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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Brittani Pollock: "I Left Teaching. I Had To."


 I'm donating my blog today to a former student, now friend, Brittani. She was my student and an officer in my club, Teen Volunteers, at Norman North. I always knew she wanted to be a teacher, you could see her deep love of children when she volunteered. I watched her get her teaching degree and watched as she began what we both thought would be a long career in the classroom. I planned to watch her become a National Board Certified Teacher. Things did not work out the way we hoped. And my heart is broken for every student who will never know Miss Pollock's love.


In December of 2014 I graduated with my degree in Early Childhood Education. I was so excited to finally be able to have my dream job. I got a job offer for the 2015 school year, and boy was I THRILLED. I got a job at an inner city school. My life was forever changed. It was the most rewarding job I ever had. I learned SO much just in my first week on the job. Coming from Norman, it was definitely a “culture shock” but there was no where else I would rather be. I saw things in 1st graders I never thought I would see in my life. Yet, I got to make a huge difference in their lives. Discipline is an issue everywhere, and it was definitely an issue where I was. Yet, these kids just needed love and guidance. Tough love? Oh yes, all the time. I had students with all sorts of backgrounds and all kind of stories. I loved my job. I left for the summer loving my job. These kids have touched my heart, my life, and my soul. I began my second year. That had a lot of challenges as well. However, at the end of the year I walked away LOVING my job. My third and final year came along. I started the year with positivity and I was so excited to meet my students. My students my final year were the same as years before - just needing guidance and love. However, this last year something had change. If anyone ever says I left because of the kids’ behavior, it is a bold faced lie. They are first graders growing up in horrific circumstances. It wasn’t their behavior that drove me away. My heart BLEEDS for the children and it always will. Let me tell you why this was my final year.

It all boils down to Oklahoma needing to get their act together. Here are all of the ways Oklahoma and its school systems have failed their students.

I had a student who was supposed to be placed in a special ed classroom in my classroom. I loved this child so so much. However, she couldn’t handle the environment she was in with 26+ students. She would hit the students, pull their hair, hit me, punch me, punch them, etc. Now, could she help it? Probably not. However, if she was placed correctly it wouldn’t have been an issue. I would call her guardian and let them know of her behavior, and because everyone knew that she had psychological issues, nothing was done. She was still in my classroom. Yes, it was her least restrictive environment. However, it was not her safest environment. I would get phone calls every day from parents about how much their kids were getting hurt by this little girl. Do I blame the little girl? Absolutely not. She is a child who is going through so much. Do I blame the school system for letting that happen? Yes. This same girl one day had a necklace around her neck in the gym in the morning she was “pretending” to choke herself. Knowing that she has tantrums, I was told by an administrator not to poke the bear and let her keep playing with it. Five minutes later I am taking my class back to my room, and I see her turning blue with that necklace wrapped around her neck and she can’t get it off. THANK GOD it had a snap and I pulled and ripped it off of her. She finally got placed…in MARCH. She was safer and she was happier. However, I saw our systems fail us when she was supposed to be there to begin with and no one thought it was crucial enough to keep not only her safe but my other students safe as well. I had another student. He was in a different class to begin with, but he caused trouble. As a team player, I volunteered to take him as my own kiddo. I was told if I did, I would have so much support in helping with him. I never received it. Luckily, the person that I am, I like to handle as much as I can on my own. However, this child - poor thing was being abused at home, so of course I took him under my wing. Did he pop my wrist and hit me every day? Yes. But I loved that child so much.

I had another student. He came from a self-contained classroom in his other school, but like the other girl we were trying out his least restrictive environment. He obviously needed to be tested. We signed for consent in SEPTEMBER. He got placed with ONE MONTH LEFT OF SCHOOL. That boy, he grew on me so fast. However, the environment was not okay for where he was. He would kick, punch, choke, and hit students EVERY DAY. He would kick, push, and hit me most of the time too. He would throw chairs around the classroom. I would have to evacuate my classroom because of his violence at least twice a month. Daily, he would run out of the classroom around our three story building. I would have to stop class to chase him and find him to keep him safe. Then I was told not to chase him, to let someone know. But even then, I’m worried for his safety. When I’d chase him, I wasn’t supposed to. When I wouldn’t chase him. I was supposed to. It was a damned if ya do and damned if ya don’t situation.

I had another student almost get kidnapped at my school. A coworker and I basically saved them, they were walking to a car with the wrong people. We got threatened by those people. Did anyone take it seriously? No. That same girl held scissors to her throat in the middle of class one day trying to cutmherself. My class was in tears scared. That poor girl. She’s a first grader and feeling the need to do that.

I had a fight every day between students. All of those kids I have mentioned above, I love with EVERY PART OF ME. What they did/didn’t do isn’t why I left. They are kids. They have been through situations I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So what made me leave? As much as people and our state want to say it, THEY ARE NOT HAVING THE KIDDOS’ BEST INTEREST AT HEART. I totally understand where these students are coming from, I know why they are the way they are. HOWEVER, not placing a student where they should be placed is FAILING them. Acting like their behavior is “justified” is FAILING them. Whenever fights, or hitting, or any of the behaviors happened listed above, I would do ALL I COULD in a classroom setting.

However, they’d be sent back to my classroom with Takis or food. No discipline. I’m not saying to suspend these kids, but discipline is needed. We are FAILING our kids EVERY DAY when we don’t hold them to the same standard as everybody else. How will they become successful adults? TOUGH LOVE. LOVE THEM WITH ALL YOU HAVE, but loving them also means looking out for what will benefit them in the long run. My duty as a teacher was to PROTECT MY STUDENTS AND LOVE THEM ALL. I loved them all. And, my God, I wanted to protect them all. I was always told that the kids I had problems with, we are just giving them a chance (duh, they deserve all the chances. No matter what the student did I ALWAYS treated them fairly). BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER STUDENTS? The other 24 that are in the class? The ones that get hit everyday, are scared everyday, cry everyday because their stuff is being thrown around by the other children who should have been in a classroom better fit their needs?

 I was shocked at the end of the year how much my class had grown in academics, because this last year of teaching I felt all I was doing was chasing children, evacuating my classroom, trying to shield other kids from children. I am so proud of every child in my class. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Male or female. White, Hispanic, or African American. Tall or short. Good behavior or bad behavior. THEY ALL GREW ACADEMICALLY AND WORKED SO HARD. I will always love them, they will always be my kids. HOWEVER, I REFUSE TO SPEND ANOTHER YEAR WATCHING MY STUDENTS BE SCARED OR HURT ALL THE TIME. I REFUSE TO SPEND ANOTHER YEAR WITH KIDDOS WHO NEED TO BE PLACED CORRECTLY (FOR THEIR OWN SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS) - the problems they gave were because the environment was overwhelming. I REFUSE TO SPEND ANOTHER YEAR BEING TOLD BY THE STATE THAT WE ARE DOING WHAT IS BEST FOR THE KIDS.

January, 2018,  I was already feeling disheartened about teaching. It wasn’t that I didn’t love teaching. It wasn’t that I was stressed because of the kids. It wasn’t because of any of the reasons people like saying. It’s because I was so tired of seeing the children I love in situations they do not deserve, and not being able to do anything about it.

Then in the spring, the Oklahoma Walkout happened. It became clear our legislators don’t care about the students either. Having very little curriculum is ruining the chance these students have to succeed. Not having money to keep teachers around is failing the students, not so much the teachers. We all know the politics of this. So after the walkout it was clear to me that if I stayed in the profession I would continue to see the demise of our current situation with public schools. There were already so many other things that teachers have to deal with, funding the classrooms shouldn’t be one of them.

Legislators being condescending shouldn’t be one of them. I may not be a teacher anymore, but I am still in this fight with all teachers FOR THE KIDS.

I applaud every single teacher out there. You are all heroes. I left teaching. I had to.

I couldn’t witness some of those things anymore and not be able to do anything about it. I had to do it for my mental health and happiness, and those who understand - thank you from the bottom of my heart. Those who don’t, it’s okay - but you are not me. I will not feel guilty for the choice I made. My heart and soul are still with every student in America. I just have to take care of me. I will be at the polls in November. I will forever support public education. I will rally any day for public education.

Teachers, you are heroes. Keep fighting the good fight. For the kids.



Brittani Pollock graduated from Norman North High School in 2010, and majored in Early Childhood Education at East Central University. After graduation, she taught for three years in an urban school in Oklahoma. She is now a federal employee.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Students Deserve Accomplished Teachers

I love students...I've often told my classes that my mission in life is to show the world how brilliant they are. I saw this brilliance on display last week, and I was reminded of the humble joy it is to spend time with young people in the classroom. 

"Every student deserves an accomplished teacher." That statement reflects on the bedrock values of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and  the Five Core Propositions of accomplished teaching. Everything starts with these Core Propositions. 

  1. Teachers are committed to their students.
  2. Teachers know their subjects, and how to teach those subjects to students.
  3. Teachers manage and monitor student learning.
  4. Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
  5. Teachers are members of learning communities.
I am a proud National Board Certified Teacher and I see life through the lens of the Propositions. So, it wasn't a surprise that I found them in a recent panel discussion.
Photo: OSDE

I participated in the EngageOK Conference, the traveling summer professional development hosted by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. I attended the meeting held in Norman -- at my old school, Norman North High School. One presentation was a student panel, moderated by Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. At North, the students were from big schools and small, and had a variety of experiences in school. They were brilliant, just as my students had been. The questions were thoughtful, and the answers were eloquent.



I was sitting with my Oklahoma House Representative, Jacob Rosecrants, a former teacher, and even earlier, a former student in my English 1 class. We both agreed this group of students made us deeply miss being in the classroom.

As they answered questions, I became aware of how the students' answers reflected the Five Core Propositions. When asked what makes an exceptional teacher, and what advice they'd give to new teachers, they used examples that could be organized under four of the five Propositions. The only Proposition that students did not articulate was the one they would probably never see in the classroom, Proposition 5: Teachers are members of learning communities, but I could make a strong case for their creation of a learning community. The space and time students are with teachers in the classrooms...that's a learning community.

Without knowing anything about the Propositions, students could and did articulate descriptions of them in their answers. They said more, but these are the responses that spoke to me and the Core Propositions.

How would you describe an exceptional teacher?

Core Proposition 1 -- Teachers are committed to their students
  • Helps us engage
  • Sets the climate
  • Is understanding
  • Has unfailing respect
  • Brings me into the school
  • Asks me how I am
  • Invests in students
  • Says we're in this together
  • Expands our vision of what we can be and do in the future

Core Proposition 2 -- Teachers know their subjects and how to teach those subject...
  • Engages us in the subject, not just teaches for the next test
  • Cares about what they're teaching
  • Connects the class to our lives
  • Takes something they're passionate about and uses it to help us learn
  • Shares how their subject connects to our future.
  • Boring teachers don't connect their subject to us

Core Proposition 3 -- Teachers manage and monitor student learning
  • Adds physical activity when we're tired and distracted
  • Keeps us off our cell phones
  • Uses voice tone and pitch to hold our interest
  • Moves around the room to keep us on task
  • Has consistent procedures

What advice do you have for new teachers?

Core Proposition 4 -- Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience:
  • Show us you're learning too
  • Build to be that veteran teacher
  • Know you won't be perfect all the time
  • Don't try to please everyone

Representative Rosecrants asked the students to speak to us about the effects of class size...and here, also, I heard them talk about the first three Core Propositions...
  • It's hard for teachers to invest in 40 kids in one room (1)
  • Small classes let teachers know me (1)
  • In small classes, there are more opportunities for attention and participation (1, 2)
  • Small classes let teachers individualize the curriculum (2)
  • Small classes let teachers give more and better explanations of the material (2, 3)
  • Teachers can see what kids need and give us that in small classes (2, 3)
One student said, and I agree, "Teachers deserve smaller classes." I'd add, "STUDENTS deserve smaller classes."

Students watch teachers all day long. They understand more than we know. They know what works and what doesn't. Without even knowing there are these Five Core Propositions, they can describe what four of the five look like in the classroom, and know teachers who live these Propositions are more effective...are exceptional. They want to help new teachers learn and develop into exceptional teachers.

Students deserve accomplished teachers. 
Teachers deserve the opportunity to pursue National Board Certification, and to be rewarded for measuring their practice against the highest voluntary standards in our profession. 

If you're interested in finding out more about the program in #oklaed, ask me! I love to talk about this transformative learning experience.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Primary Elections Matter-Vote for our Kids


Hi! Remember me? Your neighborhood nagging granny.  I'm here to beat the drum for voting Tuesday. It's not like I haven't talked about voting before...One of my first posts was about voting...and the fact teachers DON'T.

One example of our power as voters  was the State Superintendent race in 2014. We (actually, the GOP in their primary) did send a loud message to the SuperinDentist, when she came in third in a three-person race.We can make a difference when we vote.

I wrote passionately about the Teacher Caucus in 2016 -- this amazing group of educators who took the risk of running for office. I wrote. I cheered. And I watched nearly every candidate go down in flames. We didn't vote. And the past two years of legislative inaction is a direct result of our neglect.

Speaking of VOTING: Tuesday!!


So, Tuesday we have another opportunity to vote. To vote #oklaed. To tell our students how much we care about their future. To tell the new teachers I've watched do their interning in Oklahoma classrooms, who choose to move to TX to teach, "Stay. We need you and we will pay you."

There are several lists of recommendations out there and by all means, look at them all. Oklahoma Parents and Educators publish their Apple list. Start there. And then, as a responsible citizen, do your own research.

Here is a new site I really like, VoteOK. They have guides that include all candidates' websites. One page guides you though listing and prioritizing your issues, so you can look at candidates through that lens.

Educators can join Chalk the Vote and stay up-to-date on election information...we hope to also encourage each other to VOTE. Chalk the Vote is sponsored by Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and is the brain-child of Joe Dorman. I highly recommend book-marking OICA's legislative page. Lots of great information about advocacy.

All the information you need about elections is on the Election Board website. I've printed out a sample ballot and used that to search the candidates. You'll find all the information you need to be ready to vote.

Candidates DID pay attention to the Teacher WalkOut, and all candidates remind us they're related to someone who taught once. They all tell you they care deeply. Education is their top priority. But...we must be informed voters to see beyond their heart-felt commercials set in an empty classroom. We must be careful readers and voters...

What follows is my list...a list of words to search for on candidates' webpages, FaceBook pages, and listen for in their statements. With the help of the smartest friends in the world, I've put together a list of RED FLAG words that might mean a candidate is not as education-friendly as they are trying to tell us. These words should give you pause as you visit their pages. And they should encourage you to keep looking for that candidate.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, you will see a bias in my list. The bias is in favor of fully-funded and supported public schools in Oklahoma.



Not-so-subtle attacks on #oklaed that should worry voters:

Accountability for schools
Audit school districts
Big government
Business-friendly
Car allowance
Competition is good for schools
Conservative values
Consolidate schools
Corporate investment
Education gets more than half the budget
Education Options
Entitlement programs
Extreme liberal as an attack
Failing schools
Fraud in schools
Free market
Government bloat
“I’m a businessman, not a politician.”
Increase testing
Inefficiencies
Job creators
Job-killing regulations
Job-killing taxes
Local control
No new taxes
Parental choice
Principled conservatism
Privatization
Refers to any human as ‘illegal’
Reform
Religious freedom
Remote classrooms
Rigor
Run government like a business
School administrators’ salaries are the problem
School choice
School competition
School Funding Abuse
Spending problem, not a revenue problem
“State budget is just like a family budget”
Status quo
Taxes are theft
Total education funding is increased
Traditional family values
Trim the fat
Use money from Office of Land Management
Waste
Where’s the money from the lottery?
Workers Comp abuse


What other words and phrases (yes, clauses too) set off alarm bells in your head?

I'm off to go vote early. If you have never done that, try! It's fast and fun. And you still get a sticker!! 


Monday, April 9, 2018

"Waste! Fraud! Abuse!" Aysha Prather's Guest Blog


One of the joys of my advocacy journey is meeting other people who care about public schools, who sit with me during boring committee meetings, and floor debates. Who inform themselves and ask tough questions. My friend Aysha is one of those friends. We were recently sitting at a coffee shop, having just listened to Representative Emily Virgin talk to teachers and citizens about the Teacher Walk-out when we began laughing about the legislators we can always count on debating about the waste, fraud, and abuse in education...Aysha made a leap I expect from her to the REAL waste, fraud, and abuse in education: required standardized testing. I begged her to write this and here is her response to the real waste, fraud, and abuse in our schools. Enjoy...or don't enjoy. Get mad and write to your legislator.

WASTE, FRAUD, AND ABUSE

Those of us who watch the Oklahoma Legislature regularly hear certain legislators sing the refrain of Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. It’s their answer to any suggestion that an agency or program isn’t properly funded by the state. And we heard it again this past week during debate about bills that would have raised revenue to fund Common Education. We can argue all day long about just how significant waste, fraud, and abuse are in state agencies, but there is one area where millions of dollars are wasted in schools, resulting in fraud and abuse that cheats students of their education for weeks or months of the school year.

We’ve also heard elected officials say that teachers should be in the classroom, rather than at the Capitol demonstrating for more funds in their classrooms. I support teachers’ continued action at the Capitol, and one reason is that during the month of April, my children do precious little learning in the classroom, anyway, due to the waste, fraud, and abuse that is state testing.


WASTE

Every April, every public school student in grades 3-8 takes state tests. They are administered under high security, with test booklets and answer sheets sealed until they are passed out to students, and every testing room having both a certified teacher and an independent monitor to watch for any irregularities. Testing in every grade takes multiple days, with each testing session lasting two or three hours. During those hours, the teacher in the room is not allowed to do anything but watch the students complete their tests (or solve technical problems for testing on computers). Not grading, not preparing lessons, not doing any useful work. Those hours are WASTED. The volunteer monitor isn’t as restricted—they’re allowed to read or write (I usually bring paper and write long letters to my legislators), as long as it’s not on an electronic device, but it’s time WASTED that volunteers would rather spend helping the teacher in the classroom or doing any of the other tasks that parent volunteers do in schools every day.

When my children were in elementary school, they often spent the rest of testing days watching videos, because going out to the playground would have made too much noise for students who needed extra time on tests or those in other grades who were testing on a different schedule. In middle school, they test with their language arts classes, but test sessions take longer than a single class period, so every other class that day will have students missing. Those class periods are WASTED, as far as learning goes, because teachers are reluctant to introduce new material while some of the class is absent.

At my children’s middle school, tests are administered on computers, but there isn’t enough equipment for every student to test at once, so students rotate through the testing rooms. School staff have to move every computer into those rooms, remove or cover every bit of written material on the walls, connect the computers to the internet, and test to make sure each machine will work properly with the state testing system when a student is sitting in front of it. So much staff time and effort WASTED, and computers tied up for testing instead of being available for students to use for research, or writing, or learning skills necessary to 21st century workers.

In my children’s district, the counselor is also the test coordinator at each school site. She spends April making sure every batch of tests stays secure and gets to the right room at the right time, rounding up parents and community members to serve as test monitors, walking the halls during testing in case a student, teacher, or monitor needs to use the rest room (or to help an anxious 3rd grader who’s vomited on their test paper), and then collecting completed tests and keeping them secure until they are returned to the state department of education for scoring. She’s not spending those weeks counseling, or doing any of the other jobs that school counselors take on. When my children were in elementary school, that meant their weekly Gifted and Talented enrichment session was canceled for a month or two. So much counselor time WASTED and student needs not met.

The State Department of Education pays Measured Progress, the company that prepares our tests and scores them, millions of dollars per year. Last year, because state tests and score categories were revised to align with new standards in math and language arts, scores were returned to districts much later than usual. 3rd graders got their language arts scores first, in mid-summer, because the the Oklahoma Reading Sufficiency Act requires 3rd graders pass the state test in order to be promoted to 4th grade. Other students were well into the next grade before they or their teachers saw their scores. I finally saw my middle schoolers’ scores in November or December. They were no help to their teachers in revising instruction, or to my children in identifying areas of weakness. More than half a year later, they had moved on, and those weeks of testing last April were a WASTE.


FRAUD

Federal law requires annual testing by states in language arts and math, and testing in science once each in elementary, middle, and high school. Oklahoma state law reflects this, but adds the requirement that 3rd graders achieve a certain reading score in order to be promoted, and requires 8th graders to achieve a certain reading score in order to get a driver’s permit. Also, despite the state legislature repealing the requirement for 5th and 8th graders to take a writing test (after the writing test scores were thrown out two years in a row), there is a writing section in the language arts tests for those grades. My 8th grader’s language arts teacher told me that when she finally saw the scores from last year, they were absolutely meaningless. Administering a writing test is both contrary to the will of the Legislature and a FRAUD perpetrated on the students who spend hours composing written responses.

Annual testing is supposed to provide accountability, and the state turns a school’s test scores, along with other school information, into an A-F grade. How that grade is calculated has been revised, and may be a more sensitive measure of performance than in previous years, but it is still FRAUD to try to capture a school’s performance in a single letter grade, and it is FRAUD to tell parents that these tests tell them how well their children’s schools are performing.

The FRAUD is also perpetrated directly on students. Because school accountability measures are based on test scores, school administrators and teachers are under a lot of pressure to get high test scores. So they tell students that the tests measure what they’ve learned over the year, or that they may be used for placement in advanced classes next year. Here are practice questions for my 7th grader. The only thing this test would measure is her ability to stay on task when given passages to read that are as boring as writers can make them.

I usually browse through the sample test questions every year. I have yet to see them acknowledge that 21st century students go to google to answer all kinds of questions, and that kids need tools for evaluating which online sources are useful and factual.





ABUSE

When my children are spending their time on state tests instead of learning, and their learning time is disrupted because of the logistics of administering tests, that is ABUSE.

The worst ABUSE, however, is what we do to 3rd graders. The Reading Sufficiency Act requires that all 3rd graders receive a passing score on the reading portion of the state test in order to be promoted to 4th grade. Parents and teachers and Representative Katie Henke fought hard in 2014 to add parent and teacher team input to the decision of whether or not to promote based on test scores, and we’ve had to fight every year since to keep that team involved. What 3rd graders hear, though, is that if they don’t pass the test, they won’t go to 4th grade, period. In many schools, they spend weeks drilling on practice questions and worrying about their performance. Parents complain that the anxiety makes their children physically sick. Inflicting test anxiety on eight- and nine-year-olds is child ABUSE.

The other ABUSE is of the professionalism of teachers. All teachers give assessments—to find out what their students already know, to determine whether students have mastered the course content and concepts, to assess whether their own instructional methods are working. They have training and experience to prepare their own assessments and evaluate the results. The state assessments could be an objective reflection of how well students are mastering state standards, and provide useful feedback to teachers. But they would have to receive the results in a timely fashion, not half a year after the tests were administered, when they’ve already mapped out their lessons for the year. And they would have to have confidence that the test results were meaningful, and score ranks represented their own objectives for students. I trust my kids’ teachers to assess whether their instructional methods are effective--and whether my kids are doing the work required to learn the material--because their teachers are highly trained professionals. The state should treat them as such.

There are so many educational activities I would rather see my children doing in their classrooms than sitting for state tests. There are so many things their teachers would rather be doing. There are so many parent volunteers who would rather be helping teachers and students to stay focused on and enjoying learning. Everyone I talk to in their school seems to recognize that state testing is WASTE, FRAUD, and ABUSE. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get state officials to understand that?




Aysha Prather is an entomologist, a graduate of public schools and three public universities, the mother of two middle school students in Noble Public Schools, a gardener, goatherd, chicken keeper, and an accidental advocate for public schools and science education.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Danger, #oklaed!! SB1015 and SB1398


“Danger, Will Robinson!” I remember that cheesy television series, produced long before believable special effects, Lost in Space, about the family adrift in the universe with their trusty robot, Robot.  Will, the son of the intrepid travelers, was a bright if mischievous, young man who often needed Robot to pull him back from the brink of disaster. For people my age, the phrase, yelling, “Danger, Will Robinson" in your best robotic voice is shorthand for “Look out! Pitfalls ahead.”

As we have seen a huge (and getting larger every day) demonstration of educators, parents, students, and community, for more school funding and more funding for vital state services, I learned about two bills that will be on the House agenda for Monday, ready to be voted on by the full House.

Both are probably going to be sold as ‘helping’ #oklaed, but Robot is screaming in my ears, waving his mechanical arms wildly. I am asking you to write to your House Representative and 
ask for NO votes on both measures.


SB 1015 will, if I read it right, add “employees of an educational service provider contracted with a school district pursuant to subsection G of Section 5-117 of this title who perform functions that would otherwise be performed by a school district employee…” to the Flexible Benefits Allowance program for teachers.  This will include any “teacher, principal, supervisor, administrator, counselor, librarian, or certified or registered nurse” now employed by a charter school in our state, who will be added to the pool for state-paid ‘statutory’ health insurance coverage. I will be totally supportive of such a move, IF (and it’s a huge IF) the state, who pays for the flex benefit program, adds funds to the current allocation to cover the new employees. I see nothing in the bill as currently written that addresses adding funds.

The flex benefit allocation is always on the brink of disaster, as health-care costs rise and state school budgets dwindle. A large number of our new dollars we’re seeing slowly and grudgingly added to the school budget will be immediately claimed to cover flex benefits.

SO, add more employees to this coverage…but also add ALL the new money to fund the employees.  

I’m going to ask my Rep for a no on this…I want that assurance before I’m supportive.

The other bill that makes me shiver also has the awful potential to actually create more trouble for schools, even as it appears to be supportive and helpful.

SB1398 will give districts the ‘discretion’ to use bonding funds (you know, those elections we beg everyone to vote yes for?) for day-to-day ‘operations’.  Again, on the surface, this could be sold as a way to allow schools to ‘free up’ some cash without the strict restrictions of traditional bonding funds. Quoting from the original bill, ‘erecting, remodeling, repairing, or maintaining school buildings, for purchasing furniture, equipment and computer software…for repairing and maintaining computer systems and equipment, for paying energy and utility costs, for purchasing telecommunications utilities and services, for paying fire and casualty insurance premiums…for purchasing security systems, for paying salaries of security personnel…’ all can be paid for with bonded funds…loans the local voters agree to take on for the schools. These bond elections must pass with a super-majority, 60%, rather than the 51% for most elections because they are serious obligations and investments that the local community takes on for schools.

Remember all those public school critics who complain about rich schools that build a brand new football stadium, or a new science building? Or districts who buy intelligent classroom technology, and provide laptops or tablets to students? Those investments are secured through bonding…the local community agreeing to invest in the schools. Their property tax (ad valorem) assessment determines the bonding capacity for each district.  

SB1398 will ‘free up’ those funds secured through bond elections for…anything. For copy paper. For office supplies. For teacher salaries.  It would be the equivalent of our paying our mortgage with a credit card…it is not something that makes good fiscal sense. It’s the act of a desperate person trying to survive until the next paycheck and hope he can pay down that balance.
But to me there’s a much bigger problem with this bill, and it comes down to the Constitutional right to a free education for every child in our state. Not just the rich kids who live in expensive homes that drive up the ability of school districts to incur these bond obligations.  If this bill passes, zip code will determine a student’s access to schools that are well-equipped, buildings that are not falling apart (since some desperate districts will STOP using bonded funds for the capital improvements they need and use those funds to support the day-to-day operations of their schools – on credit), to well-paid teachers. Now the accident of a child’s address will lead to the loss of opportunities or the expansion of opportunities.

This bill also gives me flashbacks to another time when the legislature ‘freed up’ districts from some of the regulations to provide textbooks to schools, and follow strict guidelines for library services and librarians to schools. Years ago another legislature ‘deregulated’ all these rules…told districts IF they wanted, they could spend that money the state sent for ‘other’ necessities. And what is the result of that deregulation? Tattered textbooks and school libraries that are closed, with no new books for years, and no library media professional to support students and teachers.


Robot’s arms are flailing! 

We’ve tried this kind of deregulation before. While it might allow a district to survive another year, it does NOT address issues of inequity and student need.  I’ve seen the devastating results of deregulation in school libraries, and I know the cause is that previous legislature’s unwillingness to do the right thing and fully fund schools.

The potential results of SB1398 will follow that same path to limited opportunities for students and 
fewer resources for their students.

The potential results of SB1015 (unless it’s fully funded) will be a depletion of the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Activity Fund…the fund that had been shorted more than once in recent years, leading to unexpected cuts to programs across the state.

The potential results of both these bills will be to cut funding from the fragile budget the legislature is trying to cobble together as I write.

Until my concerns are addressed, and my fears proved wrong, I must fight these two bills. I hope you’ll join me and write to YOUR Representative and ask for that NO vote on Monday.
And you might also ask, pretty-please, for a vote on capital gains

And I’ll see you at the Capitol Monday, continuing to press for fully-funded classrooms, and raises for our support personnel and state workers. This is NOT the time to add to the inequity in our state.



Sunday, April 1, 2018

NOW Our Hard Work Begins...


Monday we will, once again, descend on the Capitol Building at 23rd and Lincoln to express our frustrations about school funding…and state funding. And, yes, we can thank legislators for finally, finally, finding 75% of the House and Senate to vote for revenue-raising, tax-raising measures.

I’ve said it before, but when I marched in support of HB1017 in 1990, my daughter was in 5th grade. NOW, tomorrow, I’ll be marching WITH her daughter, a senior in high school. All the gains from HB1017 have been lost, and the state has the dubious distinction of cutting education funding more deeply than any other state in the union in the last ten years. So, I’m going back to the Capitol with my Grand. Who will be voting in the June primaries.
I’ll be trying to develop genuine lines of communication…with my own legislators (actually, I’ve already been working on that).
I’ll be working to develop lines of combination with the Education Committee in the Senate and the Common Education Committee in the House
I’m going to be an informed voter…I’m going to help inform others about candidates’ position on MY issues (see above).
Our work STARTS on Monday and continues every day.

  
To remind others of what we were fighting for in 1990, here is Dan Nolan’s post, and my own.

Yes, we watched an historic vote last week…both houses passing a budget that required raising taxes at the nearly-impossible threshold of 75%. Yes, it’s the first time this state has raised taxes since the 1990’s, after the revolt against HB1017. Lots to celebrate.

And almost no time to celebrate before we watched a chunk of that funding disappear in a totally bizarre bit of theater in the House on Thursday. I sat there. I watched, and I couldn’t accurately describe what happened, except that $50m of our new revenue was gone.  Along with our hope and budding confidence.

Right now, the tax bill, HB1010XX (second extraordinary session) has been signed.  So was HB1011XX, which will cap itemized deductions on income tax. This link to a KGOU article shows the chaos that was last week…Read to the end. That new revenue will fund teacher raises, and some funding for per pupil investment, which has fallen as drastically as teacher salaries.  The teacher pay-schedule bill is on her desk, as are the bills for support raises and state raises. 

The need is still great…support personnel raises should not be subject to the legislature, I understand…those raises should be part of the per-pupil investment…which right now does not cover. State workers, who also have not seen a raise in 10 years…and lost their defined-benefit pensions for the promise (broken) for a raise. These folks also support our students. We are a team with a common goal: help families raise healthy children who come to school ready and able to learn.

When I describe myself as an education voter, I am quick to explain that, in my mind, includes prenatal care, adequate nutrition, a living wage for parents, housing, health insurance and health care, social services, public libraries…you get the picture. To me, these are all education issues.

So that means I’m going Monday with some specific ‘asks’ that will raise revenue to help cover more per-pupil, and state workers’ raises.  I want to focus on the WHOLE system that is crumbling. I want adequate, recurring, dedicated funding to our schools and state agencies. I want these funds, these salary raises to create a vibrant economy where working people actually have money to spend…to buy appliances, to spend the evening out for dinner and a movie…I want the real job-creators (middle and working class) to stimulate the economy of our state. I’m ready.

So, on Monday when I go to the Capitol here’s my message: Where else can we find new funding to add to our budget? I only know of ONE source right now, but there may be others…some bills are ‘dead’ but could be revived via shell bills. After watching the legislature last week, I know there are rules I know nothing about that might be able to expedite more revenue.

So for now…

SB1086 – this is a bill to reform capital gains tax credits. Currently it benefits 1% (That’s right ONE PER CENT) of our citizens, and could bring in upwards of $100m a year. It’s passed in the Senate and has been sent to the House. Floor Leader Echols and Speaker McCall control what bills are heard, so I’ve emailed, and will have cards to deliver to their offices asking that it be put on the Floor Calendar as soon as possible.

I’ve heard others talk about the Ball-and-Dice bill, but all I can see is a bill that died in the Senate and isn’t being considered.  I hear others also talk about Wind taxes…and I will plead complete and utter ignorance on this issue…I know some districts are actually getting nice money from wind, so messing with those sources might end up hurting schools.  Folks, this is the reason you DO NOT want me in the legislature…my level of ignorance is stunning. Deep and wide.

Tomorrow…and Tuesday and Wednesday… I will thank legislators for reaching that 75% threshold for the first time in 28 years. We take our victories where we find them. And as teachers we know the importance of acknowledging steps in the right direction.

BUT, I’ll also be asking for the cap gains bill to be heard in the House and passed.  

I’ll be asking if there IS any creative way to generate more revenue for all the needs our state has.

I’ll be asking.


I’ll be reaching out to House leadership to be creative (and Constitutional) about finding funding.

I’ll be asking for a long-term commitment to MORE funding for schools and state agencies.

And, yes, I’ll be thanking many for voting for HB1010XX.

But here’s the deal, and here’s where I think we made our big mistake 28 years ago: I’m not going away.

I’m going to stay engaged. I’m going to watch. I’m going to search committee and floor agendas for education and budget bills. I'm going to share any information I can find on social media.

I’m going to share observations and concerns. I’ll watch the legislature so my teacher friends can work with their students.


I’m going to encourage my teacher friends, some of whom sometimes don't vote, to vote.  One of the reasons policy makers don’t take teachers as a whole seriously is our voting record shows too few of us vote. And many of us don’t vote for education issues (see above).

Here’s what I know about my blog posts about voting: they are the lowest-read pieces I write. People don’t seem to want to read about voting. Here and here  and here  and here. And this is my first voting post  Sorry/not sorry for linking all the old posts. I write about voting a lot. To a tiny audience, it appears.

I’m working with Joe Dorman on a project to encourage and support educators to get out the vote…nonpartisan support. Chalk the Vote’s goal is to have a teacher block captain in every school to talk up registering to vote, learning who your legislators are, contacting them, and getting out the vote with mail-in voting, with early voting, or in-person voting on Election Day. If you’re a teacher, please join us!

We thought after our fight for HB1017, and against the State Question that would have defunded it, that our work in education policy was finished. We were wrong, and it’s gotten us to this point.

I’ll see you all on Monday. I have a great sign. 

But if you think our work is finished, you are wrong.

This has been the easy part. NOW our hard work begins.




Saturday, March 10, 2018

"New Oklahoma Teacher Vows"

I often say I have the smartest friends, and I am sharing another piece by another smart teacher. Amber McMath lets the world in on the super secret vows all new teachers in #oklaed must swear before they can teach. But, you know what? We're writing new vows. Now.

Dear Fellow Oklahomans,

I think it’s time we come clean. You deserve to know. With heated conversations spreading and uncertainty looming, we teachers can put an end to this with the truth. Here goes.

Prior to your first day in the classroom as an Oklahoma teacher or school employee, you undergo a special ceremony. You dress in your finest teacher jumper, apple embroidery required. Cake and punch is served.

But most importantly, veteran teachers administer the New Oklahoma Teacher Vows. They read as follows:

The Vow of Poverty

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to live a life of poverty, not receiving a raise for over a decade? You will purchase your clothes secondhand or deeply clearanced and your food in generic brands and drive a beat-up clunker of a car. You will observe teachers in surrounding states making considerably more than you. You will decide at some point that you want money to do things like see movies or travel or pay for your son’s baseball team fees or daughter’s Girl Scout troop dues. So you will pick up a side hustle gig. Perhaps you will sell nutritional supplements or beauty products. You might dedicate your summers to a retail job or your evenings to private tutoring. Whatever it is, it will fill every last minute that you’re not working for your students or being with your family. However, that cost is worth it to compensate for the discrepancy in your pay and your desire to maintain a middle-class life.  

I do.

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to spend a large portion of your paycheck on your family’s health insurance? If you insure your spouse and two children, you will pay from $821 (least expensive plan offered) to $2,003 (most expensive plan offered) for health insurance each month--just for your spouse and children. (Dental/vision not included.) If your family is on your spouse’s health insurance and he/she unexpectedly passes away, you will make so little that your only option will be the state’s subsidized health insurance SoonerCare, which you most easily qualify for.

I do.

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to use your own money to provide for the optimal functioning of your classroom? You will provide every instructional or motivational item that covers your walls. You will purchase books to fill your shelves to supplement the already underfunded library. You will buy basic supplies like markers and glue sticks along with extras that will make the day run more smoothly like candy and cardstock. You will pay your own registration and travel expenses to attend professional developments, conferences, and workshops that will make you a better teacher. When possible, you will use your time to write highly competitive grants and beg local businesses for handouts. (Not to mention buy cookie dough from the band kid and candy bars from the choir kid because those programs are so deeply underfunded you do whatever you can to help your colleagues and their students.)

I do.

The Vow of Priority

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to do more with less? When given a mandate from the state legislature or school board that does not come with funding, you will execute said directive without question. You will have less desks, less books, less paper but more students, more standards, and more assessments. You will come in early and stay late. You will sponsor the club, do the extra unpaid lunch duty, mentor the first year teacher, serve on the committee, and attend the summer workshops. You will do more with less because you know the students deserve the best education possible.  Your students will be your first priority at all cost.

I do.

The Vow of Placating the Politicians

Do you, new Oklahoma teacher, vow to not ruffle any feathers with politicians? You will do your job and your job alone. You serve at the pleasure of the public. You will not throw glorified temper tantrums about your pay. You will not be so tacky as to leave for another state, thus abandoning the good people of Oklahoma. You will not bother legislators with plans and proposals about fixing education. They are busy. You will accept that the state legislature, as they say, is doing everything they can to fight for education in our state. You will definitely not make ignorant suggestions of how to manage the state’s revenue or where to find new revenue sources.  That’s above your pay grade. You may politely call and write to your legislators encouraging them to support public education. You will most definitely not “walk out” on those sweet innocent children in the name of protesting, raising awareness, or advocating for better funding.

I do.


There you have it.

“We knew what we were getting into,” you said.

“You knew what you signed up for,” you said.

You’re right. We did.

Fortunately, some of us have landed in affluent districts whose successful bond measures and generous community donations have shielded us from the extremes of this oath. Meanwhile some of us are serving in districts so poorly funded that this oath barely scrapes the surface of how dire it is.

But no matter the size of the district, the salary, or the tax base. No matter the grade level or taught or degrees earned. No matter the state representative or political affiliation. Oklahoma teachers are united today having written our own vows.  And we’re adding one powerful word: NOT:

We do not accept these terms. We do not vow to live and work like this.

We do not promise to uphold our end of the deal until the state upholds its.  

We  do not walk out on our students: we walk for them, we walk beside them, we walk until they are regain their rightful place as the first priority of Oklahomans.

We do not stop until something is done, until those tasked with managing the revenue of this great state start managing the revenue of this great state.

We do not.


Amber McMath has taught in Oklahoma for 9 years. She works at the absolute best school in the state, the Owasso Seventh Grade Center, where she has the honor of serving reading students. Her husband teaches Algebra in Owasso, and her son, who is the light of their lives and quite advanced for his age of two, will hopefully one day serve in a profession where he doesn’t have to write a letter like this. McMath also shares free lesson plans and resources for middle grades ELA teachers at www.imthatteacher.com/blog.