Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wish List for Superintendent Hofmeister

This piece is an expanded version of an essay I wrote for OKLAHOMA OBSERVER, the state-wide publication that keeps me sane. Progressive ideas share with fierceness and pride. 

The state of Oklahoma will have a new State Superintendent of Public Instruction in January.  Joy Hofmeister has a just a couple of months to take a big deep breath, look around, decide what needs to be done first and reach out to create new alliances. This campaign has been a long and passionate one.  Talented folks who supported both candidates have so much to offer as we rebuild OSDE; it is my fervent wish that when we offer that help, it will be accepted.

Now the hard work begins. Our children need us to quickly put aside our differences and find common ground. To collaborate. For four years we have been frozen out of the education policies in this state, and it must change. Legislative leadership, executive leadership, OSDE leadership…all have the opportunity to learn from parents and students and educators and to create a new culture of cooperation.

Everyone has his wish lists of priorities. Here’s mine.

I hope Superintendent Hofmeister begins by replacing the portraits of our Oklahoma Educator Hall of Fame members in the hallway leading to the Board Room. They were summarily removed and replaced in less public spots around the building just a month ago. This symbolic gesture will honor our giants, and let them watch over us as we do this business.

Funding our schools is the top priority. We lead the nation in cutting money to schools: 23.6%, up from 22.8%. The Legislature invests $17 per day for each student in public schools. They will try to take credit for federal and local funding, but that is disingenuous at best, and manipulative at worst.The hemorrhaging must be staunched . We have cut education funding more than any other state in the nation; schools are suffering.  It must stop. Our new Superintendent must demand full funding of the OSDE.

Lack of funding affects classroom size, and our ability to recruit and retain good teachers. Quick fixes must be avoided. Our kids deserve career teachers in the classroom, not substitutes and not temporary teachers. Teachers deserve a substantial raise, not the gimmicky carrots offered by cynical legislators who blame high adminstrative costs for our troubles.I hope Superintendent Hofmeister will reach out to the educators of our state and listen to our stories. We have much to offer and we have been ignored. Morale is low, but professionals are hopeful.

High stakes testing is an issue. I attended several Legislative interim studies with this common theme: EOIs mean nothing to colleges, inappropriate testing of special education students, Oklahoma’s testing mandates exceed federal mandates.  Changes must be made. Our new Superintendent must invite parents and professionals to be part of this discussion.

The Third Grade testing still looms: the provisions of HB2625, which gives teams of educators and parents the right to recommend placement to students will expire with this year’s third graders. Next year’s third grade students will again be summarily retained if they fail the deeply-flawed reading-English Language Arts test.

 Revising or tossing (my choice) the A-F grades for schools and districts must be high on the agenda.  We have been told time and again these grades are useless to schools and parents. Ideology trumped good practice from the start.

The elephant in the room whenever we talk about high-stakes testing and school grades is poverty. Standardized tests carefully measure the economic status of students’ families, and carefully predict performance on the next test. I hope our new Superintendent will find ways to introduce systemic efforts to support families with adequate wages, health care, and community support. Looking at the community schools, like Edgemere Elementary in OKC, could give us a model.

We are waiting for news of our new waiver application. That will certainly affect policy.

We can expect new bills supporting voucher expansion and charter school expansion. Superintendent Hofmeister must protect the limited resources for our public schools and oppose all of these efforts.

Retired teachers' pensions will be under attack from corporate raiders. She must be our champion.

We are concerned about outside influences in our education policy. ALEC and Jeb Bush’s FEE Foundation have had too much power over our legislation and our OSDE policies. We must use the talents and wisdom of Oklahoma professionals to craft our own legislation and policies that address the needs of Oklahoma students.

I had the honor of speaking to Representative Joe Dorman’s interim study on school funding. There were heavy hitters explaining the global effects of funding cuts to our schools. My job was to bring the cuts back to the classroom reality.  I talked about two issues: the deregulation of funding to our school libraries (I am a certified school librarian), and the cuts to the National Board Certified Teacher program (I am a retired NBCT).

When the Legislature deregulated funding to school libraries, children suffered. If we truly believe it is our mission to prepare students for college and career, we won’t do that with sub-standard libraries that cannot support student research or reading. Strong school libraries actually contribute to high test scores. Funding must be restored.

One of the most positive teacher retention programs in our state has been the support for National Board Certification, and the generous stipends for NBCTs. It has been slowly chipped away until it is nearly unrecognizable. There is no better program to retain and reward accomplished career teachers in our state, because the stipend requires NBCTs be full-time classroom teachers.

What an overwhelming list of tasks…and this is only my wish list. I want our new Superintendent to know  there are educators and parents who have survived four years of reforms, and we stand ready to contribute to a new administration.

I have hope for the future. Superintendent-to-be Hofmeister has already reached out to OEA and started a conversation. Her plans involve reaching out to other organizations: CCOSA, OSSBA, POE, PTA, PLACs, ROPE, OCPA, Oklahoma Policy Institute, retired teachers...While I don't agree with the goals of all these groups, I appreciate her reaching out to stake holders. She has a transition team formed to assist. We all have stories and we all have much to offer a new Superintendent. Our realities must be honored. 

We have learned our lessons in these past years. We will not be complacent. We will be vigilant. We will be holding Superintendent Hofmeister accountable for her campaign promises. We will expect an open door at the OSDE. We will watch as alliances are formed. And we will speak up. #oklaed has created a formidable group of assertive voices that will not be silenced. 

Our students couldn't vote in this election; we did; now we and our elected officials must come together for our students.

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