas money tied to each of these Republicans, but not enough to justify switching their votes. I started to wonder if we need to ask ourselves, what does a politician have to lose? With a tip and a little researching, I learned in the case of the 7 Republicans who voted no, they have a lot to lose.

Bobby Cleveland - Chair Public Safety
Jeff Coody - Chair Wildlife
John Enns - Chair of Human Services & Long Term Care
Mark McBride - Vice Chair Energy, Assistant Floor Leader
Lewis Moore - Assistant Majority Whip, Chair Insurance
Terry O’Donnell - Majority Whip
Michael Rogers - Assistant Majority Whip, Chair Common Education

That’s a lot of highly coveted positions of power among those 7 Republicans. Among the 22 no votes there are 13 committee chairs and 7 vice chairs.. Makes one wonder why those who hold positions of power voted no. So the question remains, who is to blame? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

One. Year.

One year ago today.

One. Year.

SQ779 went down to defeat. I was against it before I was supportive. I, like many of my progressive friends, hated the regressive nature of a state sales tax to fund teacher raises. Then I listened to friends and family who were happy to pay that penny to help fund teacher raises. An interesting analysis after the election found that communities around our borders voted FOR 779, and in some metro areas, neighborhoods around poorer schools did too. I supported this and was stunned (yes, I am an optimist) when it failed.

With a few exceptions (Mickey Dollens), our Teacher Caucus candidates, were defeated by wide margins. We had been so hopeful that educators and close relatives running for office, highlighting the issues in our schools, would excite and inspire voters to elect newcomers who would be committed to our public schools. We knocked doors, we called, we wrote postcards. And we watched the Caucus flame out.

But...we were told our legislators heard the cry...they were going to get right on that teacher raise. That 'better plan.' We did not hold our breath. We would have died if we held our breath.

There was no plan...and teachers left the state to support their families. Or they left the profession to support their families. Our public schools have a record number of emergency-certified teachers in classrooms. I know of two teachers in my community who have quit in the middle of the semester. Others, dependent on WIC, are looking for new jobs. There. Was. No. Plan.

HB1054X, the bill that the House will consider this afternoon is a pile of poo. And sometimes practical, pragmatic people vote for a pile of poo, knowing the battle has not ended...that we still have our values intact. We know the direction we want the state of OK to go. And we are willing to take smaller steps toward our goal.

If supporting this bill knowing it's deeply flawed means I must turn in my Progressive Card, so be it. My first vote was for Bobby Kennedy in the Indiana presidential primary just months before his assassination. And my second vote was for Eugene McCarthy for president. I'm secure in my values.

I'm ready to be pragmatic to save our most vulnerable...people who rely on waivers for their home health care. People who work in sheltered workshops, people who live in state-supported nursing homes. People who depend on state and county mental health services. Every one of those folks has a family, a circle of friends who will also be affected. Mothers will have to quit their jobs to provide full time care. Sisters who will have to open their homes. Sons and daughters who will see their parents going without needed services.

IF this passes with the required 3/4 vote (will rant about SQ640 later), I'm coming back, demanding more. I'm not going away. Neither are those of us who love someone affected by the cuts about to fall.

If this fails, I'll be back...but some Oklahomans might not have that luxury of time.

One. Year. In that year policy makers have seen our schools lose dedicated educators -- including a dear friend and a Grand's favorite teacher. This will not change. It will accelerate.

One. Year. And now, health services and mental health services are in the cross-hairs.

One. Year. Do we have another year to dither and demand perfection? I, for one, am not willing to gamble the life of ONE OKLAHOMAN.

Not another year like this one...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Where are We Going, and Why are We in this Handbasket?

Ok, now I'm just pissed. Angry. Frustrated. Furious. Livid. Pissed.

In the past days I've heard stories of devastation:

  • Teachers forced to rely on WIC to feed their own children as they educate OURS.
  • Home-bound citizens being told their ADvantage program that provides home nurses, allowing them to live in their own homes with dignity told their program may end November 30.
  • State employees were given a glimmer of a hope for a raise, only to have that dashed.
  • Another tease of a $1000 raise for beleaguered teachers ($83.33 a month before taxes)
  • HB1093, a draconian requirement that Medicaid recipients go to great lengths to requalify for the health care for themselves and their families.
  • Friends who are health-care providers don't know if they'll have a job in December. 
  • Home bound clients may be forced into a nursing home.
  • Mental health clients stand to lose all out-patient services

Letter received by ADvantage clients
We are in the middle of an 'extraordinary' session called by the Governor to fix the budget after the centerpiece of the past session, the $215 MILLION 'smoking cessation' bill was deemed unconstitutional.

Last week I attended the rally at the Capitol to save mental health and public health...or I tried to. I never got into the building until the actual rally was moved outside. I saw desperate caregivers and desperate clients begging lawmakers to do something. I stood behind a client who told me she'd never been to Oklahoma City before. I stood in front of two nurses who drove in from Elk City.

On the 23rd, we were told there was a budget 'agreement'. Umm, the GOP did that to us before. They agreed with leadership...but not with the Democrats. This was the same. the GOP agreed, announced the 'deal', and left the press room without answering questions.

That cobbled-together Frankenstein's monster of a bill went down in the it should have. But these workers and clients had been told that was the only hope to save services. I watched that debate and watched Democratic legislators offer several opportunities to their colleagues for compromise. None was taken. The bill did not reach its 76-vote threshold.

Another bill that actually raised Gross Production Tax on new horizontal oil wells. Friday we all hoped it would sail through Appropriations and Budget Committee and reach the House floor...maybe Saturday. In a stunning raw display of power, the budget compromise failed in a tie. The GOP Chair chose not to vote for the bill. The GOP Speaker of the House who is a member of all Committees did not vote to break the tie. The leadership let the bill die in Committee. It became apparent that our budding hopes were to be destroyed.

If the first bill was Frankenstein's monster, what happened next was the Bride...Cuts, raids of the Rainy Day fund, shuffling of money from one hand to another is what we got. Legislators voted for this mess. I can only imagine their sadness.

Now, today, we read the report of the Interim Study by Representative Rick West, targeting 'Government Waste.' I did not attend...I did volunteer at my Grands'. Rep. West's bold initiative for saving the state from taxes? Do you really want to know??

He suggested the state could save $100,000 if the State Department of Education stopped using color ink in their printers! There are no words. Fill that $215 MILLION dollar hole in the budget from your unconstitutional law with printer cartridges. Yeah, that'll work just fine.

That was his suggestion. No new taxes. No new revenue. No recurring revenue stream. Just stop making color copies.

**A friend just reminded me that the bill to Oklahoma tax payers for this Extraordinary Session is approximately $30,000 per day. That pays mileage and per-diem for legislators who live outside the, three-and-a-half days of Extraordinary Session equals the OSDE's annual color cartridge bill. Priorities.**

Representative West wants to "root...out government inefficiency." He wants to "trim...the fat." He wants the corner on cliches, I guess. He and his colleague, Representative Tom Gann released a statement that chides OSDE for using color cartridges. I have no polite words.

Just tonight, Representative John Bennett, a disciple of Grover make-government-so-small-you-can-drown-it-in-a-bathtub Norquist, called state health and mental health agencies 'terrorists'. TERRORISTS! For doing their jobs and protecting their clients.

"The world is out of balance. The center cannot hold."

I've played nice. I've visited the Capitol. I've written letters and emails. I've made calls. I've worn buttons and held signs. We all have done what we can to make this legislature responsive.

OK Legislature taking last can of WHO HASH
Here we are entering the Christmas season with the biggest Grinches working at the Capitol. Working in service of Big Oil that has decided it won't contribute to our state. It will continue to frack, to extract natural resources out of the land, and it doesn't care if teachers leave the state to feed their children, if disabled patients have to move to nursing homes, if families lose their Medicaid for an excess of paperwork and regulations. The industry doesn't seem to care if dedicated state workers continue to make due with less, with no raises.

The industry doesn't care.

Some legislators don't seem to care.

OCPA, a conservative think tank has taken us #oklaed bloggers to task for our bad language and vitriol. Bad words and vitriol are bubbling to the surface right now like red-hot lava.

Today, all I can think is "Sh*t. Sh*t. Sh*t. What the actual H*ll? What the Frack??"

Oh, and Merry Christmas to Oklahoma...if we have a state in December.

What services have I forgotten? Please add them in comments. I know I'm not thinking clearly right now.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

HOW TO BE HEARD -- or Reading is Complicated When You Make Connections

I am intrigued when a book reconnects me to favorite activists, to my own writing, and to concerns I’ve struggled with for most of my career. Celine Coggins is founder and former CEO of Teach Plus – more about them later. Her book, How To Be Heard: 10 Lessons Teacher Need to Advocate for their Students and Profession is that book. My National Board trainer, brilliant advocate, Nancy Flanagan, and my online friend, Doug Martin, author of a cautionary tale about education in my home state of Indiana, have prior experience with Coggins’ work. Their insights put Coggins' book into context for me, and expand my understanding well beyond these pages.

The ‘big idea’ that brings all this together in my eclectic mind is teacher leadership. Nancy has written often and well about teacher leadership sometimes being nothing but cleverly-constructed ‘teacher management’ – using the name and credibility of a respected educator to promote others’ agenda (Notice the fact that Nancy refers to Coggins in her post).  She points it out, and she challenges the concept thoughtfully and reflectively.  Her piece inspired me to think about the ways I’ve been managed in the past.

I was drawn to the book because I know I need to become a better advocate for schools and students and families…I’m missing the boat somehow. When I visit with legislators one-on-one I ask them for advice about advocating, and I get advice like, build relationships, bring your passion, focus on issues not personalities. OK…I can do that. I’m a teacher. But there’s got to be more.

How to be Heard has a kernel of what I’m searching for. Educators and legislators use the same words, but mean something completely different, and we must recognize that fact, and use it. “Equity” for teachers is making sure every student has an opportunity to thrive in our classrooms, and in our schools. For policy makers, it means systems are in place that might close the achievement gap; it means improving teacher quality in some measurable way (read test scores).

When we use “students” or “kids”, we can conjure up a sea of individual faces, our kids. Our classes. We are advocating for those students. Policy makers, because their sphere of influence is so much larger, these same words have an abstract, generic meaning. Their “kids” are all the students in the state, or in their district. Educators who advocate should be aware of that shift of meaning, and know it goes with the territory.

Coggins also analyzes other language differences between educators and legislators – our knowledge base (content, management, development vs. research on systems, rules of education policy), our influences (direct vs. indirect), the process we focus our attention on (inputs vs. outcomes), levers for change (relationships vs. legislation), our vision of professional success (impacting lives vs. re-election), and the pressures we encounter (scarcity of time, factors outside our classroom, and the needs of our students, vs. resource scarcity, a desire to measure accountability, and that equity I described above). Teachers are practitioners; policy makers are social scientists and researchers.
This, I think, is the piece that was new learning for me…and important for me to think about as I work with legislators.

When we understand policy makers’ concern with scarce resources, we understand how teacher salaries seems to be the most useful variable in forcing change. In any district’s budget, teacher salaries make up the majority of dollars spent. That is why we’ve seen such a push to do away with the traditional teacher salary schedules, to add schemes to pay teachers for high student test scores. Legislators are tinkering with the largest lever they have.

One more part of Coggins’ message I will enfold into my advocacy is the idea of coming with solutions. I need to come to conversations with ideas, a ‘third’ way to help solve the issues and problems facing education policy makers. Have ideas, not just “No”. I often enter the process after the legislation has been written, too late to have influence. I feel like I’m always behind the curve. I need to be involved earlier in the process. I need to bring education research to conversations to help craft legislation, not use the research after the bills are presented to show how bad they are. Easier said…

Coggins' ideas of advocating from a position of limited power,  a position when I am building power are useful: learn patience, help find that new plan, meet one-on-one, be creative, write and research, build coalitions. As I look at that list of actions, I see the work that teachers do every day. We are the experts, and we have the skills to reach out to influence policy. We need to remember this.

One of Coggins’ ten rules is this: “Accountability is inescapable.” I agree, and support that…but part ways with her when she says testing will always be a part of accountability, even as she admits that testing is broken. She suggests educators help policy makers make ‘better’ tests…I need her to spend more time talking about broken tests, and broken accountability based on broken tests. She fully supports the idea that achievement tests measure learning, a typical policy-maker stance. 

She believes teachers should be evaluated on student test scores, on value-added measures. She believes that incentive pay should be based on student test scores. She believes that student attendance should be used in accountability measures for schools. She believes teachers associations should be challenged, and sees her work as the catalyst. She seems to side with disruptions that seem to benefit education reformers.

Her examples of how her teacher leaders have participated in policy making gave me that twitch between my shoulder blades that I always feel when I’m being managed. It seemed like her teacher leaders came to the conclusions policy makers is it leadership? Or managed teachers?
Her vision of ‘teacher leadership’ really seems to be that managed leadership Nancy talked about. It’s ‘we have the good ideas, and when you come onboard, we’ll let you talk about these great ideas. We’ll use your reputation and your credibility to sell our idea.’

Here is where my friend Doug’s work comes in – here, and here linking Coggins’ work with Bill Gates. Her stances are suspiciously similar to Gates' goals for disruptive reform. Doug’s book Hoosier School Heist is one of the most important books I’ve read about how ideological school reform can affect our students. She and her ‘teacher leaders’ used Gates money to write legislation that changed teacher employment practices in Indiana.

In my mine, she is a managed teacher herself. She’s bought into reformers’ narratives about schools and teachers. Her work at Teach Plus seems to be focused on creating more managed teacher leaders who will go out and preach her message, funded by Bill Gates’ grants.  Go back to that list of her beliefs, and connect the dots with Gates money.

She begins and ends her book with the power of stories…and this is where we both are on the same page. Her first rule is ‘Advocacy begins with your WHY,’ without crediting Simon Sinek’s book,  Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.  In my work with teachers, I will ask them to begin here…and, I’d love to ask policy makers their WHY. This could build those relationships educators need to be successful advocates.  Her tenth lesson is, “Your story has to meet the moment,” and she includes tips about creating your story, and using it to build your credibility. So, we agree about stories’ power.

We also agree with her ninth lesson, but my point of view is much more cynical. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” I can’t help but think she’s carefully grooming her teacher leaders to be at the table as the entrĂ©e. That they’ll agree with and support policy makers’ views without challenging. I don’t want to be at the table in this scenario.

Bottom line? I’m still looking for a book that will show me how to take my reputation and my credibility to the table and hold on tightly to them both, and not relinquish them as the price of admission. Does anyone have some ideas?