Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bullying in Schools -- #oklaed Chat 3/1/15

When I taught I took pride in my attempts to create a safe climate…a classroom of mutual respect where mistakes were learning opportunities, where we worked together, asked questions, and accepted each other. I loved standing in the halls between classes and dubbed those kids who were not in my class, “Hallway buddies.”

I tried to be alert to those troubling undercurrents in class…the sidelong glances, the arch smiles. The clenched fists, the fierce stares. I tried to address behavior that could be seen as intimidating immediately.

I tried. I read, I studied. I attended workshops about how to identify and prevent bullying in the classroom.

The last few years of my career, online bullying became a huge issue that spilled into the classroom…and since I’ve left, it has only gotten worse. The stories my high-school and middle-school Grands tell me curl my toes. Fake instagram accounts, Twitter used to harass.
Crimes committed away from school become school issues when victims and perpetrators…and their friends…all attend school together.

Earlier this school year, my Grand’s high school, Norman High, was rocked by conflict involving young women who had to attend school with the young man who raped them until he was withdrawn and arrested. The girls were stalked by the young man’s friends, called names, and forced to navigate a double degradation. They felt as if their attempts to reach out to school officials were unsuccessful.
Yes AllDaughters was born as a grass-roots advocacy group supporting the girls, and NPS responded to the subsequent rally by establishing a task force to insure the safety of all students.

I wrote about school bullying in response to this event, and was contacted by a representative of an online company who sells protection packages to school districts. I’m not sure this is the answer…but might it be an answer?

Very recently, attacks on girls from Moore, also off campus, have brought this issue to our attention again.  

In this current Legislative Session, there are several bills dealing with professional development, with curriculum in elementary classrooms, and with response programs. Griffith and Floyd’s HB1362, Denney’s and Griffin’s HB1684 (Erin’s Law), and Denney’s and Shaw’s SB303 will all affect our work in the classroom if passed.

My frustration with my inability, and schools’ inability to keep students safe, emotionally and physically, spurred me to volunteer to moderate an #oklaed chat. I want to combine the wisdom of parents, teachers, administrators, citizens. I want to learn what works and what doesn’t. I want to compile a list of resources school districts have found helpful in their efforts to identify, prevent, and respond to school bullying.

We all know society will not miraculously change, become a kinder, more accepting, more supportive place. We all know nearly a quarter of our children live in grinding poverty, with all the uncertainty that brings into their families. We know children come to us in the public schools with all the baggage of their young lives. But we know our mission is to educate, to give students options, to keep them safe, to model a positive way to face and overcome conflicts. We know policy makers will expect more and more from us, but we must continue to seek ways to make our schools safer for all our students, not because a Legislator thought it would look good to his constituents, but because it’s the right thing to do for our students. Because we’re educators.

With that as my goal, here are my questions  for the #oklaed chat tomorrow…If you plan to join us, please bring ideas about helpful resources or books or links or policies or products. Our expertise is vast, and we can help each other if we combine our forces.

#Oklaed Chat 3/1
School Bullying

1.      Please introduce yourself, tell your connection to #oklaed and  your current position
2.       How does bullying in schools affect you in your role as parent, teacher, administrator?
3.       In what ways do conflicting points of view between educators and parents complicate all our efforts to prevent and deal with bullying?
4.       What procedures does your school have in place to work with bullying children and bullied children? How well are they communicated to all stakeholders?
5.       How do you deal with bullying that begins OUTSIDE the school and affects school climate, such as bullying on social media?
6.       Two recent cases in Norman and Moore have made the news, with sexual assaults outside of school affecting the education experience of students. What plans does your district have in place to prevent or respond to such emergencies?
7.       What are your concerns and your hopes related to the proposed legislation concerning bullying prevention?
8.       Share a success your school has had working with families of kids who bully or are bullied. Or share a success your family has had working with schools. 
9.       What resources have proved successful in dealing with bullying in  #oklaed? I will compile our list and share.

So join us Sunday night at 8pm on Twitter, and help find solutions. Use the #oklaed hash tag to participate in our conversation.

I’ve begun a list of resources and books here…and am eager to add more.

Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman
Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons

Thursday, February 26, 2015

My Letter to Representative Strohm

Representative Strohm,

My name is Claudia Swisher. I live in Norman and am long-time resident of Oklahoma. I taught for 39 years, 34 in Oklahoma. I retired 'early' because I was so disgusted by the spate of reforms in our state and knew by retiring I could avoid them. Unfortunately my three granddaughter are not so lucky.

I am a voter. 

As a life-long educator in public schools, as a parent and grandparent of public school students, as a citizen of this state who has watched the systematic strangling of public education, I am frustrated with your recent remarks during the debate about HB1522. This was a good bill. It would assure public funding going to private schools was well spent. It would give accountability for private schools receiving vouchers at the public's expense. It would force private schools to prove students were learning.

Even ALEC, the model-legislation source for too many of Oklahoma's bills, included accountability measures in their ESA model legislation. I see that ALEC is one of your contributors, as were Koch Industries, and I am not surprised. I wonder why you part with ALEC on the subject of accountability.

Your remarks about public school being ‘shackled’ under constraints are absolutely true. We are shackled by the deepest cuts to education in the nation. We are shackled by TLE and by A-F. We are shackled by a third-grade flunk law, and 8th grade reading requirements based on an English Language Arts test. We are shackled by high school graduation testing that means nothing to colleges or employers. 

We are shackled, and the Oklahoma Legislature has gleefully shackled us. Deliberately. We are shackled by legislators who have no working knowledge of school finance, assessment, curriculum, but feel great license to interfere in our work.

IF private schools are all the better for their freedom from shackles, then think what public schools could accomplish with the same freedom.  Why are you deliberately creating two unequal education systems for the children of Oklahoma? Why perpetrate systems with different requirements? Why not support public education?

One more statement I heartily disagree with is your contention that private school parents are more 'engaged' in their students' education. I hope Mama Bears all over the state arise and show you the wrongness of that statement. Parents in private schools may or may not be engaged, but they most probably have more time in which to engage. I would guess that few private school parents are working two low-wage jobs in order to make ends meet. I'm guessing few private school parents struggle with transportation to and from work, are unable to attend school events, or are flat-out too tired to go up to the school and sell popcorn during recess. 

Your callous dismissal of public school parents is wrong. It is judgmental. It is smug entitlement pretending to care.

So, now, because of your words and your vote, private schools in Oklahoma who receive taxpayer funding have been given carte blanche. They know we won't be watching. They know there will be no accountability. They know there will be no oversight. 

I ask, with deepest sarcasm, "What could possibly go wrong?"

I am on the record as objecting with every cell in my body, to one penny of my tax contribution to public schools going to a private school in the form of a voucher. One. Penny. 

I am on record that you are on the wrong side of this debate, but the school choice contributors to your campaign must be feeling pleased with their investment. 

You cheated public school students. You insulted public school parents. 

Claudia Swisher

Obviously, I let my anger simmer for awhile. Here is the link to Niky Shobert's letter he received yesterday. He needs to know we are NOT going to ignore his remarks.

We might want to remind Rep. Strohm, who is from the Jenks area, that our new Superintendent of Schools, Joy Hofmeister, is an engaged public school parent...from Jenks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When Representatives Don't Represent

Guest post this morning by my friend Niky Shobert...I'll let her words speak for us all. 

Representative Strohm, 

I am not in your district, but I saw a quote of yours in the Tulsa World and felt like I had to say something.   

In case the link won't let you read his words, here they are from the article:

"School choice advocates attacked Henke’s bill, saying it would undercut private schools by making them comply with the same financial reporting as public schools.“The reason private schools work so well, and they do work well; and the reason home schooling works so well, and it does work well, is that they are free,” said Rep. Chuck Strohm, R-Jenks. “They are living the American Dream free of the shackles public schools are required to operate under.”Strohm, who received substantial support from a school choice group in last year’s election, said private schools should not be subject to requirements as public schools because private school parents are “more engaged” and “know what’s going on” in their schools"

As a parent, a passionate public school educator, a member of the Central OK PLAC (Parent Legislative Action Committee), and the co-founder of the Cleveland County PLAC, I was very disappointed by your quote that says the strength of private schools/homeschools is that they are free from the shackles that are imposed on public education.   I would like to point out that many of those very "shackles" you mention are imposed by your legislative body.  

My question to you is what are you doing to help:
  •  increase funding to allow for schools to do more, 
  • increase teacher pay in order to attract the best and the brightest (Do you realize OKC and Tulsa public have had well over 100 vacancies all year and even schools like Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow, and Norman struggled to fill all their open positions this year?), 
  • reduce high stakes testing that is killing the spirit and creativity of of teachers and students (research proves this over and over, standardizing testing does not and will not improve student achievement and the high stakes attached to it actually lowers students' achievement and motivation), 
  • return local control of educational issue to local school boards and the parents they represent,
  • eliminate the A/F system that does nothing but place blame and shame on schools for things out of their control (supported by research)
  • eliminate the dangerous TLE model (especially the quantitative -VAM and SLO) of teacher evaluations that more often than not places blame and shame on teachers for things out of their control (again, research shows that growth models do not work for education).  
  • focus on the bigger picture, like poverty, the real root cause of many students' struggles in schools

I teach college students who are in elementary education programs.  Every semester, at least half of my students tell me that are moving out of state or probably not even going to go into education at all.  When I ask why, it is because of pay and working conditions.  Even as undergrads, they feel and see the effects of high stakes testing, TLE, and A/F.  They recognize how poverty is impacting schools and even the most dedicated teachers struggle to overcome it.  They feel the blatant disrespect from lawmakers.  Even they see the shameful effects of the "shackles" that our our OK Legislators as well as the regulations from NCLB that have been imposed on teachers.  

I might add, that as a Parent, I am highly offended that you make the claim about private school parents being more involved.  What "scale" or data do you have to support this claim?  Did you do a survey?  Take a poll?  Talk to parents and schools?   I would argue that it is simply not true.  In any school, public or private, you have a wide range of involvement.  Even homeschool parents range in their involvement.    

Don't forget, 
  • Public School Parents in Jenks Middle School sparked a grassroots movement to bring light to the dangers of high stakes testing when they opted their students out en masse of the 7th Grade Geography test a few years ago.  
  • Public School Parents spearheaded the grassroots campaign to elect Joy Hofmeister.  
  • Public School Parents rallied their representative to return common sense measures to the Third grade reading test and retention via the override of Governor Falin's veto of Representative Henke's bill last spring.  
  • over 20,000 Public School Parents, teachers, administrators, and community members rallied at the Capitol, asking for change. 
  • Public School Parents stay connected with and involved in their students' education despite many challenges that others cannot know. 
  • and so much more.

Help support public education.  Don't dismantle it.

Thank you for your service.  

Nicole Shobert

Go Niky! Let us know if you get a reply.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Snow-Day Chore for Us All

I have a snow-day chore for all my teacher friends. Today you can sit at your own computer, and use your private email address to send a letter to the Senate Finance Committee. You could call from your own telephone. You could urge them all to vote no on SB609

This is my letter to the Senate Finance Committee...Not my first...hopefully my last. SB609 is the ALEC voucher bill pure and simple. Except there is no accountability for the private schools receiving tax dollars. Even ALEC wrote in accountability when drafting their model legislation. We've been told this is a win-win for schools, that since only 80% of the money leaves per child (ONLY 80%!), 100% of the child leaves. I guess my questions include, 'for how long? What happens when the private school kicks the student out? What if a private school won't take the student (let's not fool ourselves...choice is all about the schools choosing kids, not kids choosing schools)? 

To the Committee: 

A school administrator told me the numbers on this bill didn't add up...that the kids who are now NOT in public schools would be added to the count, thus lowering the per-pupil amount. And then those kids would take their voucher out of the already-depleted fund...but my English-teacher brain could not wrap itself around this.

Rob Miller 'splained it to me...I'm sharing this with you. This bill WILL take desperately-needed funding out of public schools with all the crippling accountability for students, teachers, schools, and districts. It WILL give tax-payer funds to private schools with no accountability...not even ALEC's accountability. It WILL give MY tax contribution to parents who can already afford private schools, parents who will use my tax contribution, tax free. 

We don't need ALEC in Oklahoma. We need to attend to our public schools. If we truly want parents to choose public schools, fully fund us. Give us the resources to teach every child. Give us the support to make our schools successful.

Please vote NO, and tell public school children they are your priority.

Claudia -- retired teacher, grandma, tax-payer, and voter

Here are the names and emails of the Committee...I know several and know they are responsive. Please write and send your own note before 10am today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We Must #SaveAP From our Politicians

I was there….I sat through the questions and debate about AP US History (APUSH). When I wasn’t shaking my head in disgust or swallowing my tongue to keep from laughing in disbelief, I wanted to throw up a little in my mouth. The same group that gave us the CCSS repeal is flexing its muscles again, and AP programs are their new target.

HB1380 is one of two bills, the first to be heard in Committee. Interestingly enough, I saw the author of the Senate bill, Senator Brecheen, sitting in the hearing, taking notes. I’m sure we will hear his arguments have been informed by this meeting.

Rep. Fisher brought in a real expert…on Skype! Larry Krieger is a former APUSH teacher, author of several books for kids taking APUSH. He has become a celebrity, feeding off the Tea-Party rage that our world is not sufficiently convinced of American exceptionality. His books are still on sale at Barnes and Noble. And he’s the subject of this article. They got themselves a live one!!

He told us that the committee that wrote new standards was ‘not accountable’ to anyone….
Fisher (?) my notes are sketchy said out loud that APUSH now has omitted exceptionalism and we are on the shifting sands of revision.

The term ‘nationalized curriculum’ brought up all the fears about CCSS. We must save our children from that. Oklahoma for Oklahomans...unless you need 'expert' witnesses...then it's perfectly ok to go across state borders.

They all liked the old APUSH standards just fine. If that nasty David Coleman hadn’t stepped into his new job at College Board and written those nasty standards, there would be no quarrel. Oh, Mr. Coleman wasn’t even at College Board when they were written? Oh, and he had nothing to do with them? Well, College Board-David Coleman-CCSS!! Let’s just say it louder.
Someone said out loud, ‘We don’t want AP teaching our kids…a skewed agenda.’ Read into this remark, ‘We want to teach them OUR skewed agenda.’

Someone intoned that AP students will be our leaders, and we can’t have them learning that the US isn’t exceptional.

One humorous exchange was about Rosa Parks. She is not specifically mentioned in the new standards. Oh, the could College Board do that? When asked where she was listed in the old standards, Rep. Fisher was unable to tell us and tried to change the subject…But when we have an agenda to fulfill, we can’t let pesky details get in the way.

We were told that we need to be teaching history that made this country great. We need to teach the OK history standards…which have probably already been scorched to the bone with our politicians’ agenda.

The new APUSH course turns America into a really horrible place. Just ask these politicians who never took the class. They know!

“We didn’t vote on the AP curriculum,” said someone. Um, no. AP is a college level course. I don’t think the Legislature has begun interfering with the content of college classes…yet. May be a future target. Be aware.
During a presentation by John Williamson, a representative of College Board, Mr. Kreiger kept interrupting him, to spew his own prejudices. The College Board folks were treated with contempt and disdain. I was so embarrassed. Mr. Williamson tried to make the point that APUSH is a college-bearing credit course…

AP and College Board were painted as a private, unelected group changing standards at will…for what purpose I never heard.

The intent is clear…no money to AP. I assume that means no professional development opportunities for teachers. I never taught an AP class, but I attended a workshop and used ideas from that workshop in my classes. ALSO, APUSH (and presumably all AP classes in the future) MUST comply with OK Standards, even though they are college level course. No matter.
They’re only trying to help “give students an understanding of what makes America great.” Must not be cultivating critical, analytical thinkers.

AP is “censoring all the good and lifting up all the bad in this country.” ALL…An AP English teacher might think about a lesson on hyperbole…

Mr. Williamson was grilled about the committee who wrote the hated standards…no, there were no Oklahoma teachers on this particular committee. Yes, Oklahoma teachers are included in other committees.  He read from the work of the committee to show American exceptionalism was alive and well, but Rep Kern said she would turn this into ‘he said-she said.’ She went to a workshop (Oh, how I wanted to jump up and ask, ‘what workshop? When? Hosted by whom? With what agenda?) and with her own eyes read hundreds of pages with guidelines. With her own eyes!

This is when Mr. Kreiger interrupted Mr. Williamson, asking his own questions. One witness questioning another. The proceedings could have become a free-for-all at this point.  He was finally shut up. Maybe I should have jumped up and asked my questions of Rep. Kern.

Rep. Fisher found an anti-APUSH, APUSH teacher. Didn’t get her name, but I kept wondering why in the world a teacher would work to subvert her own program…anyone? Anyone? Further update to update the update. The teacher who testified is Sandy Hodges, Wagoner County Assessor, identified in this article, as a former AP US History professor. I'm confused. Is she a PhD in history who used to teach APUSH? Is she a university professor who taught US History? There is no such critter as APUSH Professor. You can see her agenda is anti-CCSS. Hopefully the third time is the charm...I really think I have it right now. From the Resolution Ms. Hodges presented: "RESOLVED, That the Republican State Committee requests that the State Legislature, Oklahoma educators, and parents request that the 2014-2015 AP U.S. History course work and exams NOT be implemented until the traditional, well-established AP U.S. History guidelines and sample examinations are made available to educators, state and local officials, and the public, as has been done in the past; "

Representatives went back to that pesky APUSH committee who wrote the new work….did it have an ideological balance? They really asked that!! Ideological balance!! Mr. Williamson repeated the make-up of the committee – a balance of college professors and APUSH teachers; he left unsaid the fact that College Board does not have an ideological horse in this race, unlike some others. I was grateful he let that question die a quiet death.

In the debate, Ed Cannady put it on the line – a vote for this mess (my word) is a vote against local control…the right of a local school board to decide which AP classes to include in the curriculum. He said he would be watching and glad such a vote would be on the record.

Fisher used his debate time to give us a sermon…students would be given a severely-disadvantaged revision of American history with this course…He said other states have questioned APUSH – Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and *gasp* even California. I think I may have laughed.

So. Local control when we want. Trusting parents to make decisions for their students when we want. College credit when we want.

These politicians seem to think they’ll write their own APUSH-like course, vet it, write an APUSH-like exam, vet it, and talk universities into giving credit. Or they simply want their was so badly they don’t care what happens to our students who can’t afford tuition for classes they could earn credit for with hard work. Or kids who need the AP classes on their transcript to look attractive for tough colleges, or for scholarship applications. This is petulant legislators getting their way no matter who they hurt. And they’re hurting our kids.

My head hurt, my heart hurt. The vote was 11-4, straight party vote. We just watched the dumbing down of Oklahoma.

Since I needed time away from this toxic mess, others have written fiercely about this meeting and decision. Tulsa World analyzed the meeting here. And we have made the national news, yet again.
If you love me, sign this petition, written by a young AP student from Tulsa. A friend tells me he is bright and articulate...just the kind of leader we need. Even if you don’t love me, please sign.

Monday, February 9, 2015

I Visit the Senate Education Committee Meeting and Learn A Lot.

Senate Education Committee meeting, 2/9

First day of hearing bills and deciding whether they will be amended, have the title struck, be passed onto the full Senate, or die ignominiously.

Talk about another steep learning curve. I sat down, watched, listened, and learned. After the meeting, I introduced myself to Chairman Ford and asked a couple of questions. Told him I would attend as many as I could, for all my friends who are busy teaching today. I told him I’d be writing a letter in opposition as soon as I saw he had scheduled Senator Brecheen’s ideological attack on AP US History. He did not seem surprised.

I had an agenda, but the committee jumped around, dealing with education bills written by nonmembers of the Committee. Senator Loveless preened about his deep concern about administrative costs and his deep commitment to slashing waste. More on that later. His bill, SB18 passed.

Senator Holt’s bill, SB68, which gives communities the power to sponsor charter schools passed along party lines. He spoke glowingly about competition and choice, and all the families who were moving into communities who would need charter schools. He described this bill as a tool in their toolbox. He didn’t seem forthcoming about the actual stated need, and the research that shows such need exists. Holt spoke of the success of John Rex School, and KIPP schools, and Harding.   I loved Senator Sharp’s questions: “Why aren’t we helping failing schools? Why aren’t we putting our money into the existing schools?” Good questions…and he voted for the bill anyway.  He spoke of the slippery slope, and asked who would control the schools? Jolley warned of mayoral and city council control. I immediately thought of Mayor Bloomberg and Emmanuel. He was concerned about DeBlasio. Funny how our minds work—same issue, different conclusions.  So, the Republicans didn’t much like it but passed it out of committee anyway.

Loveless’s (see above) next bill was SB171, Rural Charters. The title was struck right away, so I THINK that means we could see it again, even though it did not pass. Senator Sparks (my Senator) asked point-blank, how this bill can reconcile with Loveless’s commitment to fewer schools and fewer districts. How can we expand and consolidate at the same time? Mr. Loveless tried to answer a question that wasn’t asked, to avoid answering this one. Sparks asked again…Someone (Brecheen??) made a great point: are we just adding charters to grow our kingdom? Or is there a need? Sharp returned to his theme of properly funding education, and how this bill would complicate that…more teachers would be needed, more funding. The bill did not pass…and Loveless never did see the irony of the cross-purposes of his two bills. On one hand, administration is bad and must be curbed. On the other hand, if it’s a charter, somehow administration is good. Mercy.

His SB301 is a mass of hyperbole in the shape of research. And anyone who dares to questions its purpose is labeled as a child hater. The bill will  provide an investigator in OSDE who will, I believe, have the power to strip educators of their teaching license if there is an accusation of moral or sexual wrongdoing…He called this a ‘growing problem’ without citing any research. He expects us to accept this on faith. The committee asked him to withdraw the bill to revise and rework. He refused. They did strike the title. They grilled him, peppering him with questions, he quite frankly, could not answer. Finally, Amy Ford, member of the School Board, got up and tried to rescue him. It was apparent she is the power behind this bill. She spoke eloquently about children victimized by evil teachers and bus drivers, and implied if you were against her bill, you sided with the evil-doers. I remember a FB conversation I had with them, asking about due process, and the possibility of inaccurate accusations. I was dismissed as an abuser-lover who obviously wants to protect criminals at the cost of our precious children. Jolley found a way to explain that lawsuits from wrongly-accused educators would flood the OSDE…he asked the bill to be laid over…He said it is not ready for prime time. He begged for time to craft a bill that would stand, but Loveless was adamant. Garrison said he would vote to pass it out of committee, but if said if it came to the floor in this condition, it would go down. Loveless gave his personal word that it would be a good bill. Ford…Amy Ford…finally sat down. It was comical to watch her answer the questions that Loveless, the ‘author’ couldn’t answer. This discussion was sausage-making at its worst. Not a one of the Senators liked the bill and thought it was a great idea…and yet…I cannot help but wonder why Board Member Ford did not work with a member of the Education Committee to write this particular bill. It would seem to me to give more credibility to a bill.

This bill took up a lot of the time, and so the other bills voted on were handled with the dispatch of a committee who knew how to get work done quickly.

The bill that generated the most discussion after Loveless's performance was SB303 by Shaw…Erin’s Law. Its companion House bill is being carried by Rep. Denney, HB1684. It’s about sexual abuse and assault awareness. I have not read this one, but Brecheen has, and he went ape…especially when Senator Shaw made mention of parents’ opting out of information as a red flag. Brecheen talked about evangelical concerns in secular education. I see trouble ahead for this. They struck the title of this also.

 Brecheen’s SB29 was one I didn’t know about, and it sounded like a small detail. Will study to see…somehow, Senator Brecheen’s support of it makes me nervous.

SB50 by Smalley is about Ag Ed, and easily passed out of committee.

Halligan’s SB177 is about modifying income caps for OHLAP-eligibility. Its title was also struck on its way out of committee.

His SB179, adding days to the school calendar had its title struck too. Brecheen voted no, but it was passed out of committee also.

Chairman Ford stepped down to speak to SB285, directing alignment of early childhood standards…he was quick to point out there were no aligned assessments connected to these standards. Another one to read carefully.

Paddack’s SB262 will have no fiscal impact, since workplace safety training would only be encouraged, not required. She was quick to point out it would not mandate any particular curriculum or time for the training.

Jolley’s SB504, allowing OHLAP funds to go to ‘certain’ online universities, including out-of-state universities, passed 11-1 (Sparks voting no). Somehow after the discussion of Loveless’s bills, we lost a committee member… SB505 by Stanislawski, dealing with virtual schools and revolving funds passed 11-1 (Sparks voted no).

SB763 by Bass passed…and frankly I don’t remember a thing about it. I think I was trying to juggle papers and phone…sorry. Your not-so-intrepid reporter failed.

They got all this done, and cleared the room for its 11:30 meeting. I was impressed by the speed with which they could ask questions, call the question, debate, and vote.  That might have explained the frustration I think I saw at Sen. Loveless’s bills. They really slowed down the morning, partly because he couldn’t answer questions put before him, and partly because he refused to take the committee’s suggestion about laying it over. There is more going on here than I’m aware. I’ll continue to watch.

Whew! That all happened in 2 hours, after my furious drive through rush-hour traffic.  I stayed for the House Appropriations and Budget Committee meeting, but chose to miss the House Common Education meeting, set for later today. Schedules are not set for amateur observers on their own time.

We need to watch the Legislative website and the  calendars of these committees, and check the agendas. There we’ll see the bills to be discussed in upcoming meetings. That will give us a few days to contact our Legislators and share our support or concerns.

Stay alert.

Stay informed.

Be ready to be loud if necessary.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

It's Legislative Season...Here is My Watch-List of Bills

It's Legislative session...and the fun-and-games have already begun. According to my new favorite website, OpenStates, OK Legislators have filed 1464 bills dealing with education in our state. One Thousand Four Hundred Sixty Four. 1464 attempts to interfere in our business, or to correct earlier interferences in our business. They boggle the brain.

Within those 1464 bills are frivolous ones, sincere ones, ideological ones, and ALEC-written ones. Too much for even a retired grandmother to keep up with, and to make sense of.

With OpenStates, I was able to create a list of favorite bills, with the promise of alerts when there is Legislative action on my bills.

With the exception of Sally Kern's bills intending to legislate hate, I have identified only education bills. My list will not be YOUR list, but together we can keep each other informed.

There are many bills dealing with testing: fine-tuning Reading Sufficiency Act, altering high school End of Instruction exams and substituting the ACT. Some are trying to revise the failed A-F school grading. Some make changes to Teacher and Leader Effectiveness. There are bills to alter teacher pensions, but not the one we feared, changing the system to a defined contribution system that will gut our pension fund.

I have chosen to concentrate on bills dealing with several subjects: parent trigger, charter expansion, vouchers, testing, social studies, AP US History, and National Board Certification. Two quirky bills, Kern's poptart bill, HB1596, and Loveless's Hobby Lobby bill, SB48,  are on my list also. We have rejected Kern's bill again, but she brought it back again.

Didn't we already beat back the failed ALEC Parent Trigger nonsense? This is a bad idea that must be killed again. Maybe we should call it the Zombie Bill. Senator Holt was so unprepared to defend his own bill last year that he could not answer the informed questions of my friend. He seemed to have not even read his own bill. This year he's introducing it again, as SB187.We must be ready to fight again. We don't need American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by the shadowy Koch brothers, writing our legislation.

Speaking of ALEC, Senator Jolley (a favorite ALEC son), and Representative Nelson (I haven't found the connection between Nelson and ALEC except for the word-for-word copying) have introduced the high-sounding "Oklahoma Education Savings Account," or to use plain words, vouchers to take out of public schools and apply at any private school in the state. The bill is HB2003, with Jolley as coauthor. Jolley's version is SB690, with Nelson as coauthor. How very cozy.I've already written about Nelson's bill here and here. Schools in OK have seen funding cut more than any other state in the nation, and yet our policy makers are following the ALEC party line, and trying to further bankrupt our schools. Ironically, the ALEC model legislation actually provides for more accountability for the private schools than Nelson's does.

Nelson is also authoring a bill, HB2004, to modify provisions of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Act...another ALEC invention, even to the suggestion of naming the Act after the child of a prominent state citizen. This will take more money out of public schools at a critical time, and will not ensure better education for special education students.

This seems to be the "Year of the Charter." It seems like lots of lawmakers are jumping on the bandwagon. I'm not informed enough to know which will be bankrolled by the Walton Foundation, but we can be certain they will be back in the state with their wallets open. Our charter laws have worked...there is no need to expand. Bills include: Holt'sSB68, "allowing certain city governing bodies to be sponsors," Pittman's SB286, "creating the Community Learning Act," Loveless's SB171, "creating the Flixibility for Rural Education Act, removing population limits," SB783, coauthored by Jolley and Denney, "providing for calculation of state aid for certain purposes," Jolley and Denney also introduced SB782, "modifying for sponsors," SB302, by Loveless and Kirby, "allowing a federally recognized Indian tribe to be a sponsor," Loveless also is trying to expand charters into rural districts: SB171, creating the "Flexibility for Rural Education Act."

Then there are the intrusions into education standards, curriculum, and courses. Riding high from his 'success' in repealing Common Core in OK, Senator Brecheen has turned his eyes on AP US History courses: APUSH. His bill, SB650, and Fisher's HB1380, attack the college-level courses, the curriculum, and the AP exams that many families count on to lower college tuition costs. BlueCerealEducation and OkEducationTruths have discussed these bills at length. The anti-intellectual stances of these two Legislators embarrasses me, and the overriding hubris of assuming they can strong-arm a national education foundation with their posturing is breathtaking. I feared this kind of attack on education after the Common Core repeal. I feard, listening to Senator Brecheen's attack on Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, implying the book was required reading under CCSS. His disingenuous...dare I say 'lying' about the book, his 'embarrassed' reading of the naughty bits into the Senate record, pretending embarrassment at sharing the bad words, was a bravura performance. His followers did not like my pointing out this fact. His aim is to control and direct what teachers can teach in our classes. These bills must be squashed. I'm calling them an unfunded mandate on parents, since without being able to earn credit with the APUSH test, (up to nearly $1500) parents will be forced to pay for these college courses. Brecheen also has a Senate Continuing Resolution about APUSH: SCR3.

HB1537 by Thomsen would require OK to adopt 'certain' science standards, as would SB665, with no author listed. There are more bills requiring some kind of Civics requirement than one can shake a stick at. I know I will miss some of them. SB407 by Dahm, HB1841, by Banz, HB1145 by Kannady. I fear I missed some...

I will also follow three bills concerning National Board Certified Teachers and speech pathologists' stipends. Denney's HB1692 and McDaniels' HB1141 actually cancel each other out...Denney's withdraws the stipend for nationally-certified speech paths, and McDaniels' assured it. Representative Proctor introduced HB1816, a one-page, introduction-only bill "creating the National Board Teacher Certification Act of 2015." I've contacted Rep. Proctor to learn more.

Senator Loveless continues his war on school administration costs with SB15, coauthored by Denney. I have sent the Senator many links (here and here and here) that show blaming administrative costs for funding woes is an attempt to distract us from the true culprit: policymakers who do not fully fund public schools. I will continue to share...with little hope of success. He much prefers to believe the public-school-hating group, OCPA, Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs.

There are several bills revising the salary schedule...I fear these will be hopeless, since there will be no money for teacher raises this year.

I leave it to others to track the various RSA bills and the TLE bills...I'll have my hands full trying to follow these.

I recommend that you use OpenStates to create your own account, and your own list of favorites. Please stay involved and alert. Be ready to contact Rep. Coody, the chair of the Common Education Committee in the House, and Senator Ford, the chair of the Senate Education Committee. They will make the decisions about which of these bills will be sent out of committee.

I will be attending as many of the committee meetings as I can, and will report back.

So, what bills will you be watching?