Saturday, March 19, 2016

Teachers -- Not Legislators - Bring Standards to Life

Standards are NOT perfect…they are written by a committee. They are words on paper…goals, targets.

Standards do not come alive until they are used by educators to craft lessons.

Teachers can make anything work. Anything. We’ve been taking well-intentioned mandates and reforms -- sows’ ears -- and we’ve been making amazing silk purses. That’s what we do. We take the mess and make it work. When we are given time. 

One of the curses or pleasures of a long career is to have watched hundreds…maybe thousands…of teachers make it work. I wrote about the long list of reforms I’ve seen come and go in my career, and it’s still one of my favorite pieces.

Teachers make things work. But, the sad truth is, we are seldom given the opportunity to see these reform messes through to the finish.  Seldom are we given time to make things work the right way. Reformers are highly distractible if things don’t go their way immediately…and…squirrel! They’re off on their new reform, with teachers holding those silk purses they’ve been creating.

Standards. They give direction to lessons and units. They allow for vertical planning with the grades above and below. They hold teachers and students accountable for skills. They are the minimum threshold for students and teachers.

They do NOT dictate what to teach or how to teach. They are the goals of our teaching and learning. In fact, Standards are empty words until they are invited into a teacher’s classroom. And then they can come alive. Like Geppetto and Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy, the stiff wooden phrases breathe. Then, we find the imperfections, the holes. Then we see what needs to be revised and edited. In a classroom, Standards become real. When teachers use them to shape instruction, we see their strengths and their weaknesses. We see their worth. We begin to make them work.

Oklahoma educators, several personal friends and valued colleagues, wrote new Standards. They were reviewed. They were vetted. They were presented to the legislature a month-and-a-half ago. 

My Representative, Scott Martin, chair of the House A&B Education Subcommittee has made their adoption his top priority. He showed me the documentation OSDE gave every Legislator on February 1. He has worked to get them adopted. He and others on both sides of the aisle know these Standards must be put into the hands of educators now.  They are trying.

But earlier this week, a small group of legislators, a group that professes to be the enemy of public education in Oklahoma, two out-of-state ‘experts’, a think tank affiliated with ALEC, and the nonprofit who wrote CCSS, have all decided NOW is the time to criticize our Standards. Now, days before they would be accepted. NOW we have three Joint Resolutions that would stop or slow down the Standards. I don’t believe in coincidence, the Easter Rabbit or the Tooth Fairy. Something stinks to high heaven. And the machinations will delay Standards getting into the hands of the very people who can give them life. I won't try to recount all the antics...I'll send you here and here and here. And here where I've written before.

I am sick of the games-playing. And I have some questions:

  • Why and when did the OAStandards become politicized?
  • Does it relate to Treasury Secretary’s attack on Superintendent Hofmeister?
  • Is this related to the OSDE fiscal impact report that probably scuttled Vouchers?
  • Is it related to the fact a certain Senator’s mother would have been an author of the Standards, if the process had started during Barresi’s administration?
  • How long were certain legislators and ROPE representatives and DOK and Heartland Institute and ACHIEVE in communication, coordinating these presentations and publications?
  • Why did opponents wait until the week before Standards were adopted? Rep. Nelson accuses OSDE of not beginning the writing in a timely manner.
  • What is really driving this move on the Standards?
  • What happens in Oklahoma classrooms if the Standards are rejected? Or delayed?
  • Why the sudden demand to perfect a document that has never been used in a single classroom? Could it be those calling for perfection don’t understand how Standards really work? How teachers bring them to life?
  • What will the Republican and Democratic caucuses decide Monday morning?
  • Why does a group who professes to be enemies of public education work so hard to defeat Standards for public education?
  • Why do our legislators hold the opinions of outside reviewers with higher esteem than our own educators?
  • Why is the OSDE being expected to revise our Standards to address every outside criticism?
  • What, in their eyes, is the difference between exemplary texts and reading lists?
  • Where were the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy going in such a hurry?

Can teachers teach and students learn without adopted Standards? Of course.  And they will continue to teach and learn as the legislature plays out is power-drama…

 I plead with our legislators – approve the Standards…put them into the hands of Oklahoma educators who will bring them to life. See, I do believe in fairies…the Blue Fairy.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"A ROPE by Any Other Name..."

I spent 20 years watching Romeo and Juliet self-destruct and take everyone with them. My students memorized speeches from the ‘Balcony Scene,’ and I have no doubt some of them could still quote lines.

So, as we discussed the recent Standards squabble and the strange involvement of a group, ROPE,  who encourages member to withdraw from public schools and home school, my friend Rick Cobb (another English teacher), threw out a line: “A ROPE by any other name…” I LOLed.

“A ROPE by any other name would smell as…fishy…suspicious…self-serving…(I know! Those last two are not smells exactly…but, man, the line works).

What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title.”  

Dear perfection? Not our ROPE…but there is a sick fascination about a group that seems to wield power over a public institution it appears to hate.  There is a single-mindedness and sense of mission about them.

What’s up with ROPE? I remember when they were “Restore Oklahoma Public Education”…I even joined their FB group when that was their name. I trusted that they truly wanted to restore the best of public education back to Oklahoma. I was quickly disabused of that idealistic notion, and tip-toed out of the group to let them continue school-bashing in their own comfortable echo chamber.

Later, ROPE came clean – public education is not a priority…Now they’re “Restore Oklahoma Parent Empowerment “ (starting to really hate that word – nothing good happens with it). Now ROPE goes its merry way, jabbing our schools and collecting legislator friends along the way.

Ask ROPE and they will tell you they are personally responsible for the fall of Common Core in Oklahoma. If so, they left us, with HB 3399, a stinky pile of something…two provisions in the bill were planted to give schools trouble, and they have.

Oklahoma was charged to write our own Standards…AND they could not resemble CCSS in any way. Educators knew this was a trap. Standards is Standards is Standards. As I’ve been saying, there are just so many ways to express, “Students will recognize and identify a simile.” CCSS did not invent their standards…they built them from others. So, when our expert educators (more on them in a moment) came together and began crafting our new Standards, there would be reflections of all the standards ever written by educators. There had to be. These are the bedrock of teaching and learning: guideposts, targets, to keep our work on focus.

The other trap in HB3399 was the requirement that the legislature would have final approval of the Standards. Not educators. Politicians. What could possibly go wrong?

So, experts were assembled and Standards were written.  All along the way citizens could comment on the Standards.

In preparation for presenting Standards to the legislature, OSDE assembled evidence of rigor, documented the differences between Standards and CCSS, collected letters of support from OTHER experts, and generally worked in a professional manner to give legislators all the information they would need to understand a complicated process that is outside their realm of expertise. Their presentation took place on the first day of the new Session…they were ready to go.

Then we waited. The legislature could approve with a Joint Resolution, or they could simply wait until March 23, and the Standards would be automatically adopted. We waited.

In every meeting with my Representative, Scott Martin, he identified Standards as his top legislative priority…he showed me the materials OSDE created to help them make an informed decision. He has worked this whole Session to get this done.

Then, this week. Hours after educators and parents and children descended on the Capitol Tuesday morning. Representative Sykes hosted a presentation of his own…put on by Heartland Institute, with clear, strong ties back to ALEC. He had two experts who (insert gasp here) disapproved of the Standards. They ripped, they shredded. They created doubt and confusion.  

The literacy expert told legislators that our Standards were inferior because we had no exemplar texts…A word about exemplars…they are the texts that would be required for all teachers to teach. That makes our Standards move into curriculum…and Standards must not be curriculum. This is not the first time she’s muddied the waters, or the first time she was wrong. Oh, and about exemplars? CCSS has them…and we were required to write Standards which were in no way, shape, or manner, similar to CCSS…attacked for not mirroring the hated CCSS. My head hurts.

Hours later, ROPE began a public attack… a blog post ready to go, slick links with snappy titles like “They’re Baaaack” warned us that CCSS was sneaking back into our state…that the Standards were a nefarious attempt to circumvent the law. Those pesky teachers didn’t have control over their work…or they were lackeys of Governor Fallin, or they were.

Then, the very next morning, an editorial, listing all the shortcomings of the Standards, showed up on the pages of the Daily Disappointment Oklahoman. By the leader of ROPE.

Remember, ROPE is not supporting public education, the only entity in the state that will be required to follow the Standards. So, a valid question has to be, “Hey, ROPE, what’s your real agenda?” Not public schools or our public school kids.

Back to those Standards. I checked the list of authors, and am duly impressed. Among the names are two teacher-leaders I have watched since their first days in the classroom. Now they are helping craft policy. Among the names are two professors whose children I had in my own classes…professors I’ve watched participate with K-12 education, and teacher preparation. One woman and I attended National Council of Teacher of Education national conferences. One I met through Oklahoma Writing Project, and has shepherded scores of teachers through a challenging month of professional and personal growth. At least two are educators I know online, whose leadership is important to our state. I see a good mix of higher education and K-12. I see early elementary literacy specialists and secondary ELA teachers. I see Oklahomans who stepped up, worked together, and did the job we asked. They wrote a new set of Standards.

Now, ROPE, whose leader is clear about the fact she did not read them…didn’t even review them…knows best for public schools in Oklahoma. Schools with whom she has no connection or affiliation. Schools she needs to allow to do their own work.

So, who do I personally trust to tell me about the Standards? Educators who are esteemed by their colleagues, who’ve studied and crafted their professional path? Educators who are state leaders, national leaders, in their field? Educators who have dedicated their professional lives to literacy and literature and learning? Educators who stepped up when their state asked? My answer is a resounding, “You betcha!” These educators have knowledge in the field that is deep and wide. Together they represent hundreds of years of experience in the field, at every level.

Or do I trust ROPE and its leader…a person who said she not read the Standards (hey – if she didn’t read them, how can she write an editorial slamming them?), who listened to other enemies of the Standards? A person who is not affiliated with public education? Who shows every indication that she is quite hostile to public education and public school educators?

The answer is clear…

A ROPE by any other name still stinks to high heaven. 

Quit caving to special interests that do not include public schools or public school students. 

Pass the Standards NOW!

For your viewing pleasure, David Barton's video, actually posted a few days before the Heartland Institute's presentation.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

SB1187 -- Continues the War on Educators -- and Students

It was a busy week at the Capitol. We waited on pins and needles every day to see if the voucher bills were on the House and Senate agenda, and when they might be heard. But as we worried about them, a bill slipped through the Senate that has the potential to deregulate many of the personnel issues for our schools. I know that the bulk of any school’s financial obligation is personnel – salaries, pensions, health insurance. In Norman, Dr. Joe Siano quotes 90% as the budget share. And the two deregulation bills would give desperate school districts, and unscrupulous school districts permission and license to gut teachers’ salaries and benefits.

I try to attend Education Committee meetings when I can, and when the meetings do not interfere with my Granny Taxi duties. You see, our family exercises our school choice. My daughter’s family lives in one town, and transfers her daughters to another. And we provide transportation.

I was there when SB1187 was first addressed in Committee. I remember someone saying that this School Empowerment (Doncha love words?) Act was passed, and the disappointment he felt that school districts didn’t jump at the opportunity to deregulate some of the services in their district, so SB1187 was sweetening the pot. It was going to give schools ‘flexibility’ (another favorite word) in personnel practices. Read: giving schools the chance to throw teachers under the school bus. It would remove those nasty, restrictive rules from hard-working school districts. The bill passed through Committee.

I was also there when Speaker Hickman presented HIS deregulation bill to the House Common Education Committee. It would offer deregulation of salary, health insurance payments, pension payments, curriculum requirements that public schools must follow, and charters don’t. Right there, in my notes, I wrote “background checks” as one of the items deregulated.  He said that charters didn’t have to follow these rules, so why should public schools? This bill bases a district’s ability to deregulate on the deeply flawed A-F school grading scheme. So, it’s hard to take it seriously from the start. Representative Stone asked point-blank if these regulations are taxing and hampering our schools…and I did not record the answer.

It is apparent that the leadership in the Legislature is using the current financial crisis to weaken some of the safeguards for teachers, and offering this as an opportunity to save a buck…save a buck, when districts are literally bleeding funds.

THEN, I happened to be in the Senate gallery, waiting for the ESA bill to appear, and I listened to the debate and watched the eventual passage of SB1187 out of the Senate. My heart was heavy…for districts who feel this desperate, and for teachers who will lose safeguards and benefits. The debate was fascinating.

I’ve linked the Floor Amendment version of the bill, which right now, is not on the Senate website. But this is the version that passed.

Senator Jolley, now the chief author, along with Senator Loveless (interesting choice, given the dust-up about background checks), and Senator Brecheen, the original author sat with his head down, not speaking through the whole debate.

Senator Jolley told us this was a ‘request bill’ from school superintendents who needed ‘flexibility’. I do remember that two districts showed interest. Two districts, and the Senate Education Committee and the full Senate has spent hours on this issue. Two districts.

Both Republicans bemoaned the micromanaging of our schools, of the regulations…of all the mandates. And these are the mandates they chose to loosen: personnel protection. Way to support your educators, gentlemen.

Jolley based his entire argument on flexibility to hire part-time adjuncts in schools, without having to pay benefits. Is he not aware, we can do that now? I taught with several colleagues who worked part time, and they did not receive benefits. If this is the reason for the bill, I’m mystified. We have practices in place right now…

Jolley extolled the bill for its flexibility for schools to ‘experiment’ and allowed as how Teach for America could never have happened without education experimentation. I sat in the Gallery thinking, “And that would have been a bad thing?’ Such a curious example when he is trying to represent a bill about our public schools.

He said we must trust local education professionals. I agree. We should. That would be a great thing…my question is how does this bill extend and expand trust? Seriously. HOW?

He told us that a supermajority of teachers had to vote to suspend these regulations in their own districts. Actually, looking at the bill, if the district has collective bargaining, that’s the threshold. If there is no collective bargaining, it’s a simple majority.

Sharp debated against, saying legislators don’t understand the inner workings of schools. That’s a big, ‘well, duh!’ That’s how we got ourselves in this mess: the people who make the laws are clueless about what happens in our schools.

Bice debated for…using the party line: this gives schools local control. I would say this gives starving schools a draconian choice, an unconscionable choice.

Loveless debated for. Kyle “every other teacher is a predator” Loveless spoke to the deregulation of criminal background checks, which IS part of the bill. He also talked about all those teachers who came to the Capitol, complaining about all those mandates. He bragged that this bill cuts red tape and gives schools local control (they love that phrase).

Dossett debated against. Senator Dossett was a classroom teacher. His words reflect his deep knowledge. He said it straight. This bill deprofessionalizes teaching…teachers give up so much in this bill, as do parents. Parents have no assurance that their child’s teacher is a certified teacher, or that the teacher is following curriculum rules of the state. He said this is the wrong kind of local control. He is so right. He told the Senate that  “teachers are under attack,” and that we must fund education, to at least the regional level.

Sparks debated against. He pointed out that 2/3rds of school districts do not collectively bargain, so Jolley’s use of the supermajority of teachers voting for this deregulation is not quite true. Most districts would only require a simple majority. Of desperate teachers. Who may be encouraged to vote for deregulation, in order to keep their jobs. Sparks set that scenario, with schools being a major employer in rural areas…he painted the picture of teachers who could lose their jobs and any hope of other employment.

Sparks hammered on those nice words that have been co-opted by this bill: empowerment and flexibility. He said what they really mean in this bill is, “We don’t have the money, so you go figure it out.” Truer words…truer words.

He ended with “Let’s stop blaming school districts for our lack of support.”

The vote was close…in fact, it only passed by one vote. One lousy vote.

  • Some of the things a school or district can deregulate in this bill are:
  • Kids who live in the district may not be entitled to go to those schools
  • Minimum salary schedules for teachers
  • Contributions to teacher retirement
  • Mandated health insurance for teachers
  • Criminal background checks…and no, there are not safeguards in place in other statutes.
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Any payroll deductions
  • Due process in dismissal
  • Certification for all teachers and administration
  • Negotiations between teachers and school district
  • Adherence to state-approved curriculum
  • Students show mastery of state Standards
  • School Board members’ continuing education and professional development

In return, there  a requirement to show “a description of the innovations of the school, zone, or district…which may include, but not be limited to, innovations in school staffing, curriculum and assessment, class scheduling, use of financial and other resources, and faculty recruitment, employment, evaluation, and compensation.”

Waay back, on page 11 of the amended bill is their paragraph about background checks…and it runs all the way to the last page, 15. Trying to hedge their bets and address one of them most heinous elements of the deregulation.

Now, we must see what happens to the bill in the House. And we must remember there is a House bill that’s heading for the Senate.

Former gubernatorial candidate, and MY candidate, Joe Dorman, wrote about the bill:

Also of note, Sens. Jolley and Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, authored Senate Bill 1187. This legislation allows public schools to have similar policies as private and charter schools, such as open transfer of students, removal of the mandatory minimum salary schedule for teachers, elimination of the requirement for the school district to pay into the Teachers’ Retirement System for employees and coverage of health insurance for personnel, submission to a background check for employees and elimination of mandatory continuing education programs for school board members, as well as several other requirements public school districts must follow by law.

What I have recently learned, is this has been an ongoing dream for Senator Jolley, beginning in 2009, with SB834.  2009, right as the legislature began to make their cuts to public schools…forgive me while I take a suspicious breath before moving on.

They started small…but the intent has always been there to deregulate. From 2009:
Ford said SB-834 does not mandate local school boards to do anything different. A limited amount of mandates are provided for change if the districts believe changing them will help them to better educate children, he added.

”However, he said that SB-834 does not allow school districts to discontinue the state testing program and curriculum. School districts must continue to pay educators at or above the state mandated teacher salaries and benefits, Ford said.”

My Oklahoma Policy Institute hero, David Blatt, connected the dots back then, and pointed out how deeply divided the responses are to that bill…and to this one. His headline is prophetic: “SB834 – Empowering public schools or dismantling them?”

Think, for a moment, about the education climate in 2009. Cuts had just started. Education funding was slowly beginning to fall from that watershed year of 2008…that year legislators don’t want to hear about. Schools were not feeling much pain…yet. The motivation for deregulating vital elements of their schools wasn’t very attractive.

But after the largest cuts in the nation, after years of systematic neglect and cuts and rhetoric, the climate is very different now. Now, schools are wondering if they can finish the year. They’re giving parents one week’s notice that they’re closing on Fridays. One week to arrange (IF they can) daycare for their kids for one day. Some schools are closing a week early in the spring.  Now every school district in the state has been effectively crippled by our policy makers. Unfortunately, this climate makes the possibility of these deregulations look like a crappy, slimy life buoy  in desperate times.

This bill is not about innovations (like TFA), or experimentation. It may be the ONLY way some school districts can survive. All the politicians had to do is wait…and starve us…and wait…and starve us.

Now, they’re back with SB1187, bemoaning the fact superintendents didn’t jump on the opportunity to deregulate. This bill ‘sweetens’ the pot for reluctant school districts, the Senators hope.

Schools are absolutely over-regulated. We have mandates piled on top of mandates. Our classrooms and our schools are crippled by sometimes-competing mandates that we attempt, in good faith, to abide by.

Yes, schools need flexibility. Yes schools need local control. Yes, schools need to be empowered to make decisions that are best for students and for the community. NOT one of these possible deregulations is good for students...not one of these school responses is good for our students. This is what makes me hopping mad...our kids are going to suffer. They are suffering. Do our policy makers care?

I am beyond frustrated with this blatant teacher-bashing disguised as flexibility and control and empowerment. 

I have some suggestions of my own for deregulation…are they listening?

What if the state removed the mandates to test above and beyond any federal requirement?

What if high stakes were removed from those tests?

What if paperwork and reporting mandates were eased?

What if?

But once again, our legislature wants to deregulate on the backs of educators, taking away safeguards and benefits…after conveniently starving public schools by higher cuts than any state in the nation. Starve schools, and then offer this evil (I use words deliberately, too…this is evil) option.

Our Senate told the students and families of Oklahoma that their teachers are not important…that uncertified teachers are fine for them. That standards and curriculum can be ignored for them. That their teachers’ health and future security are not important.

But we have flexibility, by God. And local control, and empowerment.

Do YOU feel empowered?

With thanks to Michale Gentry for the musical suggestion

Addendum added Sunday morning-- after more search, we found the link to ALEC...I knew something this detailed had to come from someone's model legislation smorgasbord...and it IS ALEC: Innovative Schools and School Districts Act. It was not on the ALEC site that I could tell, but Jennifer Chapman Crum found the smoking gun on the ALEC Exposed site! Woohoo! If you don't know about ALEC Exposed, you must bookmark it and stay current on their efforts to destroy public education.

Phrases from the Model Legislation:

"...preserving local flexibility by granting to each school district board of education the control of instruction in the schools of the school district

...each school district board of education is strongly encouraged to delegate to each public school a high degree of autonomy in implementing curriculum, making personnel decisions, organizing the school day, determining the most effective use of resources, and generally organizing the delivery of high-quality educational services, thereby empowering each public school to tailor its services most effectively and efficiently to meet the needs of the population of students it serves.

...“Innovation School Zone” means a group of schools of a school district that share common interests, such as geographical location or educational focus, or that sequentially serve classes of students as they progress through elementary and secondary education and in which a local school board implements a plan for creating an innovation school zone pursuant to Section 4.

In considering or creating an innovation plan or a plan for creating an innovation school zone, each local school board is strongly encouraged to consider innovations in the following areas:
(4) Teacher recruitment, training, preparation, and professional development;
(5) Teacher employment;
(6) Performance expectations and evaluation procedures for teachers and principals;
(7) Compensation for teachers, principals, and other school building personnel, including but not limited to performance pay plans, total compensation plans, and other innovations with regard to retirement and other benefits;"

Looks like even ALEC didn't want to mess with teachers' pension plans. Don't you love the typo...I don't think bards really care one way or the other:

"...state bard shall not waive:

(1) [state teachers’ retirement and pension plan]; and..."

So there is the evidence that this bill is not Oklahoma written, but Oklahoma chosen from an ALEC buffet of bills.

That should make it unacceptable for us and for our kids.

When you fight this bill, focus on how it will affect your children. Proponents are touting the ability of uncertified people volunteering to be adjuncts, to come in and teach a couple of days a week... maybe an AP class, because their job in the real world is related to that field. No teaching degree. No AP training. No set schedule...come in and teach a couple of days. I say we don't need dilettantes coming into our schools, making their own schedules and expecting the schools to accommodate them, as schools would be forced to do. 

Our kids deserve highly-qualified, certified teachers in every class. Our kids deserve the stability of a faculty that returns year after year, to the same school, to the same classroom. Our kids deserve teachers who are secure in their health care and retirement payments. 

Our kids. 



Do you hear me yelling?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, and the Big Fool Said to Push On

I am old.

 I am fed up.

I am furious.

Our state policy makers have abdicated any leadership...they've turned their backs on us.

I am old. I remember Pete Seeger's song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," written about the Viet Nam conflict where we saw a lack of leadership...people blithely sending young men to die with no feeling of responsibility.

I'm fed up. I've had this song in my head for months watching what purports to be leadership in Oklahoma.

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The financial straits we are in did NOT happen was NOT just the downturn in the oil industry. It was years of mismanagement, ignoring the obvious, and robber-baron behavior among the corporations and our 'leaders'. Instead of ending any destructive practices, the big fools said to push on.

"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

Our leaders knew best. Tax cut in place, most of us will get nearly nothing...but friends of the policy makers will get much more. We begged our leaders to end the tax cut. Apply that funding to our state agencies. We kicked110,000 people off Medicaid. The big fools said to push on.

"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

I'm furious. Now, we've had two revenue failures. Now, every state agency is cutting services. County Health Centers are closing. School districts are looking at huge cuts this semester. They're scrambling to find ways to keep schools open for kids. Eloquent students have taken to calling out these people and their broken promises. But the big fools said to push on.

Seeger's song was prophetic...he was writing about an event during WWII, but his focus was on the failed leadership during the 60's. I hear his voice, full of fury, as I hear today that the House Republican leadership has chosen NOT to use Rainy Day funds to ease the suffering of state agencies. I can match that fury. The big fools said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.


I don't even have the energy tonight to talk about the ongoing fight against vouchers...the dark money, the arm-twisting, the disregard for our kids in public schools...but it also fuels this fury. Make no mistake.

I remember the fury I felt in the 60's and 70's as my friends suffered because leaders didn't do the right thing; it's the same fury we feel as we watch our schools and state agencies suffer. I remember. I understand.

What will we do with our big fools? 

Please take three minutes to watch and listen. You'll understand my frustration.

Friday, March 4, 2016

McKinley Public Education Legislative Forum -- I Crash the Party

There was a parent legislative forum last night at McKinley Elementary in Norman. When I saw the notice on FB, I put it on my calendar right away. I got there early, and was so disappointed that the gym was not full…then I figured out this was designed specifically for McKinley parents, not loudmouth Grannies who crashed the party and ate cookies. There was a healthy crowd, asking pointed  questions.

Dr. Joe Siano talked about the budget…and reminded us that just that day we were given notice that school budgets would be cut AGAIN…Representatives Scott Martin and Emily Virgin were there, as was Senator John Sparks. Rounding out the panel were two founding members of the Oklahoma Central Parent Legislative Committee, Megan Benn and Mistie Voto. Dr. Siano spoke first and then each member of the panel spoke.

The panel talked about vouchers, the Oklahoma Standards, still to be approved by the Legislature, funding, the revenue failure, legislation to scale back on high stakes testing, other agencies whose work complements education. And funding. And funding. 

I was taking notes as quickly as I could, and will try to attribute quotes if I’m sure of the speaker. Otherwise, I’m sharing the high points of a long evening. Every policy maker was still there, after 9pm, talking to parents and grandparents…giving their time to our community.

Dr. Siano reminded us that education is, indeed suffering with this second revenue failure…but so are other state agencies, also working with vulnerable citizens. We are all in this together, for sure.
He spoke of the drop in real dollars in the state’s per pupil expenditures—
            2008 -- $3278
            TODAY -- $3059
            NEXT WEEK -- $3000-$2980
“We are training teachers for other states.”
He suggests tapping into the Rainy Day Fund to protect agencies

Senator Sparks thanked parents for coming and admitted that ‘apathy is the biggest challenge for us at the Capitol,” urging us to get involved.
He pointed out that if we as a state are 1000 teachers short, “the free market is speaking.”
He left Representative Martin to try to find ‘Rainbows and Sunshine.’
Martin told everyone that PLACs have made a ‘huge difference,’ and spoke of the change from even four years ago…he said parents have voiced their concerns over and over, and “efforts are being noticed.” He urged us to “keep up the drum beat.”

Representative Virgin agreed with Dr. Siano that the Rainy Day fund might be an option…but she reminded us of other vital services that have been cut…services that work in partnership with education, namely health care and criminal justice. These cannot be neglected in our focus on education, as they are all connected

We were told that some legislators discount the opinions of educators, so parents must speak up and be assertive.

Sparks told us, ominously, that not everyone at the Capitol sees the current crisis as a problem, that some are not concerned about the situation, as they do not believe in investing in education.
He told us ‘Investment is not a liability.”
They spoke of the ESA bills. Someone (?) said adding the private school students into the funding base is an insult to public schools and educators.
“Kids are worth as much as bridges and roads.”

Martin told us he’d begun his day at the Book Fair and Donuts for Dads at his child’s public school.
He knows “we’re drowning here.” And, “Public schools are still where it’s at.

The policy makers were asked how to reach out as parents and citizens. They all pointed out that building a relationship with legislators is important. They urged us to reach out before the Session and during the session.
Virgin suggested working for candidates who support education.

Martin spoke of conversations he’s had with fellow lawmakers who are candid about their lack of support for educators. He quoted them: “They (teachers) will never be for us…why should we be for them?” He said he asks them to “Be for my kid…My kid is a public school student. Be for my kid.” That was the line that resonated with me….Be for public school students!

Megan Benn spoke of our success in overturning the Governor’s veto on the RSA bill…and told us we did that with stories..”Stories mean more than data.” She encouraged parents to share their stories with lawmakers, to keep them on focus.

A preservice teacher who told us she and her classmates had cut class to come, looked hard at the lawmakers. “I’m not employed here yet…What’s keeping me in Oklahoma?” Took our breath away. Indeed…what’s keeping our young teachers in OK?

The panel spoke of the negative discourse about educators and said that must end.  “We as parents can do a better job of respecting teachers, and that will spill over to the legislature.”

We were told that state-wide assessment costs $10 million, but for NPS, Dr. Siano said the cost is human capital and time…very true.

One mother told the panel clearly that with continued cuts, “Kids aren’t getting what they need.”

Besides Martin’s line, “Be for my kid,” my other favorite line came from Senator Sparks talking about ESAs: “ESAs will re-segregate schools on racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines.”

My take-away? Parents are interested, informed, and assertive. They may not know how to begin advocating, but they’ve got the tools. Our lawmakers are accessible and willing to listen. They are invested in the public schools, and they know we care.

We started at 6:30, and were still going strong after 9pm!
They encouraged us to build relationships, visit, write, call. And I hope every parent there takes them up on that offer. They won’t always agree with us, or vote the way we want. But if we’ve got that relationship, we can keep the conversation going. I believe these lawmakers want these conversations. And if they don't, we need to reach out anyway. 

Parents are the difference-maker. Their stories will make a difference.

Stay tuned in. PLAC promises more forums – and I’ll crash them, too. I think you should as well.