Saturday, April 24, 2021

Oklahoma Broke its Promise to Francisca: One of 3000 Broken Promises

Francisca and I have been friends since before she started her own NB journey. I've watched her fall in love, marry, become a mother. I've seen her grow as a professional, leading from the classroom. This post grew out of a passionate FaceBook post she wrote about our frustration in #oklaed at again losing our bill to restore stipends. I asked her to expand and post here. Francisca is exactly the teacher we are losing because of the state's neglect of the once national-leading NB program. We have not lost her because of her deep commitment to her students. My question is, does #oklaed deserve her? And other NBCTs like her, who stay in the classroom? What will it take for policymakers to wake up and truly see and recognize our NBCTs?

 As a Mexican-American child, growing up in Lubbock, Texas, I experienced great benefits from having a strong school community.  It was through my teachers and school community that my family and I received resources and support to thrive. As I watched my teachers do everything they did to take care of my family and me, I realized that I wanted to educate and help children and families, as well. 

My parents, both, emigrated from Mexico and held jobs as farm-hands throughout many states to provide for my family. My parents only spoke Spanish in the home, so when I entered elementary school, I had many language needs.  Many of my teachers embraced my differences and helped challenge me beyond what others thought was possible. I remember telling my father, one day, that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  He was excited that I had a vision for my future, but very torn about the career choice I made.  He knew how little teachers were paid and worried that I would struggle financially trying to live my dream.  He would encourage me to continue learning, but I knew that he always worried about me living in poverty, like we did, because of pursuing my passion for teaching.

Growing up in poverty and lacking those resources was hard.  The struggle was real and sometimes we didn’t know where our next meal would come from.  Those experiences made me a strong, resilient young lady who was ready to help people in situations like mine.  Therefore, I chose to be my best self as a teacher to provide for others like my teachers had for me.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  I knew it would take long, hard hours of studying, preparing, planning, collaborating, etc. to learn, engage, and succeed in the field of education because my student’s future was at stake.  At the end of the day, I wanted to understand the students I taught, know their families, and how to best meet their learning needs to grow and develop.  I knew that the mission I accepted would be filled with challenges and obstacles, but that I would need to do as my former teachers did and ask for guidance, support, or assistance to help my students.

So, as I began my career in education, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but that I had the heart to do it.  I started teaching in 2004 and realized that there were many needs in my classroom so I wanted to research, learn, and pursue professional development that would transform my teaching practices to reach and understand my children and families.  

In 2008, I embarked on the National Board Certification process and earned it.  I renewed in 2018. 

I was in my 4th year of teaching at a Title I school in Norman, Oklahoma when my friend asked me to do this process with her.  I had earned my master’s in Education (ILAC) with an emphasis on Diversity in Education from my alma mater, The University of Oklahoma, during my first two years of teaching and wanted to keep learning and becoming better for my students and families.  She knew that I hadn’t worked my way through my master’s program for the money because, face it…getting a master’s degree in my district doesn’t give you much incentive.  I completed my master’s program to grow as a professional and to become the best teacher I could be for the students that were placed in my class.  That’s why it wasn’t a surprise when my friend asked me to engage in this process with her.  She knew my heart and that I wanted to always strive to be better.  Yet, I had high reverence towards the National Board process and thought, “Whoa.  I have heard that doing the NB process is a lot more challenging than completing a master’s program.  There is NO way I can achieve this status.  This process is so rigorous! I can only admire those who receive it!” 

But, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to attend the informational meeting to learn more about what becoming a NBCT was about and how it would change my teaching from that point on.  I learned that I would need lots of support, to collaborate beyond my school and classroom walls, and to reflect on best practices.  My husband and I had committed to funding my way through this process because we fully believed in what it would do for my teaching practice. I decided to embark on this journey and do my best to succeed. 

During this time, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Education Leadership Oklahoma provided scholarships for people to go through the NBCT process, candidate support meetings, and a 2-day workshop to share insights on how to begin preparing for the process in Durant, Oklahoma.  I applied for the scholarship and received full funding!  Then, my friend and I sat through the 2-day candidate retreat to learn about the process, the rigor, and how to begin looking at our teaching practice through a very different lens.  We would head back to our hotel and start highlighting, reading, and organizing our binders with the information we printed or received throughout our meetings and began typing or writing some ideas or thoughts about our teaching, strategies, projects, etc. that we knew were best practices.  

To say it was the TOUGHEST year of my professional life would be an understatement! I worked hard to reflect, analyze, collaborate, work with children, families, and teachers, video myself, and write! I looked deep into my teaching strategies and researched, read books, worked with colleagues, and wrote activities and lessons that would reflect best practices. It took GREAT support from my husband, family, friends, and the National Board Certified Teachers at our support meetings. It blew my mind to engage in this process because it challenged me, but ultimately it changed me into a teacher who is always reflecting and looking for better ways to impact and teach my students.  I wanted to find ways to captivate my children’s interests, engage them in activities that extend their thoughts, and find ways to get them excited about their learning.  This process transformed me to always strive for best practices, to continue to collaborate with my colleagues, to have student knowledge about their families and their background, and to always seek partnerships with families. I thought about those first years in my classroom and how much I tried my best, but knew something was missing.  I found “that something” by doing the National Board Process. 

During my first 10 years as a NBCT, I applied and was asked to serve on many National committees to provide my insight, my knowledge, and my experiences in Early Childhood education from the state of Oklahoma.  I helped revise the National Board Early Childhood Generalist standards and I helped create standards for Educators Rising, a program for high school students who want to go into education. This work also encouraged me to go back and do my Masters in Early Childhood Education. So, I am “doubled mastered.”  

Then came the time to decide to renew.  I was hesitant and frustrated by the broken promises from the Legislators and Oklahoma State Department of Education.  I couldn’t believe that it had been 10 years since I certified and that the National Board program in Oklahoma had gone through so many financial cuts and had eliminated most of the support to help elevate our profession. During that time, I had served on an Oklahoma Education Association Salary Ad-Hoc committee and through this work, I learned that we were trying to reach a “regional average” in salary to stay competitive in keeping teachers in our state instead of continuously losing GOOD teachers to surrounding states (uh, hem…Texas…). 

One of the ways the Legislators had thought of staying competitive was to offer the $5,000 National Board Certification stipend to those who certified.  That was lost real quickly. I received my stipend (minus FICA and taxes) of $2,900 for the 10 years of my original certificate.  Then, when I renewed, I didn’t qualify because my district paid above the state salary schedule and were exempt from doing so.  Like I had stated, earlier, I wasn’t in it for the money, but it was getting really hard to pay off my student loans (which, 17 years later, I still am paying off) and keep up with financial responsibilities to prepare for a family. 

All I kept thinking was…I kept my promise to teach our students in the National Board way; connect, support, and reach out to families; collaborate with my colleagues and other professionals; and to continue developing as a teacher because THAT’s what makes the biggest impact in our classrooms. I have worked tirelessly around the clock to find resources for my students; work with families to guide and lead them through their children’s experiences; translate for my school’s Spanish-speaking families; build positive, long-lasting relationships with children and families; collaborate with my colleagues, administrators, and professors; continue to attend professional development; serve on committees; work with interns and Universities to help future educators; and the list goes on and on.  This is what I know NOW.  

So, I was down to the last minute to think about renewal and I finally decided to.  It had nothing to do with the NBCT process, but it had a lot to do with fighting against the state of Oklahoma and how they have let many children and families down with their budget cuts, cutting programs like the NBCT program, cutting resources and funding, etc.  And, now, it has an impact on not only my husband and I, but our two adopted boys.  My salary is still low for working 17 years in a public school system, having two masters in Education, and being Nationally-Board Certified. Still, as I thought about not doing renewal, I was reminded about my students, their families, their situations, and the school community I promised to change for the better that I had to continue to develop in best practices, reflect, connect, make changes, advocate, etc. for them and those who would come later.

I renewed my National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist. 

I am a National Board Certified teacher who couldn’t teach in any other way, now, because this is now a part of my being.  My husband and I adopted two young boys 2 years ago.  They see how hard I work and how my husband (and now they) are a part of my teaching life.  They understand that this career is not just a “job,” but a “lifestyle” that is a part of me and them.  That being an National Board Certified Teacher means that I spend time planning, preparing, reading, and collaborating with my colleagues.  They offer to help me with ideas or sharing what they have done in the classroom.  It is fun sharing my dream with them because they have told me that without teachers like me, many students wouldn’t be able to achieve their dream.  They get it.   

I am a fierce advocate for my families, students, colleagues, and site administrators. I loathe that the State of Oklahoma keeps knocking us down and that they don’t see, hear, or value the people who work directly with our children and families. I will keep fighting by becoming better for my family, students, and community even when they don’t respect what I do. My parents always taught me to do this.  But, I need more people to join this fight and to keep elevating our profession because the work we do MATTERS, IMPACTS, and CHANGES our communities for the better. Oklahoma children and families deserve better.  Long before I was thinking about my own family, I knew that I needed to start advocating for what was best for children.  The National Board Certification process changes the teacher, children, families, school, and community and it is what’s BEST for children.

Francisca Martinez Jensen is a wife, mother, and exemplary National Board Certified teacher in an Oklahoma suburban school district. She holds two masters degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Central Oklahoma in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an emphasis in Diversity in Education and one in Early Childhood Education. She has taught in a Title I school for 17 years and has served on many national, state, and local committees.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Sound You Hear...Broken Promises to National Board Certified Teachers in #oklaed


Hear that? Broken promises, broken covenants. National Board Certified Teachers in Oklahoma have been waiting nigh onto 10 years for the promise of a stipend is realized for all NBCTs. We have worked to live up to the covenant written by the State of Oklahoma to support NBCT candidates, and to provide stipends (renewable stipends) for all NBCTs teaching full-time in classrooms in Oklahoma. WE have done the work. Applied for the scholarships. Doing the work. Taking the tests. Videoing in their classrooms. Deeply analyzing our assignments for individual students, and for the class. Reflecting on our assessment practices and on our growth as professionals. This could potentially take one school year, or up to five years. This is NOT A TEST. I repeat: 

Achieving NBCT status means you have held yourself up to the highest voluntary standards in our profession...written by teachers, for teachers. You have deeply examined your practice. Your students. Your professional development. It usually takes upwards of 200 hours of work, preparing and revising lessons, delivering them, analyzing student work, giving feedback, reflecting, and more often than not, starting all over again with a better, stronger lesson based on what you've learned. And that's before the one testing component. This is rigorous and challenging. This is NOT a gimme. A slam-dunk. A box to check.

So, the history of the promise, and the myriad ways the promise has been shattered.

1997--SB770 -- authored by Senator Darryl Roberts, whose sister, Kyle Dahlem, was currently on the board of National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. She encouraged him to bring a program to Oklahoma, to find and reward teachers willing to take the challenge of NB. It established scholarships for 200 (up to 400!) teachers to go through the process (broken promise), a 2-day retreat for intensive training with NBCTs (broken promise), support from NBCTs throughout the process free of charge, and a $5000 (broken promise) lump sum (broken promise) payment for all NBCTs for the life of their certificate, including renewing (broken promise) who stay in the classroom. It established a selection committee and process to choose those teachers receiving the scholarship. Teachers who paid their own way through the process were refunded that cost when they certified (broken promise). Teachers who did not complete the process repaid the state's investment.

So, our NBCT program was born...and we thrived for over a decade.

1998 -- 100 candidates -- 37 NBCTs

1999 -- 200 candidates -- 108 NBCTs (including Advanced Candidates from 1998)

2000 -- 200 candidates --125 NBCTs

2001 -- 400 candidates --125 NBCTs (one was ME!)

2002-- 400 candidates -- 241 NBCTs

2003 --  400 scholarships -- 229 NBCTs

2004 -- 400 candidates -- 231 NBCTs

2005 -- 400 candidates -- 216 NBCTs -- Oklahoma was #5 in the nation!

2006 -- 400 candidates -- 283 NBCTs


2010 -- 400 candidates -- 222 NBCTs -- 61 renewed -- #10 in the nation

 This was when the legislature decided the program of rewarding and supporting NBCTs and candidates was "too expensive" to sustain. Who needs accomplished teachers committed to staying in the classroom after all?

2011 -- Superintendent Barresi's first State School Board meeting, in January, discovered that a line item in the budget to pay speech pathologists their $5000 stipend (speech pathology associations around the country copied our legislation and XXX equal stipends). With a speech-path in the audience, asked to speak to the group, she convinced the Board that it made complete sense to take the line item for NBCT stipends, and simply split that with speech pathologists. I'm not sure that 'missing' money was ever found. My stipend that year was $3600-ish before taxes. Thank you, Superindentist.

2011 -- HB3029 -- Forced a 2-year moratorium on all new scholarships. Candidates could go through the process, but they had to pay their own way. In 2011, the cost was over $3000. The state still provided support but the 2-day retreat was ended. The state no longer refunded the fee for the process to NBCTs who paid their own way

2011 -- 9 candidates -- 175 NBCTs

2012 -- 9 candidates -- 73 NBCTs

2013 -- 10 candidates -- 20 NBCTs

2013 -- HB1660 -- Created an application date for new candidates and renewing NBCTs...after which the stipend was not available. 6/30/2013 became the arbitrary deadline for dividing candidates and renewing NBCTs. Established a new column in the state minimum teacher salary schedule, with $1000 for NBCTs who applied after 6/30/2013.

Restored the 100 scholarships...but it became a hard sell. Teachers were no longer sure the state was serious about support.

This new column was not funded adequately by the districts did NOT receive an additional $1000 per new NBCTs and renewed NBCTs. 

Districts who paid $1-$999 over the state minimum did not have to pay $1000 to an NBCT...they were required to match the new column in the state schedule.

Districts who paid $1000 (or more) over the minimum, were not obligated to pay anything to new NBCTs or newly-renewed NBCTs.

Now, we who were candidate supporters were forced to also support a horribly-inequitable system, where some NBCTs received their full $5000 (before taxes), some might receive $1-$999 a year, and some received nothing more than a handshake at the Board Office and a nice certificate. We pride our program on working with all students equitably and fairly, and the state was treating our certification arbitrarily and unfairly.

2013 -- 10 candidates -- 20 NBCTs -- 9th in the nation

2014 -- 102 candidates -- 22 NBCTs

2015 -- 34 candidates -- 13 NBCTs

2016 -- 39 candidates -- 8 NBCTs

2017 -- 32 candidates -- 7 NBCTs -- 11th in the nation

Through these years, we talked to legislators, who kept telling us the program was 'too expensive.' We told them they changed everything for school an NBCT was a financial liability, instead of an accomplished teacher to celebrate and brag about. We tried to find allies, to create coalitions, but there was little appetite at all to look again at the program. 

In 2018, the 'teacher caucus' was elected -- educators from both parties, inspired by the recent Walk Out, to run for office. With these educators at the Capitol, we began to actively advocate for a full restoration of all aspects of our program...100 scholarships, and $5000 stipends (before taxes...and FICA payments that the state foisted off on us) for all new and renewing NBCTs...$5000 stipends for all NBCTs who certified or renewed under the old system, and were receiving nothing.

2018 -- HB1023XX -- authored by Rep. Jacob Rosecrants D, one of my former students, newly-elected to the House. Restored the stipend, with an extra stipend for teachers who teach in hard-to-staff schools. Rosecrants was a teacher in such a school...he knows the need. Not heard in House Education Appropriations and Budget  (A&B) Committee. Died for the Session

2018 -- 131 candidates (and Advanced Candidates) 13th in the nation

2019 -- HB1009 -- Also authored by Rosecrants, but co-authored by so many GOP members, that Legiscan coded it as a GOP-partisan bill. New Committee Chair in House Ed A&B. Passed the committee unanimously. I admit...I cried, sitting in the committee room, watching this support. But the bill did not reach the next step: a hearing in the House Full A&B Committee. 

2020 -- HB1306 -- Authored by Rep Toni Hasenbeck R, a member of our Teacher Caucus. Passed House Ed A&B, House Full A&B, and the full House. We celebrated...and the celebration was strongly bipartisan. We have friends on both sides of the aisle, and in both houses of the legislature. 


2021 -- HB2693 -- also authored by Toni Hasenbeck. Restored the stipends. Added retroactive stipends for all NBCTs who certified since 2013. Added scholarships for renewing NBCTs (the cost of renewing had always been the NBCTs' responsibility. Passed House Ed A&B (they're old hands now...they understand the program and the benefits). Passed the House A&B...without a funding mechanism. An "untimely amendment" filed hours before it was heard on the House floor added an expansion to our charter laws, to allow charters in rural areas, a move that was strongly opposed by rural advocates. Somehow this amendment would provide that funding mechanism. After push-back, the amendment was withdrawn, and the bill passed the House...again. 

Now, we faced the same path through the Senate...Senate Ed Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, then Senate floor.

Deadline Week, and our bill didn't appear on the Senate Ed Committee agenda. Then the night before, it appeared....but it had been shucked -- stripped of all the original language. All. The. Original. Language. Now it was a bill to provide training and micro-credentialing for teachers to get additional training in Civics...with, ironically, a stipend for teachers who participated. 

We lost our language. We ran out of time. Our bill was dead. And since we lost the bill number to the new bill, we would not start next year (second of a two-year Session) in the Senate Ed Committee, we would start over. In the House. Our path was, again, House Ed A&B, House A&B, full House...then Senate Ed, Appropriations, full Senate. 

2014-2020 -- 29-39 candidates a year -- 46 TOTAL new NBCTs

At the height of our NBCT program, pre-2011, it was doing exactly what it was designed to do: keep teachers -- career teachers, mentor teachers -- in the classroom. there were over 3000 of us (I retired in 2013) teaching full-time in the classroom. Now, it's grim at a time when our state desperately needs career teachers, mentor teachers, in the classroom

 2020 -- 1000 NBCTs in OK -- 800 receiving the stipend -- 120 on salary step -- 150 receive NOTHING: no stipend, no salary bump at all.

2021 -- 810 NBCTs in OK -- 247 NBCTs renewed, with the loss of their stipends

2022 -- We start over. A new bill, new challenges. Fewer NBCTs in the classroom. More need for accomplished career teachers. Research that shows the benefits of NBCTs in the classroom: We stay in the classroom, we can raise literacy scores of our students, we mentor new teachers whose students' scores can increase. We can mentor student interns and alternative-certified teachers through the required PPAT process for their own teaching license. 

For every $1 a state invests in an NBCT stipend program, the state will see an increased return on that investment...up to $30. We think that might be the savings of not having to replace a teacher, or the savings of not having to retain a third grader whose literacy scores on testing were low. Investment in NBCT stipends makes sense.

What are the ramifications of this neglect of the NBCT program? Well, Southern Nazarene University had a fantastic masters program, designed around the Five Core Propositions of NB...we graduated cadres of educators who could earn their masters and their NBCT certification, with support from the state and from SNU. I taught in that program. Our graduates were top-notch. Oklahoma State University had a graduate course to support candidates. University of Oklahoma gave graduate credit for attending support meetings and doing additional paperwork. None of these programs and courses exist any more. Universities in Oklahoma do not believe the state will fully fund and support the NB candidate program. They see the broken promises.

After the recent failure of HB2693, teachers sounded off on social media. Teachers said this lack of faith in the legislature was why they left the state and teach in other states with stipends. Teachers left teaching completely rather than accept the loss of this program. NBCTs see no reason to spend their own money renewing, with no promise of a stipend. Current candidates say they will abandon the program all together. 

A friend who is a current candidate said she got her masters degree recently, and the jump on the salary schedule isn't even enough to help pay down her student loans. 

Educators have lost faith. We see the string of broken promises. We find it harder and harder to believe.

And those of us who have advocated this last ten years?

We. Start. Over. Five years we will have worked to get legislation to the Governor's desk. 


Friday, February 26, 2021

Three Leaders Defending the Schoolhouse Door

 Town Hall Seattle held a three-way conversation last night, with Diane Ravitch and the authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire. Best $5 I have spent...I got a ticket to listen, to watch, to take notes, to wish I could rewind and get the quotes right. It was an amazing hour for anyone who cares about public schools and the destructive reforms of the right...and the left. 

These two education historians (Ravitch and Schneider), and education journalist (Berkshire) have a long view of school reform, as well as a broad view of the current legislation popping up around the country, and the connections among the efforts. 

They began talking about Betsy Devos, who has a prominent position in Wolf, as, perhaps THE wolf at the door, but Schneider and Berkshire made the point that the real action, the real reform, happens at the state level. That is a lesson I've learned in the decade I've been paying close attention...

Berkshire, who crisscrosses the country as a journalist pointed out that proposed legislation at the state level is so similar. West Virginia has a bill to punish teachers for any kind of walk-out or strike. I know OK has a similar bill. So many state houses are now sitting on a GOP super-majority, and many of these legislators have identical ideologies and motivation. Choice. Vouchers. Attacks on unions. Defunding public schools. We public school advocates are facing the same attacks, no matter where we are. 

Public education is the largest expenditure for every state in the union, and many on the right are obsessed with carving dollars away, to invest in their own pet projects. Even thought, as Berkshire and Schneider pointed out, over 90% of Republican parents' students as well as Democrat parents' students attend public schools.

One of the authors reminded Ravitch of one of her quotes in Reign of Error, paraphrased as, "The public good is not a consumer good." I had not initially made the connection between Ravitch's book and this until Berkshire reminded the audience of the four principles of conservative reformers:

1. Education is a personal good, not a collective one (almost the reverse of Ravitch's line!)

2. Schools belong to the domain of the free market, not the government

3. To the extent that they are able, the 'consumers' of education should pay for it themselves

4. Unions and other forms of collective power are economically inefficient and politically problematic

As I review my notes and memory, these principles really framed the conversation last night.

Berkshire pointed out that many of the conservatives who want to disrupt (my word) public schools are still angry about the New Deal...when unions grew in power and importance, and regulations complicated the free marketers. They never gave up their hatred of teachers' unions and a zealous belief that the free market is the only answer for this country in ever facet of our lives, including the solemn duty to educate every child in the nation.

Schneider and Berkshire show that the ideology of reform drives all the reforms we fight...a belief in markets, in choice, in no oversight and regulations, in breaking unions. Reformers are furious that public schools do no extoll the value of free markets...they believe teachers 'indoctrinate' students to be socialists. They reject accountability and transparency.

The three began riffing on these issues, and I wrote furiously...I'll share quotes (probably not word-for-word, but close) and phrases that reminded me so strongly why public education has my heart and soul. 

School choice exacerbates inequities

"Free markets don't create equity. They create winners and losers" DR

Reformers degrade and defund our schools

Viewing schools as free markets creates competition...and competition creates, is grounded in, a zero-sum game. There will, by design, and deliberate actions, be winners and losers. (This year as I have listened to committee and floor discussions at the OK Capitol, I have gritted my teeth each and every year a non-educator-legislator has solemnly entoned how important competition is for schools. No. Competition ensures there will be losers. Public schools that will be losers. Children and families who will be losers!)

"There is a national myth that your education explains your station in life...this meritocracy is privilege-laundering." JS People who attend these elite, expensive schools, will succeed wherever they go...their education is not a factor.

No transparency. No oversight.

Ideologue reformers want to unmake schools...deliver a death blow...fracture us into an individualistic society.

Ravitch asked the poignant question I often wonder: "Why are they willing to destroy schools?" Why, indeed.

The conversation circled around ALEC and the Koch fingerprints on our education...

"According to Koch, schools don't prepare kids to be ardently free-market enough." JB

"Oligarchic tendencies are rampant in these ideological reformers: they think they're smarter than everyone else." JS

"This pandemic helps us remember what schools do, what a teacher does." JS

The three circled back to the difference in reform beliefs of conservatives and liberals. They all agreed that Arnie Duncan was just as harmful in his own way as Devos.

Liberal support of 'choice' gives legitimacy to the conservative war on public schools...Neo-liberal belief in choice and tests makes them just as dangerous as the ideologues who want to gut schools for their beloved free markets. They agreed that the left must come up with a new vision for our schools. 

The conversation was not just a summarization of their excellent book. It was an hour with three brilliant thinkers and advocates. Fast-moving, exhilarating, and sometimes deeply depressing in the size of the task ahead of us. But they have given us the ability to understand who we're up against. It's time to come up with a new vision.

And it's we as Americans see public education as a societal benefit, a collective good, a public good? 

If we do, we have work to do, or we will be left as the losers in free-marketeers' zero-sum game. 

A dynamic evening!


Berkshire has offered to lead a ZOOM discussion for Oklahoma advocates! I'm working on a list of interested folks. So far, parents, grandparents, educators, legislators have told me they want to be included. Let me know if you want to join us. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

 A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire. It's not one wolf. It's many wolves, working separately, and as a pack. Opportunists always ready to attack.

If you've spent any time in education, you recognize the many wolves Schneider and Berkshire describe here. None is especially new. What is so very valuable about this book is their compilation of all the conservative and libertarian strategies to weaken and defund (yes, I'm using that word deliberately) our public schools. I've already used the book as a reference when researching some of the new anti-public-education bills in the Oklahoma Legislature this Session. 

Its power is in the clear examination of reforms we usually fight as separate issues, showing us they are not isolated ideas. They are part of the whole. And until we learn to fight the whole, we will exhaust ourselves fighting all these smaller battles...the new voucher bills in the legislature, the new alternative certification bills surfacing annually.

The wolves are those monied conservatives who will always have school for their children...private, exclusive, expensive schools. 

It's our children they want to starve and cheat, our children who will suffer as they find ways to siphon public school funds to their toney private schools. 

Our children who go to those pesky public schools.

Reformers' basic premises, as seen by Schneider and Berkshire?

1. Education is a personal good, not a collective one

2. Schools belong in the domain of the free market, not the government (how many times have we heard the attack on 'government schools?'

3. To the extent they are able, "consumers" of education should pay for it themselves

4. Unions and other forms of collective power are economically inefficient and politically problematic.

Now, look at your state legislature's agenda, your state legislature's current bills...most of them can neatly fit under one of these premises.

The book is organized into the values and goals of privatizers...a veritable encyclopedia for advocates of public schools:

  • Private Values
  • Faith in Markets
  • The Cost-Cutting Crusade
  • The War on Labor
  • Neo-Vouchers
  • The Pursuit of Profit
  • Virtual Learning
  • The End of Regulations
  • Don't Forget to Leave Us a Review
  • Selling Schools
  • Teaching Gigs
  • Education, a la Carte

The authors give us the big players in this fight to gobble up the $50B public education funding pot. That's what it's all privatizers don't have, and want. They want that money to educate their own privileged children in their private schools, with public school money.

In the 40-plus years I've been involved in public education, I've seen so many of these changes, attacks. 

Oklahoma will be fighting off several voucher bills, filed, interestingly enough, by Senators who are term-limited and seem to be ready to leave it all on the track. Here (Education, a la Carte) and here and here (Neo-Vouchers).

We have a bill to punish teachers with the loss of their certificate (War on Labor) f they participate in any walk-outs (OK is a right-to-work (for less) state, so strikes are already illegal...but even local school board support of a walk out would not protect teachers. And bills to attack education associations (War on Labor).

We are currently locked in a controversy over funding our virtual charter schools (Virtual Learning), and the possibility of misuse of public school funding (I'm calling this one The End of Regulations).

Oklahoma had seen, before the walk out of 2018, the largest cuts to public education in the nation. This created the crisis that resulted in tens of thousands of marchers to the state Capitol.

The funding crisis led, perhaps, to the teacher-shortage crisis, and a record number of alternative-certified and emergency-certified teachers. There is a bill this year to allow early childhood teachers (End of Regulations) to teach with alternative cert, coming into the classroom with no pedagogy training. 

It's like Oklahoma is a proving ground for all the privatizing schemes. But, I'm guessing every state in the nation feels the exact same way. These legislators who are all-in with this privatizing reform rhetoric have the advantage of national leaders, like ALEC, who will write the model legislation for them to just copy and paste. It's always enlightening to Google the title of a bill and ALEC to see what pops up.

I think for me, a 4th-generation teacher, mother of a 5th-generation teacher, looking at my granddaughters, wondering who'll be the 6th, the attacks on teachers, on my family business, were the most horrifying. Privatizers would be more than happy with teachers as gig-workers. Part-time, paid by the class, with or without an actual teaching degree, or even a degree. Teachers who scramble to create a 'full time' job with multiple part-time jobs. Teachers, most importantly, with no benefits, no pension, no health insurance. Teachers with no protections. No unions. This view of the future of teaching just makes my stomach hurt. 

I have one huge ask for the reprint...I needed an appendix listing all those foundations and committees and groups who appear to be working separately to destroy public education. I wanted a comprehensive list of our enemies. Remember, I'm using this book as a reference...a way to look up terms and organizations...and that list would really help me.

I plan to buy a copy of this book for both my state legislators. I want them to see the evidence of these efforts to dismantle and defund our schools. I want them to know we have information, all in one place, to counter reformers' plans and shed light on their strategies. 

So, there are wolves. Wolves circling, watching, hunting. Looking for that sign of weakness. That opening. Wolves ready to devour public schools, clean the bones, and move onto their next target. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Christmas Carol, Past, Present, and Yet to Come


“Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that…Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

What a jarring beginning to the beloved A Christmas Carol. This was the beginning of several Christmas stories, written quickly for even quicker cash. Dickens’ family was a growing one, and he always needed to earn more and more to keep them all comfortable. He felt great pressure to be a provider his extended family could rely on.

There are several books I cannot remember reading for the first time…they seem to have always been a part of me. A Christmas Carol is one. The details are part of our world…the characters. We may not even recognize the allusions’ origins, but we recognize the truth of the allusions, the metaphors and symbols. That was one of Dickens’ skills – to create images and characters we recognize in our own lives.  What makes Dickens important for every year since 1843, is his surprise genius for staying relevant…no matter what year we read, reread, or watch this story, we find the parallels to our own lives. We find the words that resonate for our life.

As a later side career, Dickens read his own books aloud, and this one was especially popular. He both read and performed, editing for the occasion. The New York Public Library has the book Dickens created as his script, his own prompt copy, for his performances, complete with stage directions and notes. It is a treasure I’d love to see. In this recording the wonderful Neil Gaiman performs A Christmas Carol from the prompt copy. Dickens reading his story often drew large, appreciative audiences.


A Christmas Carol Past

If I can’t remember the first time I read the book, I remember the first time I read it to my own audience. My first year teaching. A tiny rural elementary school. 12 classrooms…two for each grade. I taught 6th grade, with an English Education degree. Out of my element in many ways, but determined to broaden the world for my students. 24 sweet rural Indiana students stared at me as I tried to figure out Base-Six math (my introduction to misguided school reforms); but I killed it when we worked with grammar and reading.

One of my favorite parts of the day was the sacred reading-after-recess. Hot, sweaty, odoriferous kids piled on the floor, listening to whatever story I happened to be reading. It was clear my students did not have a wide experience with good literature…so, for December, I decided to read A Christmas Carol. I learned quickly I had to revise the story on the fly. I didn’t have the benefit of Dickens’ prompt copy. I had to wing it. The vocabulary and diction were well over the heads of my Martinsville kiddos. So, I substituted words, rearranged sentences, even chose to omit some passages—Dickens’ lovely flights of fancy and descriptions that were timely for his time would have flown over the heads of my students. So I cut them…much like the author did in his own performance of the story. I’m sure I was not as artful…another reason I’d love to get my hands on that prompt copy.

My goal in reading to my young charges was to introduce the story…characters, plot. I wanted them to recognize the story in the future. I was planting seeds of literature, as their parents planted their crops. I wouldn’t be there to see them nod in recognition years later when someone was called a, “Scrooge,” or when someone piped up, “God Bless Us, Every One.” But I was there the first time they heard. I would have helped them understand those references we all nod sagely at. They could nod right along. They could get the jokes.

I overestimated our ability to get through the short book, so the last day before Christmas Break (yes, we called it Christmas Break, and the skies did not fall), as my students were finishing up their home-made presents to their parents and family, I read…and read. The room was busy, friendly, quiet. Students listened as they painted and drew, folded and wrapped. I read, “And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One,” and closed my book, savoring that lovely moment of silence at the end of a wonderful story. My students spontaneously began to clap, something they’d not done before. But there were were, in the middle of the Indiana Uplands, at a school where we had no library, where one girl lived in a house with dirt floors, where students worried that using proper grammar would make them laughing stocks, where one boy couldn’t come to school one day because his family couldn’t find his shoes, there they were--my students felt the power of the story and they clapped. For the joy of Scrooge’s change of heart, for the new, promising future for Tiny Tim. For having listened to a classic tale. They clapped.

The combination of Dickens, Scrooge, Ebenezer, my students and I created the kind of magic that’s possible with a shared experience of art…any kind of art. But here it was great literature. That very first year of my career I saw in front of me, as the gift it was, children transformed for just a little while, connected to every other person who ever read or watched or heard this tale. Fifty years later, I can still see their faces as they realized we had, together, accomplished something special.


Since then, I’ve taught various adaptations of A Christmas Carol. We’ve watched films and compare/contrasted the stories. One of my personal favorites continues to be Bill Murray’s Scrooged. #SorryNotSorry. Reading it as often as I did, lines come to mind in totally unrelated situations.  Most often, as I watch the news, listening for subtext from leaders who too often seem to channel Old Ebenezer, before. I hear fewer echoes of the redeemed Ebenezer…I wonder why. I don’t have to search far to find those allusions in popular culture.

Five years ago, listening to the OK Legislature talk about planned cuts to #oklaed in another lean year for the OK budget, I could hear Scrooge whispering: “Are there no prisons…workhouses?” Politicians seem to unknowingly mirror the very worst of our man. They seemed more than willing to cut funding to schools, so they could prioritize their own goals. They seemed content to ignore Ignorance and Want…even as Dickens warns us of the dangers of an uneducated people: “The boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both…but most of all beware the boy, for on his brow I have seen that written which is Doom, unless the writing is erased.” The only way to erase that Doom is with strong, well-funded schools. But we fight every year for our students. We will fight the ghost of Scrooge next Session, too. Want and Ignorance are always ignored, even when they’re right in front of us. Still. Always.


A Christmas Carol Present

I’ve now experienced 75 Christmas seasons, and seriously can’t remember one that was as challenging, not even that year Santa brought me the cheap knock-off dolly instead of the one I asked him for. Covid and politics sucked out a whole lot of the joy of the season…and Scrooges abound. You can’t open a newspaper (Yes, Virginia, there are newspapers), or more likely a new link online, without learning more about our policy makers who seem horribly disconnected to the real suffering Americans are feeling now. Watching a journalist choke up on the air as he interview a couple in line at a food bank for the first time in their lives, seeing the desperation of people whose federal unemployment benefits will end soon, others who may be evicted with the new year, we need a Christmas miracle. But all we seem to see are Scrooges, coldly uninvolved in people’s lives and suffering. Going off to golf on Christmas Day, tummies full, presents opened…Scrooge Lives…and he’s working inDC. He’s working in State Capitols where legislators sign onto shenanigans that would disenfranchise voters in other states. He’s working to turn communities against each other.

Dan Patrick, the Lt Governor of Texas, earlier this year, as Covid was first spreading across the country waxed poetic that older Americans should be happy to expose themselves to the virus and die, so his beloved economy could open without impediment….and I heard Scrooge disdainly pronouncing, “If they would rather die, . . . they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Umm, I, personally, would rather NOT die. I’d like to see my Grands marry and begin their adult life. The ugly heartlessness of Scrooge’s words really strike a blow when we hear a vile politician echo the sentiment. And I'm not holding my breath for a Texas epiphany anytime soon.

Look anywhere during this season and you’ll see someone referencing Christmas Carol…naming someone ‘Scrooge’. As I started writing this, I found a reflection by a writer who proclaimed herself to be the ‘family Scrooge.” And, right on cue, Wall Street Journal Opinion Page struck again with this beaut:  “In Defense of Scrooge, Whose Thrift Blessed the World.” Hey, WSJ, you missed another one. May I suggest you read the book again? You kinda missed the whole moral of the story.  This Twitter thread takes them to task better than I could.

A Christmas Carol is embedded into our culture. We need to know the story to get the silly jokes and cartoons, to know when an editorial board makes a huge mistake in referencing the characters. That was why I read it, 50 years ago to my 11 year old students…who are now nearing retirement age! I wanted those allusions and metaphors to make sense.

The book continues to be timely, sometimes sadly…and I keep asking why do our policy makers forget early Ebenezer is NOT the role model for us to follow. Did anyone tell politicians and WSJ and Patrick they are acting like the nasty Scrooge, not the loving Scrooge we are supposed to admire? Or, did they NOT read the last Stave of the story where Scrooge pleads for, and finds, a way to change the trajectory of his life?


I often reread the novel during Christmas season when I need to reconnect with this manipulative, sentimental, tale of redemption. Feel hope that, like Scrooge, we can choose another path and make mankind our business.  

Like this year.

So, when two friends in our FB Book Challenge group talked about a new book, Mr. Dickens and his Carol, by Samantha Silva, I got interested…A perfect way to end the year…Mr. Dickens, and then Mr. Scrooge.

I DID say I had taught A Christmas Carol, right? Well, I also taught Great Expectations, too…so I spent a lot of time with biographical information about Charles Dickens…his sad childhood, his forced labor when his family lived in debtor’s prison, his first love, his…complicated...marriage, his desperation for money to keep his growing family satisfied, his love affair with a glamorous actress, his second career as a performer of his own work…always with an eye to profit. So, I approached Silva’s book with a prickly attitude of someone who knows a bit about the subject. She won me over! This book tells the story of those weeks while he is being cajoled to write a ‘Christmas story’…for big bucks, money he and his family have already spent with their excessive Christmas plans. Of course he has writer’s block. He walks the streets of old London, looking for inspiration. He visits the old prison where his ne’er-do-well father lived for a few months, while young Charles was forced into child labor in a blacking factory. He meets a strange young boy who walks with a limp, a mysterious woman who appears and disappears. We hear lines from our novel used as dialogue, and we recognize settings and scenes. We see him slowly, scene-by-scene, inventing the timeless tale. Silva does take liberties with her story…how else could she add real Spirits? But she breathes life into the author, into his and Scrooge’s London, and into the text. She uses coincidences just like Dickens does. And she makes me cry ugly tears…just as manipulative and sentimental, in her own fine way, as her subject.

Then, I spent a few wonderful days with Ebenezer himself, nasty, hateful, and infinitely redeemable. Able to learn and grow…and change. With Silva’s words still clear in my mind, I reread, and the experience was deeper, more meaningful. Frankly, more fun. NOW I’m ready to listen to Gaiman read the prompt copy as *I* read my copy…I plan to make my own notes from Dickens’ own.


A Christmas Carol Yet to Come


Dicken’s preface is a short one:

“I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one with to lay it.” December, 1843. What does that mean for me, for us, going forward into 2021?


Covid and politics have made 2020 a tough year for us all. We have lost friends and loved ones. There are empty chairs at the dinner table, not unlike the empty corner of Tiny Tim in Christmas Yet to Come…Thanksgiving and Christmas, sheltering at home, even from my family just around the corner. Trading our signature dinner dishes in the garage, masked up. My granddaughters and I are planning marathon hugs in the summer. I’ve mused about kidnapping them all and running away. Eating in restaurants, shopping at the Mall. Seeing strangers’ smiles, unmasked. Hugs. Hugs.

Going to the grocery stores now and seeing other shoppers defiantly unmasked, or wearing their mask as an attractive chin strap. I find myself trying to follow the direction arrows in the aisles, trying not to make eye contact with others who are not masked properly, or blithely going the wrong direction, muttering under my breath, “Grace, grace, grace.” And yes, when I make a mistake and steer down the wrong way myself, I mutter, “Grace, please. Grace, please.”

Trying heartily to NOT participate in those online conversations where we knowingly or unknowingly misunderstand and misinterpret, where we jump to conclusions, make assumptions, see everything through our political lens. Where we’ve stopped listening. Again, I’ve muttered, “Grace, grace, grace.”  Working to not need the last word, to stop my teacher inclination to explain one more time what I meant, what I think the misunderstanding has been.

It’s been hard. That’s another reason A Christmas Carol seems important to me this season. We need to make some changes…each of us, and collectively as communities. And I return, not to Scrooge, but to Marley.

I know the last line resonates with most people, but for me, Marley delivers the words that bounce around in my soul. Words he learned the truth of too late: he is “doomed to wander among men, and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse…no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!” He sees too late. Seven years dead, and he is impelled to at least attempt to save Scrooge his fate. Marley’s words should challenge us all to reflect on our year, our years. To consider our misused opportunities.

Marley continues with the lament that breaks my heart. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business….” Marley doomed himself to carry those chains-every mistake, every missed opportunity, every miserly decision, hateful word. He saw too late he He so wants to warn his partner and give him a chance to see the truth. We all wear the chains we forge in life. “…Link by link, and yard by yard…” Marley desperately wants Scrooge and us to reflect on the chains we are forging, and whether they support a life of charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence…Or whether they will shackle us to an unhappy eternity. Each link in a chain is a small thing…light, insubstantial. Each slight, each unkind word. Each rebuff is a small thing. But when rebuff is linked to unkind work, to slight, our burden grows.

Scrooge does see a way

Do we need a haunting, an epiphany also?

I’m left with a  question…how do we take what A Christmas Carol can teach us into the next year? How do we take charity, merch, forbearance, benevolence with us?

Friday, December 4, 2020

To the Superintendent and Board Members of Norman Public Schools


Letter to NPS Superintendent and Board Members:


Here’s what I think I know about Covid today:


Children DO get Covid.

Children DO get Covid here in Oklahoma.

It appears young children may be safer than older children and teens.

More kids get/have Covid than we know.


I’m speaking to you as a former teacher in Norman, a parent of two NPS grads, grandmother to two more NPS grads, and grandmother to one current NPS student, working remotely.


I have much invested in Norman Schools, and I still have dear friends who are teaching in our schools. That is why the anger and conflicts I see among parents and teachers hurts my heart. We all have the same ultimate goals: the best education possible for every student in Norman. Safe schools. Accomplished teachers in every classroom. All of us feeling supported by our administration, our Board, and our community.

I know your job right now is incredibly difficult and challenging. You must balance the needs of all stakeholders, as Rep. Ranson mentioned above. So, as a stakeholder, let me share what I think i know right now, and what I hope we will be able to accomplish together.


Covid has upended our country, our state, and our community, in ways we could not have anticipated. We find ourselves divided by masks and indoor gatherings, over Covid testing, and the expectations for our schools. My friend, Jena, Oklahoma Teacher of the Year was booed as she spoke to her district School Board, asking for patience in starting in-person school this fall. A beloved teacher was booed. 


Kids are often asymptomatic or have different symptoms we may miss.

Kids are carriers.

If we don't test youngsters for Covid, we can pretend they're fine.

If we use tests that give false-negatives, we can pretend they're fine.


In Oklahoma we have two vastly different examples of leaders responding to a global pandemic: the Cherokee Nation, working together, ‘following the science,’ and our Governor, calling for a day of prayer and fasting – in a state where nearly one in four children are food-insecure. These two extremes mirror what is happening in our communities, in our schools. Some follow the science. Some pray and fast.


If we send kids to school while waiting for test results, we can pretend they're fine.

If we send kids to school with coughs, or upset tummies, we can pretend they're fine.

If we send kids to school, telling them not to talk about a Covid diagnosis in the home, we can pretend they're fine.

If we pretend they're fine, and lie, and don't test, we can cram kids and teachers together.


There are too many unknowns with this virus, the research seems to be changing weekly (we are watching medical advances in real time here), and there are precious few proactive steps schools can take to keep our students, teachers, and all school personnel safe until a vaccine is made available.  


If we cram kids and teachers together without testing, we have plausible deniability when teachers get sick, more teachers, or coaches

Or bus drivers or librarians or office personnel or classroom aides or support personnel or cafeteria workers or custodians.

Or parents or grandparents or daycare workers or Sunday school teachers or neighbors or friends.


I’m not at all certain our state or district leaders are making decisions based on the best science and research. And when the decisions are not aligned with our goals, for education opportunities, safe schools, and strong teachers, our district is weakened.


But, hey! Schools are open.

Parents can go to work.

Schools get their Average Daily Attendance

"It's the economy, Stupid. Right?" 


Here’s what else I know:


Parents need schools to be open so they can go to work

For many reasons, parents may feel unprepared, overwhelmed, or inadequate when faced with supervising schoolwork for their children.

Schools depend on attendance for funding from the state.

Standardized testing  purports to measure the worth of a district.

While Oklahoma received a waiver for testing in 2019-20 school year, no such waiver is an option for this school year.

School administration must be responsive to the community.

Any community will have competing goals and priorities.

This virus has deeply divided our country along ideological lines.

In Norman, wearing masks has become a political issue.

In Norman, outspoken teachers were doxed and identified by their school.

Resources are always scarce, and teachers often supply their own cleaning and disinfecting products.

Teachers are often teaching in-person and virtually.

Teachers are burning out and leaving the profession…or leaving the districts to teach virtually for other districts.

Oklahoma State School Board will not lead the way and mandate masks in schools.


So, that’s what I think I know…today. Where do we go – together – from here? How do we respond to the science, to the realities of our setting, to the needs of all stakeholders? How do we stay united as a community, as a school district? How to we acknowledge and honor the concerns of all, and ground all decisions in the science we know today?


What’s my pie-in-the-sky wish list? Here’s a start.


No Covid. (pie-in-the-sky!)

All teachers and parents vaccinated.

Accurate Covid tests for children.

In-person school as our ultimate goal for all students, when it is safe for everyone.

Equity of opportunity and access for students – resources, wifi, books, laptops or tablets, someone to answer questions and supervise learning. Hot meals.

Stability in our schools and classrooms, interrupted right now by quarantines, substitutes, schools going virtual.

Teachers supported as they do their jobs, having adequate classroom resources, laptops and tablets, wifi, collaboration and planning time.

Parents supported as they do THEIR jobs, helping their students learn, knowing someone can answer their questions, feeling that the district has the best interests of their family in mind, transparency about Covid concerns

 Full support to our schools from the state and federal governments to provide services and resources.

Funding to keep the schools afloat thru this crisis.

Trust in our schools restored.

Schools and parents and community working together to make our schools work for us all. How can I help? 


And until that vaccine is rolled out for us all,