Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Light Moment in Senate Ed Committee...and Some UNlight Reading on Vouchers

There were some funny moments yesterday in the Senate Education Committee, when my former Senator, John Sparks introduced an "Education Savings Account" bill to the Committee. Clark Jolley was all over that, like a duck on a Junebug...didn't the Senator think using that phrase would confuse citizens, with those other bills titled the same? Doyathink?? With a straight face, Sparks explained that HIS was a bill that allowed parents to deposit their own investments into a tax-sheltered account, to use on any education expenses. The bluster continued...I loved every minute of it. I was not aware that ALEC and its minions had copyrighted the term, "Education Savings Account!" And how dare someone use the term correctly, to describe an account that a family saved their own money in, to be used for education expenses.

Inadvertently, the foes of the real education savings account bill, and the supporters of the ALEC one, presented two strong arguments to Sparks' bill that can easily be applied to the faux education savings account...the one parents don't have to invest a penny in, the one parents just take OUR money for their goals.

1. will low-income and middle-income parent know about this fund? How can they take advantage of the savings account? How will they be able to utilize it? Turn that question toward the ALEC ESAs -- how WILL working poor and middle class be able to utilize ESAs, with tuitions much higher than the ESAs, with other expenses not covered? How, indeed.

2. Now, wait. You're adding a whole new layer of bureaucracy here, with all the administration! Indeed. And the ALEC ESA bills do the same...5% of the withdrawal goes straight to the OSDE, who will have to compile a list of 'approved' vendors, and oversee all the withdrawals. There's a provision that will allow OSDE to use more of the ESA funds if their costs increase.

I hope House Democrats will use these arguments against HB2949 when it comes up on the House agenda...our sources say it can be any time this week.

So, in case you think vouchers will magically cure achievement woes, if you think the research shows vouchers are a sound investment of education funds, I offer you a few links to articles, to research, to blogs, to editorials. I also include some links to supportive research. A word about my methodology...I tried to include stories from the past three years...tried to keep things pretty current.

At the moment, I'm reading a book that has examined and replicated some of the research, and I'll report back.

For your reading're welcome.

News stories and summaries of research

Evidence mounts -- vouchers in LA not working

“Colorado Voucher Schools Discriminated on Religious Grounds. State Supreme Court Says Not on the Government’s Dime.”

“Louisiana school vouchers cripple academic achievement, national report says”

Politifact investigated: “No evidence that choice students outperform public school students” Mostly True

“Economist Studies School Choice Programs and Private School Revenue”

Blogs and opinion pieces

Pro Voucher articles

Research & Commentary: School Vouchers Are a Cost-Saver for Taxpayers”

Sunday, February 14, 2016

HB2949 -- and John Green

My letter to the House Common Education Committee:

As you consider HB2949, giving taxpayer funds to some families and not others, I want to introduce you to John Green. If you don’t have a teen reader in your home, you probably don’t know his name.

John Green was raised, and still lives, in my home state of Indiana. He’s a wildly-popular young adult author, and wildly rich, with two of his books already films, Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars. My granddaughter breathlessly informed me his first book, and still my personal favorite, will also become a film: Looking for Alaska.

John Green was educated, in part, in a private boarding school. His parents decided they wanted him to have a different kind of education at a boarding school, so they paid for that education.

I was lucky enough to meet John Green at a few authors’ conferences, and he blushed when I told him I was an English teacher. He admitted he was pretty hard on his English teachers in high school, and I allowed as that did not surprise me. His ready wit and irreverence could drive teachers to distraction.

I give you this background so you can fully understand his words.

“Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents.”

I translate that to mean per pupil expenditure does not belong to students or their parents.

“[Public education]…exists for the benefit of the social order.”

All of us. Together. Investing in all our children. Taxpayers with children in school. Taxpayers whose children (like mine) have grown and no longer attend school. Retired citizens (also me!), taxpayers who never had children. We all invest because it is for the benefit of the social order. All of us. Together.

"...You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of your life, you benefit from public education.”

Remember, Green is a product of both public and private education. And yet he recognizes and celebrates the contribution of public schools.

HB2949 will take funding from already-struggling schools, and will benefit, not all students, but a privileged few. Those whose social circle has connections to private schools. Those who live in the vicinity of a private school. Those who can readily afford to pay the balance of the tuition after the voucher has been applied. Those who can readily afford transportation, uniforms, lunches, fees. Those who, if they want to choose private schools, could probably afford it, as Green’s parents did.

I understand ALEC wants this bill…it’s fashioned after the ALEC model bill. But Oklahoma needs a different direction.

Oklahoma needs to take care of every student in public schools before we divert funds from our schools. Oklahoma needs new textbooks and school librarians and library books. Oklahoma needs traditionally-educated, certified teachers in every classroom.

Please vote no Monday on HB2949. If you’re one of the six committee members who’ve signed on as an author, it’s not too late to change your mind, and vote for public education and our students.

I leave you with Green’s ending…and remember, I told you he was irreverent.

“So, let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in schools (he may now…his son is probably school age. And, he may send his son to a private school, as is his right): it’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”

If you’ve read his work, that punch line doesn’t surprise you., But I’ll rephrase: “I don’t want to live in a country where there is a separate-and-unequal system of education. I don’t want to live in a country that has willingly turned its back on the most vulnerable, most challenging children to educate. I’m old enough to remember ‘separate but equal.’ It certainly was separate. It was not equal.

You have the opportunity to stand up for all children and students in public education.

Please do that. Vote No.

Friday, February 12, 2016

HB2949 -- The Zombie Bill Must be Fought Again...and Again.


I don’t watch Walking Dead, but I feel like I’m in that story right now. Zombie voucher bills keep coming at us…we shoot one down, and we shoot it down again.

I wrote last year about Rep. Nelson’s ALEC voucher bill…uh, Education Savings Account. Sounds so much more touchy-feely, doesn’t it? He used the ALEC model legislation for his template and then filled in the blanks.

I also shared a conversation with friends about school choice and vouchers…we have been here before. We have fought this battle before.

I watched that bill go down in the House Common Education Committee…on a tie vote. That tie was only secured when the Speaker and Speaker Pro Tem came in and voted for the bill. We rejoiced. We took a deep breath…

And here we are again, facing a bill with a different number and the same intent…Monday in Committee. Rep. Nelson has the backing of the Governor who announced in her State of the State address that she is 100% in support of ESA/vouchers and wants a bill on her desk to sign.

He also has 12 co-authors…six of whom are Republican members of the Common Ed Committee. They smell victory. The zombies are shuffling toward us and we need to rally again…call, email, call again.

Some of the talking points I’m suggesting:

  • Per pupil expenditure is funded through property taxes…the average property tax in Oklahoma is about $1500. So every family pays about that…but only 59- 65% of that is collected for per-pupil funding to our schools. That makes an investment of less than $1000 per family.
  • We hear proponents talk about taking ‘their’ money and using it as they choose. But the numbers are clear…parents only invest around $1000 total. Tell me what alternate reality entitles them to their neighbors’ investment also?  Four of their neighbors will have their investment diverted for one student’s voucher, for one family’s personal gain.
  • When applying to a private school, choice is all with the school. We do not apply to attend public schools. All are welcome…the hard to educate and the easy. The destitute and the wealthy. The hungry and the well-fed. All. Private schools will be selective, as is their right. They will choose the easy-to-educate, the wealthy, the students without learning difficulties. The students whose first language is English. They can also choose the duration of a student’s enrollment, kicking out students who do not toe the line.
  • Private schools now have none of the accountability that cripples public schools. Not the testing, the mandates, the paperwork, the requirements. The evaluations. If one penny of public funds flows to private schools through vouchers, there must be accountability. To suggest otherwise is hypocrisy at the highest. Accountability is forced onto public schools to ‘prove’ taxpayer funding is being well-invested. So, public money? Public accountability.
  • Proponents of vouchers tell us that a portion of a student’s per-pupil expenditure will stay with the public school he leaves…that public schools will actually make money, money they can use for a teacher raise. Um. No. Just because little Johnny left to go to a private school will not lower the electric bills at his previous school.  Upkeep for the facilities will still be necessary. Little Johnny’s previous teacher will still need to be paid. Expenses will not go down with his departure. But public funding will.
  • Within 14 years of a voucher program being instituted in our state, we will be paying a portion of the tuition for every student in a private school. Public funding will be subsidizing every private school in the state. That could cost the schools $2 billion (with a B) dollars. In a climate where the same politicians pushing vouchers are defunding public schools.
  • Few studies exist on voucher schools…and most of them show little to no improvement in student performance as measured by standardized tests. An experiment like this could be terribly costly to our state…$2 billion (With a B) dollars costly.
  • School choice exists in our state. We have open enrollment…my own granddaughters live in one community and go to school in another. We can transfer our students from one district to any other. We have public charters in our larger cities. They are also a choice. NO ONE is fighting a family’s choice. We are fighting the loss of taxpayer money to pay for some families to go to private schools on the public’s dime.
  • The voucher amount is only a small portion of the full tuition needed to enroll at a private school, after they have chosen students. What parents will be able to afford the rest of the tuition, the transportation, the uniforms, the fees, the school lunches? What parents are the audience, the target for this bill? The working poor? Middle class? Or wealthy parents who just want someone else to pay for part of the tuition they could afford?
  • Private schools are not required to provide free and reduced lunches, special education, remediation, ELL support. They can legally close their doors to any of these vulnerable students and their families. 
  • Vouchers will create a separate-and-unequal education system. I’m old enough to remember the myth of separate but equal. And the horrors visited on children because of these hateful policies. Now our own politicians want to return to that inequity. No. Not our children.
  • Inequity is what all of this finally boils down to…every student deserves our best efforts to provide him or her with the support needed to thrive – whatever that support may be. Public schools strive to do this. Hot breakfasts, IEP services, ELL lessons, remediation, school libraries, certified, highly-qualified teachers. If vouchers skim off the easiest to educate, then we become a system of haves and have nots…with public schools less and less able to support the neediest children in their schools.
  • I end where I began…the per-pupil expenditure belongs to all of us. It’s an investment in the common good. A commitment by society to educate in as equitable manner possible every child. Every. Child. A family’s investment is small, but when combined with their neighbors’ investments, we support our students and educate them. That per-pupil funding does not belong to parents…it belongs to us all. To our community. As such, it cannot be given out to any family for their own selfish personal gain.

This zombie bill must be fought again…and we must prevail again.

Here is a list of House Common Education Committee members. Call them. Write to them.

Here is my favorite phone app for following the legislature: OAEC 55th Legislature. You can actually use the app to find phone numbers, click on the number and call. Then, back out and call the next member. The app is easy to use and really helps in our advocacy work.

Call this weekend. Stuff their voice mailbox. Leave a fast message.

Write to them. Ask them to steadfastly support every child in the public schools by voting no on HB2949. Then, return to the Legislative website and check the vote. Thank the members who voted no. Tell them you appreciate their support.

I’m old, and my zombie-fighting days are numbered…please join us. 


Monday, February 8, 2016

#oklaed House Common Education Committee 2/8

Blue Cereal Education posted a great piece this morning about the Senate Education Committee meeting, and the bills they were considering. I'd forgotten all about the meeting...standing committee meeting Monday at 9am. I'll work to be on top of that next week.

Last year, you could listen and watch the Senate Committe meetings online. I learned I had to open FireFox instead of my default Chrome browser. Today when I tried, there was no audio or video.

So, I said I'd look at the House Common Ed Committee agenda. For some reason I had it in my head that they met on Thursday. My Granny Taxi duties can be rearranged, but my daughter and her husband need at least a day's notice. So, today I'll do Granny Taxi, and in the future I'll try to get up to the Capitol for both these meetings.

I've checked the agenda and have looked at the summaries of the bills under consideration. I see some patterns...several are in response to the teacher shortage, and the the TLE evaluation system. Others seem to be cleaning up previous legislation, and a couple about how to count a school day.

I found two examples of the same typo that made me'll need to read to find them.

So, in order of the agenda, my quick look:

HB2265 -- by Cannaday. (Ed Cannaday is a former teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools. He's an eloquent supporter!) This bill removes the quantitive comopnent of TLE (Teacher Leader Evaluation) and removes grounds for 'dismal' (typo for 'dismissal' LOL) for principals, career teachers and probationary teachers receiving 'certain' quantative or qualitative ratings. Upfront...gets rid of the worst of TLE

HB2404 -- by Faught. Increases the age at which children MAY attend early childhood from five to six. I have contacted Rep. Faught for clarification...does that mean parents are able to wait a year to begin preschool? Or does that mandate all kids to wait until six? If I hear back, I'll revise.

HB2529 -- By Casey. "The bill updates statutory citations concerning compliance with state accreditation standards." I read and tried to understand. Nothing like a reading teacher having reading comprehension problems.  Sounds like one of those bills just cleaning up language.

HB2544 -- by Nollan. A bill that seems to tinker with extended-day schedules -- how schools can implement them, when they must report to OSDE, and what level classes can have extended days (all). I have another request in to Rep. Nollan to clarify some language about schools compelling teachers to work on classroom instruction beyond the 1080 hours...

HB2649 -- by Thomsen. Codifies two days counting as one for attendance in a 24-hour time period of one of the days is used for Parent-Teacher conferences.

HB2720 -- by Virgin. I didn't understand this one's about conversion charters and sets out rules for how to manage that process. I was able to contact her and she told me this bill clarifies language from a previous bill.

HB2729 -- by Coody (chair of Common Ed Committee).  This will allow kids who move into #oklaed from other states, or any Department of Defense school to show mastery of the EOI-required subjects with a comparable test in lieu of taking the EOI. I've monitored tests where kids who moved into the state are sitting there, years after taking Biology 1, and just clicking through answers. I'd rather throw out EOIs for all, but this serves a' previous scores will count toward A-F.

HB2945 -- by Henke. Also addresses TLE, but doesn't seem to be as straightforward as Rep. Cannaday's. School districts would have the option to keep the quantitative and qualitative scores as part of the evaluation system...that info would have to be in the school district's evaluation policy. Also removes grounds for 'dismal' for certain scores...the intent of the evaluations would be to inform.

HB3025 -- by Jordan. Revises the current alternative-certification bill to add accreditation from a recognized higher education institution (you mean we were accepting unaccredited ones?), and some kind of experience in the field is expected.  Saw a couple of things in the original bill that stopped me...applicants must have a 2.5 GPA, and no university can be accredited without including an alternative certification program. The language needs to be cleaned up, since it still talks about 'Commission for Teacher Preparation.' That office has been folded into another agency. This bill is in response to the teacher shortage, as is the next.

HB3102 -- by Caldwell. I attended a Teacher Shortage Task Force meeting where someone suggested making it easier for adjunct teachers to pick up some of the load for schools. This bill increases the hours an adjunct could teach from 90 to 270. I've been an adjunct at two universities...and I wouldn't want to teach in a public school with no benefits, crummy hours, and dismal (!) pay. But others might jump on the opportunity.

One thing's for sure with this one -- we cannot solve the teacher shortage on the backs of adjunct teachers.

All interpretations and opinions are my own. I thought the meeting was Thursday, and that I had time for a more exhaustive study of the bills.

#oklaed, I promise to get on top of these committee meetings.

If you're interested, you can play around with the Legislature site and learn more. You can search for bills, check schedules and meeting rooms, and even get live feeds of video or audio. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Upon Returning to Hogwarts

No, this isn't going to be a political essay. I won't be drawing obvious and painful parallels to education reform and Professor Umbridge. It's a love letter to a series of books that so many of us love.

I was one of those readers who had to wait a year between books...speculating wildly about what the next book would reveal for our young wizards. I attended the midnight release parties and hung out with former students who were as eager to get their hands on a new book as I was. I did the unthinkable (not a curse) and would read the endings before I drove home and went to bed. For The Deathly Hallows, I bought a soft drink and a bag of Cheetos, and read the epilogue in the car. Until the day someone borrowed and failed to return the book, there were Cheeto stains on the pages.

I watched a generation of readers grow up with Harry and Ron and Hermione. Literally. They discovered the books when they were the same age as the three friends who met on the Hogwarts Express, and they were young adults when they read of the final battle for the soul of the wizarding world. Laura, Caitlyn, Bryn, Bryon, and so many others...who am I leaving out? -- we still talk Harry Potter. Aubrey and I listened to the books together, even though he finished first. Another student recently posted on my FB wall the meme of Donald Trump as Delores Umbridge...personally, I still like the one of our former Superindentist as Umbridge.

I listened to the books...letting Jim Dale's narration sweep me back to Hogwarts and the Burrow and Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest. His character voices were spot on. Ginny's low raspy voice, and Hermione's sweet wheedling one. The lovely and frustrating thing about listening to a book is there's no can't speed read -- unless you tamper with the speed and that's just a bad idea. You're forced to follow and enjoy each word...letting them wash over you in their own speed. The bad thing about listening is when you discover beautiful language you want to return to and savor, it's gone like a misty cloud.

So, what struck me this time through all seven books? The sense of community and sacrifice and vision and commitment to a goal. The sense of family -- even if you got a lousy family, you can build one. The sense of loyalty of friends, earned by Gryffindor courage and goodness of heart. The certainty that love is the answer. Always and forever. Love is the answer.

Like many readers, I wanted to believe I'd be sorted into Griffindor, but LISTENING to the Sorting Hat's songs, I discovered, I'm Hufflepuff all the way. Listen: "Said Hufflepuff, "I'll teach the lot 

And treat them just the same." And, "
Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest 
and taught them all she knew." I'd be proud to be a Hufflepuff.

I watched Harry deal with unwanted notoriety and an unwanted gift. I watched him grow into both, not without missteps and blunders. I watched him amass a group of friends who would literally follow him into the mouth of Hell, only because he asked them to come. I watched loss. Unsupportable loss...Cedric, Sirius, Hedwig, Mad-Eye, Dobby...oh, Dobby. Fred. Lupin. Tonks. Harry, who had already lost so much when his parents were murdered, lost more and more. I thought when I first read this series, and I thought again, how brave Rowling was to put her characters in mortal danger...and to actually kill them. That's what happens in a war. Good people die. A story without that loss would be cheating the youngsters who devoured this series.

There must be important causes that a young couple, just recently made parents, are willing to step up and be counted. Lily and James did that, and so did Lupin and Tonks. So did Neville Longbottom's parents. All three couples gave their lives for a cause....while Neville's parents are not dead, they are unavailable; they have left him. But, unlike Harry, Teddy Lupin was accepted into a family and loved. Harry even makes a joke at the end that Teddy seems to spend all his time at the Potters' home. Harry knew the burden of that loss, and jokes aside, he made sure that emptiness didn't happen to another child. And unlike Neville, Teddy is raised by people who believe in him from the beginning.

Neville's growth throughout his years at Hogwarts is spectacular. He shows his genius with plants early on, but he appears to be the mess his grandmother believes him to be. But Dumbledore's Army gives him such confidence...and his decision to follow Harry to rescue Sirius gives him battle experience. But it's the Battle of Hogwarts where Neville, who could have been 'the boy who lived (or didn't)' grows into a leader with whom to be reckoned. His stand against Voldemort (another orphan boy) shows us a man, making decisions that could cost him as much as Harry's cost him.

This time, the Malfoys intrigued me...they fell the farthest, but they survived. Not intact, certainly. The glimpse of them among the celebrating wizards and witches after the ultimate Battle for Hogwarts, sitting alone in the Great Hall...I'm still not sure what to make of that. And the avoiding of each other's eyes at the station in the epilogue.

I remember the raging arguments at the end of book six, Order of the Phoenix, about Snape's motivation for killing Dumbledore. I was in the 'Trust Snape" camp, and I was correct in my assessment of the sad, twisted Severus Snape. Dale's sensitive reading made it crystal clear how very sick Dumbledore was all through the his last words, "Severus, please." rang true.

I noticed something new as well. As new characters were added, characters who would have greater and greater importance, Rowling threw out a mention of their name, or introduced them in a minor scene, and then let them enter the story in their rightful place. Cedric was introduced before Goblet of Fire, along with his insufferable father. Mr. Weasley had to go rescue Mad Eye from trouble before he ever walked into Hogwarts. Subtle, masterful strokes by a strong story teller.

The Battle for Hogwarts brings all the characters who had learned to love Harry and his friends together to defend him and defend their world. McGonagall -- what a towering educator she was. Molly Weasley and her ferocity defending her remaining children against the mad Bellatrix. I cheered (again) when Molly uses a bad word and attacks. I also cheered when Kreacher leads the house elves into the fray...his loyalty won with love and respect.

I usually listen to my audible books as I walk and as I drive. More than once (ok, throughout the entire last book) I cried as I walked or drove. A couple of times, it was a totally ugly cry because I understood what was coming next.

So, what did I learn? We were not mistaken when we fell in love with this series. These children and their teachers and the Order worked together, fought together, and created a better world...together. Love will protect us and bind us.

 I was able to concentrate more this time on Snape...those glimpses of his lonely childhood, his hopes of a life with Lily, and his years of grief...and guilt. His courage in the lonely path he trod for Dumbledore and the Order, and how until the end, he never dropped that evil persona in which he wrapped himself. He deserved better. But those glimpses into his soul, "After all this time?" "Always." He sacrificed himself to save Lily's son when sacrifice was called for, and finally told Harry the truth through his memories.

My months back at Hogwarts were so rewarding...The world is magical. The battle is epic. The sacrifices are real. The rewards are precious.

I still love this book after all this time...I'll love it always.