Sunday, February 26, 2017

Member of the "Education Establishment" Responds

Nearly everyone (except some legislators) has attended school, and considers himself or herself an expert. 

Last week, following the latest revenue failure, Secretary of Finance Doerflinger made a statement about all the problems he and his colleagues are having trying to create a budget…and how committed they were to finding raises for teachers (because he knows teachers!), and providing other services for our state.

My colleagues Rob Miller and Rick Cobb have both written eloquently and pointedly about the news conference, and I have little to add to their analyses-Rob and I did see red over the same statement. paragraph from Secretary Doerflinger’s  statement, one, sent me for my blood-pressure pills. In one paragraph he reveals how he really feels about educators, and he dismisses us all, one and all, as greedy, self-serving graspers.  Any good-will his pandering ‘I know teachers’ comment was lost when he said:

“If the agency known as the State Department of Education and if the Education Establishment in general would start coming with more solutions to the problem versus just the answer being solely we need more money, because there are opportunities to realize efficiencies within the common education universe. The problem is that the Education Establishment really is fixated on just maintaining the status quo, which is sick and really disgusting and it doesn’t benefit the children in this state, so enough of that already.”

Two things…three things stand out to me in this statement…”agency known as the State Department of Education.” It’s not ‘known as.’ It IS the State Department of Education. Why the tortured wording? All I can think is he’s trying to deliberately destroy the credibility of the department charged with the public education of our children.

Shall I call the Governor’s office ‘the office known as the Governor?’ Or the official known as the ‘Secretary of so-called Finance?’  Or ‘the so-called Secretary of Finance?’ Words matter and they are chosen to make a point. All I can think is he is trying to delegitimize the entire department… What’s up with the attack on OSDE?

Then he blames all our woes on the ‘Education Establishment.” They are the villains causing all the problems. If they would just stop asking for money to buy books, and repair school buses, and pay the electric bill; if they’d just be grateful for the scraps from his financial table…everything would be just fine. It’s all, obviously, the fault of the Education Establishment.

Who’s the “education establishment?” I guess that would be me. 39 years of teaching in three states, 10 schools. 34 years in Norman – every grade level in public education. Thousands of students, many of whom are still in my life in meaningful ways.  I must be ‘establishment’.

The library media specialist at my Grand’ schools: doing more with less…teaching, planning with classroom teachers, getting to know students and their tastes so well they can say, “Sorry, no new Minecraft books today,” when little Johnnie comes through the door. They must be the education establishment.

Or the principals who’ve gone back to school (on their own dime) to learn more about administering schools, to be more effective.

Or the choir teachers who work with 70+ students at a time, and make magic with all the blended voices singing works they’d never dreamed they could perform.

Or the English interns I work with at Oklahoma State: bright, idealistic young people who are very aware of the challenges that await them in their own classrooms.

You know who else is ‘education establishment?’ Your third grade teacher who works every day with students who may not have the advantages of a stable home, or enough food to eat.

The special education teachers who lose sleep at night trying to find new ways to help their students succeed.

That American History teacher who sees the realities his students face with one or both parents incarcerated. He’s part of the education establishment.

The art teachers who inspire students to believe in themselves and their talents. They’re part of the education establishment.

The counselor at school – who sees the great needs of her students, but she must ignore those needs to plan and implement state testing.

The parents who partners with educators to advocate for their children. 

The Education Establishment is every teacher working in a public school in Oklahoma. Mr. Doerflinger tells us, no doubt with great sincerity, that he knows teachers. He wants teachers to have raises…and then in the next breath attacks all educators as part of the ‘Education Establishment.’ He seemed to be entirely unaware that he both praised and slammed the folks who teach 90%+ of the children in our state.  Or, more likely: he just doesn’t care.

He accuses us of only wanting to maintain the status quo. He must not know what the status quo is in our schools:
  • ·         No new library books in many schools
  • ·         No new electives for high schools
  • ·         Four-day weeks to try to balance the budget
  • ·         Sustained standardized testing and a culture of fear
  • ·         Promising programs being cut
  • ·         Record number of alternative and emergency-certified teachers
  • ·         A-F school grades, punitive accountability
  • ·         Third graders who can be retained on the score of one test
  • ·         Over-crowded classes
  • ·         Students whose needs are not met by over-extended, overworked counselors
  • ·         Smaller custodial staffs
  • ·         Openings for substitutes and bus drivers – and teachers take up the slack
  • ·         Schools losing teachers who take jobs in the prison system, or at high-paying private schools, or out of state
  • ·         More and more unfunded mandates on top of other unfunded mandates.

That is the reality, the status quo, of our schools. I challenge you, Secretary Doerflinger, to find a member of the ‘Education Establishment’ who supports that list…You and your reformer buddies are responsible for the current status quo…it’s YOURS. And we don’t wish to maintain any of it.

OK, I lied. There are four things in that one statement that infuriate me…I think he just called every educator in #oklaed “sick and really disgusting” and lectures us about what does or does not  “benefit the children in this state.” I can’t even.

And he wonders why the best and brightest teachers are ready to abandon this state.
I’ll see my OSU students Thursday…I’ll look into their eyes, I will read their reflections. I will do everything I can do to encourage them to stay – stay in this profession, and stay in their home state to teach. Because we need them. Our children need them.

I reject the Secretary’s assessment. 39 years taught me what really matters. I believe in my profession, and in the educators who show up – every day – to teach.


  1. Thank you for your letter, Claudia. And thank you for being a tireless defender of public schools. Thank you for showing up at the capitol throughout the legislative sessions and reporting back on your Facebook page. I would consider myself part of the "education establishment". I taught in the public schools for 34 years in three states, 6 schools. 25 years in OK – Pre-K through 2nd grade.
    There have always been people who share this attitude with Mr. Doerflinger about teachers. But it has ALWAYS been my experience that these are people who have never spent a day in the classroom. Maybe that is why this type of rhetoric is so hurtful to those of us who spent a lifetime in the trenches. We know how hard teachers work for so little compensation, how much $ they spend on materials for which they receive no reimbursement. We know this because we worked alongside these dedicated professionals for our entire career. Betsy Devos is a perfect example of being so out of touch with public schools, that she spends a few hours in one school and can't think of a kind word to say about what she observed. I am so concerned about the direction in which these legislators and Trump appointees are headed. Whatever happened to legislators visiting schools and inquiring as to how they might better serve the classrooms and teachers?
    Nancy Miller

    1. Thank you, Nancy, for YOUR words. I'm so tired of people who don't value what we do because they don't KNOW what we do. Keep inviting policy makers into your classrooms...and know what we do makes a dang difference.

  2. A powerful statement that at times reads like an anthem for public education.

    1. High praise, friend. I appreciate you so much. Glad you're on my side of this fight.


  3. The special education teacher who loses sleep at night trying to find new ways to help her students succeed.

    Or "his."...

    1. Yup...will probably change to plural so as to avoid the gender indication. Thank you for calling me on it.

    2. Yup...will probably change to plural so as to avoid the gender indication. Thank you for calling me on it.

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