Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Poverty War; which side are you on

America loves to declare war.  We used to declare war on other nations (the last formal declaration of war was by FDR on December 8th, 1941). Now, we just declare war on social issues.  Lyndon B. Johnson gave us the War on Poverty in 1964.  In the 70’s it was the War on Drugs.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent Jimmy Carter in what was a traditionalist vs progressivist political campaign and thus began what is commonly referred to as the Culture Wars of the 80s & 90’s.  The Culture Wars were temporarily put on hold as a renewed wave of patriotism overtook Americans as President Bush declared a War on Terror immediately after the cowardly acts by terrorists on what is now simply known as 9/11.   However, that wave of patriotism was quickly replaced by cultural war rhetoric during the presidential campaign of 2004.

Culture Wars are fought by politicians for political gain.  The purpose of any cultural war is to draw attention to the issue to win campaigns --not to solve problems.  These culture wars are fought over things like minimum wage, social security, health care, abortion, and education.  Battle lines are dictated by ideology and not by personal experiences. Ideology is established at the national level by looking at the size of campaign donations or the impact on voter motivation, but it is sculpted and applied at the state level where ideological outcomes affect everyday citizens. Making matters worse is the current concept where your ideology is judged for purity of conviction and not whether it is applied for the benefit of society.  The war on poverty is a prime example of how ideological purity means more to some than the benefit to others.

If you have been paying attention to any of the Oklahoma education policy lately, you might have noticed another type of War on Poverty.  This is a silent war, but one happening just the same.  This war is not a war against poverty, but a war against poverty.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Let me explain it another way.  Oklahoma, along with other states with extreme far right leaning governments, has long engaged (and now joined by the Trump administration) in a war not to end poverty, but a war against the impoverished.  There has been no formal declaration, just a constant landslide of economic and education policies aimed at hurting children who qualify for government assistance.  Need proof?  Oklahoma has had 6 straight years of reducing state investment in common education -one stat where Oklahoma leads the nation.  Higher education has been cut 23% in the last 2 years.  When I went to college state support for higher education was 40% and today it stands at 15%.  Think of it this way; our parents and grandparents paid taxes to help send the majority of us to college and we pay it forward by cutting our own taxes so our kids have to foot their own tuition bill? Lawmakers have tried for years to siphon money away from public schools for private school tuition.  Trump's first proposed education budget slashes 21st century grants and other after school programs, along with federal support for special education and Title 1.  Who needs the most support in education? Kids from impoverished homes.  Which programs are being targeted for cuts? Programs helping students in poverty.


This is much more than just paying less in taxes and more for services.  Some services are priceless.  Don’t you think any of the mothers of teenage kids who are addicted to drugs or bullied into suicide wouldn’t gladly pay more in taxes for social workers or mental health professionals?  How about less crowded emergency rooms or better staffed veteran centers?  How about school counselors who are trained to help students with everyday decisions like identifying a career or dealing with a problem?  Counselors play vital roles within a school and are more than the “administration overhead” argued by those in the culture wars. Character education, bullying prevention, testing, scholarships, graduation, career planning, are just some of what they do for our children.  Not to mention just being a good listener and building psychologist for students, teachers, and parents who need help.  And it is not just counselors……kids in poverty need before and after school programs  to help them and their parents who work non-school friendly jobs.  Kids need teachers who pour themselves into their work and won’t let poverty be the issue preventing success.  Kids need library books, textbooks, computers, internet, custodians, bus drivers, crossing guards, reading specialists, and classroom teachers who know them as people and not just another body crammed into an overcrowded classroom.  Don’t let the ideologues draw your attention away from the solution by claiming educators just want to “throw more money” at the problem.  Textbooks are more than money. After school programs are preferential over being sent home to an empty house. Teachers are much, much more than the salary that shows up on a financial statement-they are people who are trained to fight the war on poverty.  The war trying to overcome poverty, not the war declaring it government waste.

Friday, February 5, 2016

1,2,3,4,5

Kelly Husted challenged me to this 1,2,3,4,5 blogger challenge.  You can read his blog here.  He obviously has a higher opinion of my writing than my writing deserves.  I hope I live up to his (and yours) expectation……
 What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?
My biggest struggle was not to scream and throw things at our Political leaders this year.  Anyone else almost throw up at the CCOSA legislative conference this January when the politicians on the panel started talking about how tough their year was going to be because of the budget!  I was fighting mad.  Are you serious…… they created this cluster (fill in the blank) in the first place with terrible economic policies and reductions to general fund revenue streams.  State agencies just found out about a revenue failure, and I didn’t sleep for a week wondering which of the families I was going to devastate by telling them they no longer had a job right when all the Christmas bills were due - AND they wanted to complain about their job being difficult!  You have got to be kidding me!  Then my secretary did a wonderful job removing all the usual suspects of things I could throw in my office when I heard the Governor’s State of the State Address.  I just want to ask her what she has against locally elected school board members because any consolidation bill will do nothing but get rid of the local board of education, not the people working for the school!   Geez.  Then she wants to take more of our already ‘spread too thin’ tax dollars to send to private schools who don’t have any state accountability!  Standards….. they don’t use Oklahoma standards……. Seat time………. Nope, they don’t have to meet time criteria to get to those tax dollars…….tests………. kids don’t take them.  Private schools do not have to prove they do anything with the tax dollars given to them by the state.  I almost understand what the now infamous pharma company thug Martin Shkreli meant when he tweeted “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people”!  
I’m getting all worked up just typing this.  This has become insane.

Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.
  1.  I’m proud of the $18.7 million dollar bond project approved by the stakeholders of the Alex school district.  We are currently drawing up plans to create a new 5 – 12th grade center to replace our 97 year old high school building.  Alex students will also be gaining a new track around a new football field and a monolithic dome Gymnasium to act as an Auditorium and to serve as a community storm shelter.  If anyone thinks that public schools are failing, they should check the record for bond issues in this state.  By the way, our community voted for this 10% tax increase with a whopping 80% approval rate. 
  2. I’m also proud that the Board of Education sought to show our teachers some much needed appreciation this school year by distributing $1,000.00 retention bonuses at the beginning of the school year.  On the first day of inservice, each returning staff member found a $1,000.00 check attached to the 2015-2016 contract.  I’ve got to be honest, I had tears of joy running down my face as I saw the impact on the staff.  I’m so proud to work for this district; Alex community cares so much about the wellbeing and the educational accomplishments of their students and teachers.  Our staff is like a family.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why any legislator would want to close this type of environment; we should be trying to spread it around not kill it due to some stupid political rhetoric.
What are THREE things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
  1. I want to make it to the end of the school year without having to cut a person or a program from my district.
  2. I want to make coming to work at Alex a more enjoyable endeavor for my staff and our students.
  3. I want to hear the Republican Leadership & Governor admit that their economic policies and the budget was a complete disaster for Oklahomans this year.
        Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.
  1. To be honest, I have come too far to start over in another state!  I’ve got 18 years in with another 15 to go before I can even dream of retiring……..
  2. My mom is a retired teacher living alone, and I don’t want to be too far away…….
  3. I’m a Republican Educator, and we might become extinct if I leave the state.
  4. I just love the fact that I am part of what they call the Oklahoma standard.
      Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?
  1. Claudia Swisher – Isn’t she Amazing?
  2. Rick Cobb – One of the most influential bloggers out there.
  3.  Joy Hofmeister – I know she is super busy saving the #oklaed world, but wouldn’t it be awesome to read things from her perspective!
  4. Rob Miller – He writes one every day, just helping him with a new topic……
  5. Any one of the legislators who want to go on record with their thoughts on #oklaed……..


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Logic Loopholes

Does anyone remember the Arsenio Hall Show from the 90’s?  He used to do a segment on his late night talk show called “Things that make you say hmmmmm”.  So here goes some random thoughts and questions regarding our current educational situation:  

  • Why is it that Oklahoma politicians insist on reducing the income tax rate so as to remain competitive with surrounding states, but they don’t seem to want to remain competitive with surrounding states on teacher salaries and educational investment?
  • Why is our Governor remaining absolutely silent on the current financial crisis? 
  • The Governor and the DOK want everyone to believe a low personal and a low corporate tax rate was the cause for General Electric to move their corporate headquarters from Connecticut to Boston Massachusetts.   https://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/rpt/2013-R-0301.htm If this is true, then why didn’t GE move to Oklahoma?  Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate is lower than both of those states (http://taxfoundation.org/state-tax-climate/oklahoma), and in Oklahoma GE could have qualified for a 5 year tax free exemption?  If not Oklahoma, then why not any one of the 7 states with zero personal income tax?  http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/04/26/these-states-have-no-income-tax/8116161/
  • Why does the Governor automatically discount the quality of schools in Massachusetts as a reason for why GE moved its corporate headquarters?
  • Why is it that proponents of school choice think the only way to get people to choose better schools is to give them money, but they think that giving schools money is the worst way to improve a school?
  • Why is it that some politicians want close schools based on the number of students instead of the quality of education inside those schools?
  • Why is it that some politicians want to close rural schools but expand charter schools?
  • Why is it that politicians lament about “off the top” money and tax incentives being problematic for Oklahoma but have yet to vote to stop “off the top” money or end any tax incentives?
  • If Educational Savings Accounts (AKA Vouchers) are so important to the expansion of school choice options and the improvement of educational opportunities for low income students, then why won’t politicians find a funding mechanism outside of stealing money from public schools to pay for it?
  • Speaking of ESA’s (it’s still a voucher), why is it politicians feel the need to change the name to make it sound better for Oklahomans?  If people didn’t want to spend public dollars on private schools who do not have to follow public accountability practices when they were called a voucher, why do politicians think calling them an ESA makes for better policy?
  • If a private school doesn’t have to follow Oklahoma public school law, then what makes people think private schools will accept public school kids?
Things that make me go hmmmmmm….how about you?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Teacher: The New Endangered Species

My grandfather belonged to what Tom Brokaw described as “The Greatest Generation”.  My grandpa was raised during the great depression and went on to serve his country in Pattons 3rd Armored Division in World War II.  But my grandpas greatest accomplishment wasnt growing up poor or surviving the perils of the European theater.  My grandpas greatest accomplishment was seeing to it that my father got an education.  My grandpa was a high school dropout.  Just like many of Americas youth of the Greatest Generation, my grandpa quit school to join the Army.  He did what he thought he had to do at the time; but he never stopped pushing my dad to go to college. 

One of my fondest memories as a young boy was watching my father graduate from Cameron University with a degree in business that was paid for with my dads G.I. Bill.  My dad earned his college tuition by surviving the jungles of Vietnam.  When he returned home he met my mom, got a job, got married, started a family (Im the oldest of two), and went to college at night.  My mom was a teachers aide who later went back to school to become a teacher.  She retired from Cyril Elementary school last year after 30 years of service.  When my dad died, I was a sophomore in college; it was my grandpa who made sure I went back to finish my degree.  I told you all those things about my family to set up my point: Education is not just something my family believes in, education is what we do.

This brings me to the purpose of this blog: my family is a family of educators;  I married an educator from a family of educators.  Im the son of a teacher, and my wife is the daughter of a teacher.  However, our daughters dont want to become teachers.  And what is worse is I dont want them to be teachers.  This is the root of the teacher shortage in my opinion.  Teaching used to be a profession just like cops or lawyers; sons and daughters following in the family footsteps and carrying on the family business.  But not anymore.  Why?  It is because there is another American tradition that my grandpa instilled in the family:  work hard and work smart to make sure the next generation has it better than you.  The current educational climate and culture has made it impossible for the next generation of teacher to have it better than the one before. 

Although the direct cause of the teacher shortage can be blamed on many things.  Teacher pay, lack of autonomy, adverse work conditions, being blamed for societal ills, being branded as part of the problem and not viewed as a resource for any of the solutions, teacher pay (yes, I meant for it be listed twice), high stakes testing, or any of the other various reasons are contributing to teachers leaving our profession.  However, the real reason we have a teacher shortage is because no one is entering our profession.  Teaching can no longer support and sustain itself as a profession.  We are becoming extinct. 

To fill in the gaps, we are applying for emergency certifications, alternative certifications, filling teacher-less classrooms with adjunct teachers or other non-highly qualified adults.  What we arent doing is solving the teacher shortage issue.  Not only are our political leaders not doing anything about fewer and fewer college students entering teacher prep programs, very few of them are even interested in having the discussion about teacher shortage. 

Our political leaders are more interested in scoring political points by advocating for closing small rural schools because we have too many public school districts while at the same time clamoring for more “school choice” in the form of online charter schools, vouchers, ESAs, and private school options.  What we aren't doing is:  

*   We arent having conversations about changing the culture for teachers, so more college students enter teacher prep programs. 
*   We are not having enough discussions about raising teachersbring home pay to the average salary of other college degree professions in Oklahoma. 
*   We are not working day and night to make teachers jobs less of a struggle. 
*   We are not making the profession of education a job in which todays teachers will start encouraging children to one day grow up to be a teacher. 

Education will never be a destination for those students who only dream of being a millionaire.  But teaching should be a career choice for those students who are just like Tom Brokaw’s greatest generation and just like my grandpa:  for those who want to make the world a better place.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pride Goes Before the Fall

Lately, in Oklahoma, the Republican GOP stands for Glowering Offensive Party.  It has been a rough several weeks for the state Republican Party.  Although my writing may be satirical in nature, the topics Im writing about couldnt be more serious.  The Republican Party in Oklahoma is out of control.  The conservative political machine fears nothing except an attack from the farther right.  The moderates are being shut out and the party is becoming prideful.  How else can you explain the last several weeksworth of actions?  Dont know what Im talking about?  Let me explain with three examples of how people in leadership positions within the Republican Party put personal or political will above the laws of general decency and above the laws of the land.

The Oklahoma GOP started with hiring an Executive Director who had plead guilty to not one, but 2 misdemeanor counts of domestic abuse.  Domestic abuse is one of those “in-tolerable” acts one has trouble recovering.  I dont want to talk about the Executive Director.  I want to talk about the person who hired him.  What was he thinking?  Was he thinking?  In Oklahoma, we still teach the chivary code of holding women in the highest of regard.  We still stand when women enter the room, open the door for little old ladies then help them across the street.  How could hiring someone convicted of abuse toward women not be showing contempt for Oklahoman values?  But it is not just hiring him; it’s galling by thumbing his nose at those who questioned the cronyism.  Randy Brogdon, the person responsible for this debacle, has a habit of talking down to those who question him.  Brogdon repeatedly stood by this hiring even in the face of criticism from other Republicans.  If you think this is just one bad decision by Brogdon….. think again.  It took less than 3 weeks for Brogdons questionable decision-making to fail him again.  This time with an offensive Facebook post.  It was either comparing poor people to animals or saying poor people arent worth supporting, but either way it was damaging.  When asked about the post, Brogdons first reaction was to defend the post by saying those who were offended must have “misinterpreted” the posts meaning.  So, from Brogdons point of view, its not just about poor people and animals, it is the rest of us are too stupid to comprehend what he meant!  If this isnt prideful arrogance, I dont know what is.

Brogdons actions are simply irresponsible and reprehensible.  Even the Daily Oklahoman Editorial board called for his removal.  (I know, once in a blue moon they get something right.  Shocked me too.)  If Brogdons actions were the only failings of the week Id have just railed about the failed leadership of one man.  However, the coup de grace comes from Governor Fallin.  Governor Fallin couldnt let Brogdon stand alone in the Failure of Leadership Department.  After two years of litigation the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Blaine Amendment of the Oklahoma Constitution was violated by the 10 Commandments Monument and ordered its removal from the Capitol.  Agree or disagree with their decision, but they are the highest court in Oklahoma.  The legislative branch wrote the law, the judiciary branch ruled it is unconstitutional, but our executive branch wont enforce the ruling?  That is not how our government works.  As an educator this could have been a real teachable moment about how governments in America work.  Instead, it is a lesson on failed leadership; it is a lesson in one person in government who gets to disagree with the law and then do what they want.  Not good for Oklahoma.  Not good for the Republican Party.


Governor Fallins disappointment with the Supreme Court is understandable.  Ive long thought both the US Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Supreme Court get more things wrong than right.  However, my personal feelings do not change the fact that the court has spoken.  You dont like what they say, change the law.  However, you cant ignore their ruling and do what you want.  No one is above the law.  We established a country to ensure no one was above the law.  Gov. Fallin refusing to comply is not what leadership is about; leadership is about working hard to preserve the rule of law and the function of government, not to ignore the actions of our Republic when we dont get our way.  Fallins leadership failed her party and the State of Oklahoma through her words (3 forms of government: the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the vote of the people?) (Yes, you read correctly) and by her decision to not uphold the constitution. Brogdons leadership just failed the human decency of people.  Both chose political gains over doing what was right.  Both sit in their perspective leadership positions comforted in the fact that Oklahoma is the reddest of red states for the Republican Party.  Pride goes before the fall.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Legislative Lunacy

It’s the first week of May and sirens are going off in many of our Oklahoma communities.  I’m not talking about the tornado sirens.  I’m talking about the alarms warning #OKlaED educators about all the legislative lunacy taking place this week.  None of it makes sense to me.  Maybe, and I highly doubt it, but maybe if some of our legislative leaders read this, maybe they will realize how insanely idiotic some of this sounds to us regular people…..

·       For the first time in my educational lifetime a seemingly unlikely group of people have formed a coalition in an effort to make some sense out of our state testing program.  As it has been told to me, the Governor, the State Chamber of Commerce, Higher Education, School Board members, Administrators, Teachers, Parents, the State Superintendent, and Oklahoma Business officials have all agreed that EOI tests are useless, time consuming, expensive, and not an accurate portrayal of student skills (for the record, those are my descriptors and not theirs) and want to move to a more valid & less expensive test.  In Oklahoma, our college acceptance test is the ACT and as Stephen Crawford likes to say “shouldn’t our HS exit exam align with our college and workforce entrance exam?”  You would think this was a “Slam Dunk” for our legislators because the stars have aligned (The Governor, Higher Ed, & Business were enough), but NO the House of Representative leadership is taking a page from Charlton Heston – “you can pry your ACT test from my cold, dead hands”.  It doesn’t make any sense to me why they would draw this line in the sand.  If it is because of Common Core, then they are uninformed.  If it is because they think it will water down our graduation requirements, then they are woefully uninformed.  If they say they want to wait until Oklahoma adopts its educational standards, then they just don’t understand the purpose for education: ACT assesses skills necessary for college success & WorkKeys assesses skills necessary for workforce success.  Both of these are what common education is tasked with accomplishing regardless of the name we call our educational standards.

·        Information coming out of the Speakers office will remove parent input in the retention/promotion of 3rd grade students.  Yep, you read that right… if the Speaker has his way, he will end the Parent Committee.  Educational stakeholders wanted to strengthen the RSA bill by making parent input a permanent part of the law.  Legislators were willing to extend parent involvement for 5 years, however they wanted to include students who scored Limited Knowledge AND add in more services for students in 1st and 2nd grade.  Great idea – right up to the point where the bill gets in conference, and then the Speaker decided to keep the language adding in all the educational stuff while removing the parent committee from the bill.  So if the Speaker gets his way, all the Representative and Senators who voted to override the Governor’s veto last spring will have to flip flop and will now vote to make the parents of children irrelevant into the educational decisions of their children.

·       Educators thought we had an agreement with proponents of charter school expansion allowing for school boards to sponsor charter schools wherever and whenever local communities felt there was a need for charter schools.  This agreement was quickly challenged by some members of the legislature who wanted to bypass educators altogether to allow city councils to sponsor a charter school.  This makes as much sense as allowing cigarette and fast food companies to sponsor hospitals. 

·       We passed laws which prohibit the use of tobacco on school property 24/7 365 days out of the year.  We already had a law which prohibited tobacco use on school property, but apparently we needed a new law.  Additionally, they passed laws allowing for schools to allow trained school employees to carry loaded guns on school property even though Federal laws says you can’t.  We had an Attorney General send us a letter saying he will stand behind schools who violate multiple US Supreme Court rulings regarding Religion and schools.  It seems to me we pass a bunch of laws that have no effect on improving education yet ignore and prevent the laws that will.


As we rush headfirst into the final days of the legislative session, I feel my frustrations growing as an educator.  We seem hell bent on passing legislation that makes no sense to educators, or at least this educator.  Which brings me to another issue:  If the legislative session is officially over by May 31st by law, then why do legislators get to declare “Sine Die” or adjourn early?  Can you imagine the outcry if the public schools just declared school over after testing even though there were nearly 2 weeks of school left?  But then again, with the legislative track record recently with education policy, I say they can’t adjourn fast enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

If I was King for the Day

If I were King for the day, the first thing I would do is solve more than 1 or 2 problems.  Seriously I’m shocked my other blogger buddies didn’t think of this first!  Didn’t you learn anything when you were a child and you were given 3 wishes?  Wasn’t the first thing everyone wished for was unlimited wishes”? 

The intent of this question was simple: To demonstrate that educators have some great ideas on how to improve public education.  Education reformers do not have a monopoly on the desire to improve public schools.  If we want to improve education we have to tackle both sides of the education coin:  instruction and attainment.  Maximizing one without improving the other is just a recipe for failure.  Here is my list without any thought to priority:

·       Society has to get better to minimize outside factors which hinder student learning.  Yes, outside factors hinder student learning.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us student learning is affected by hunger, fear, acceptance, being loved at home, and a multitude of other physical and psychological factors.  Don’t believe in Maslow’s?  Try teaching a group of kids a new math lesson the last 15 minutes before lunch.  Even the teacher wants to time warp to lunch!  Hunger is bad enough when you get 3 square meals a day, but how about the student on Monday whose last meal was what the cafeteria served on Friday?  Add in kids who are abused, scared, bullied, or neglected and you have a bunch of students who care less about the lesson and more about survival.  If you want to improve student learning, Oklahoma must invest in social services to provide for the children whose parents won’t provide for them!

·       Every classroom should have a highly effective teacher.  Notice I didn’t say highly qualified teacher.  There is a world of difference between effectiveness and qualified.  Let’s face it, some members of our profession should be doing something else.  Some members of other professions should be teachers.  If I was King, I’d create a compensation package ensuring the profession of “EDUCATOR” is competitive with other college degreed professionals.  I’m not saying Teachers should be paid like Doctors, but we should be paid better than convenience store managers, truck drivers, burrito makers (see Supt. Hofmeister’s #OKhigh5 plan), and 2014 HS graduates who work in the oil field.

·       Under my rule, Oklahoma would test less and teach more.  Standardized testing isn’t the answer to measuring instructional practices.  In theory, standardized testing should measure student attainment.  However, it cannot measure the impact on student learning.  The depth of understanding, the magnitude of human impact, the creativity of the mind, nor the breadth of critical thinking can be measured by a standardized test.  Let’s face it, the instant you create an assessment is the instant when you limit the scope of learning.

·       Make teaching a 240 day job.  Before everyone goes crazy and claim I’ve lost my mind, let me explain.  I’d require students to come to school 200 days per year.  The other 40 days would be professional development days in which teachers worked at becoming better: by analyzing student data and collaborating with their peers.


Can you imagine a world where beginning teacher pay is $40,000 plus benefits and 25 year veteran teachers make $75,000?  Where beginning teachers are given a highly effective mentor teacher for the year and they work 40 additional days at becoming better for their students?  Can you imagine what our students could accomplish if they came to school ready to learn and was always taught by an effective teacher?  Can you imagine what students could do if lessons were relevant to them and lessons could be created independent of some worthless standardized test?  If I were King for the day, this is what school would look like.