Wednesday, May 20, 2020

School-choice foe arrested for lewd proposals to a minor

"One of the chief ringleaders of the 2018 teacher walkouts in Oklahoma has been arrested for lewd proposals to a minor," Ray Carter reports.
Twenty-seven-year old Alberto Morejon, an 8th grade U.S. history teacher at Stillwater Junior High, was arrested following a complaint from a concerned parent and a subsequent investigation, a Stillwater Police Department release revealed. ...
In running the “Oklahoma Teachers-The Time is Now” Facebook group, Morejon drew national prominence for his role in launching the 2018 teacher walkouts and was a featured spokesman for the event, standing alongside officials with the Oklahoma Education Association during at least one press event.

The walkout occurred after lawmakers approved nearly $600 million in tax increases and provided the largest teacher pay raise in state history. Walkout leaders said it wasn’t enough.

In 2019, Morejon called for ousting as many as 35 Republican lawmakers, despite the fact most of those lawmakers supported teacher pay raises and school-funding increases.

Morejon has also been a prominent opponent of school-choice policies that allow children options other than their local public school, including a tax-credit scholarship program whose beneficiaries are mostly low-income children.

Legislation filed in 2019 that carried over to the 2020 legislative session—Senate Bill 407—would have increased the size of the tax-credit scholarship program while also providing millions in private funding to public schools.

Morejon was a vocal opponent of the proposal, tweeting on May 16, “For the 2nd straight year, SB 407 is dead!”

Children aided by the tax-credit scholarship program include children who have been victims of child sexual abuse or were previously living in an environment where sexual trafficking occurred.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Why indeed?

The academic and social benefits of homeschooling

"Homeschooling works," Brian D. Ray and Carlos Valiente write. "The roughly 2 million children who currently learn at home join a millennia-old practice supported by many government officials, scholars, college officials, and employers."

Saturday, May 9, 2020

How big a Department of Education does Oklahoma need?

"From curriculum to nutrition to family engagement to technology," Greg Forster writes, "the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s interference in your local school never rests. And when the state isn’t overregulating schools, it’s promoting the indoctrination of students into a progressive political agenda."

Friday, May 8, 2020

Friday, May 1, 2020

COVID chaos requires bold reforms

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

The assault on lives, livelihoods, and medical needs of Oklahomans by governments’ response to COVID-19 is going to require bold reforms to reverse the damage. Lawmakers should enact several polices as a result.

First, any regulations waived to deal with COVID-19 should stay repealed. The state is functioning without those regulations and lives and livelihoods have been saved.

Oklahoma government is receiving more than $1 billion in federal funding to recover. As the federal government provides more flexibility, these funds should be used for a mix of purposes, including offsetting of state revenue shortfalls, financing of some strategic projects, and facilitating pro-growth reforms.

Pro-growth tax reform is desperately needed. With two “black swan” events underway—the collapse of the oil and gas industry and COVID-19—Oklahoma must now position itself to diversify with new businesses, preserve existing businesses, and attract business from other states.

It’s time to eliminate the wildly volatile corporate income tax, adopt a revenue-neutral plan to phase-out the personal income tax, and adjust the tax code to protect the most vulnerable from tax increases. That will provide a more stable revenue system for state government and foster job creation and economic diversification.

Lawmakers should use part of federal aid to reform the teacher’s retirement system. Strengthening state finances and pensions and giving teachers an asset that travels with them (that can benefit them and their families) can be accomplished by enrolling all new teachers in a robust defined-contribution plan, duplicating the similar successful reform done for other new state employees. This will also help with recruitment since today’s employees are extremely mobile and change jobs throughout their lives.

Policymakers should provide permanent and full expensing for new investments in machinery and equipment, allow faster depreciation deductions, and foster crowdfunding infrastructure to provide more capital to small businesses. Businesses are going to need maximum flexibility to rebuild.

Legislators should delay collection of business property taxes until at least Oct. 1, 2020 and remove the experience rating on unemployment-insurance tax rates related to COVID-19.

In health care, lawmakers need to protect patients from surprise medical bills by requiring advance notice of costs. They need to protect doctors by placing caps on noneconomic damages in the Oklahoma Constitution. And they need to protect the truly needy already on Medicaid and taxpayers by rejecting any sort of Medicaid expansion. The state already faces a $1.3 billion shortfall.

To build the workforce of tomorrow, lawmakers should support tax-credit scholarship programs that increase K-12 educational opportunity and scrutinize tuition rates so colleges focus on productive teaching.

The government response to COVID-19 has done severe damage to Oklahoma citizens’ lives. But lawmakers have the chance to change that trajectory and put Oklahoma back on the path of vitality—if they embrace needed reforms.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Calls to change absentee voting process raise fraud concerns

"In response to COVID-19, a coalition of mostly left-leaning organizations is demanding that Oklahoma abandon a longstanding election-security safeguard," Ray Carter reports.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Literature review shows positive academic outcomes for homeschoolers

Dr. Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation has authored a literature review entitled "Bringing Achievement Home 2019: A Review of the Academic Outcomes of Homeschooling Students in the United States."
Although methodological limitations prevent scholars from drawing a causal connection between homeschooling and the largely positive outcomes identified in the literature, the research on the outcomes of those who homeschool, whether the result of homeschooling itself or other unobservable characteristics of families who homeschool such as greater parental involvement, shows positive academic outcomes for participants.
Read the whole thing here.

The case against homeschool regulation

Kerry McDonald makes it here.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Oklahoma teacher had 'multiple videos and pictures of school-aged girls'

"The Oklahoma State Board of Education suspended the teaching certificate of Nathan Holland today nearly two months after the girls high school basketball coach was charged with raping a woman he met on Bumble," Tres Savage reports. "The board went into special session to review a Department of Education administrative complaint...that describes photos and videos found on Holland’s phone. Law enforcement investigators allege the images were taken in classrooms and school locker rooms."
The OSDE administrative complaint details what investigators say they found on Holland’s phone. The following statements are quoted directly from the affidavit, which says investigators found:
  • Numerous nude photographs of Nathan to include what appears to be him in the school locker room; 
  • Videos of himself sitting at a desk in a school classroom with an erection; ...
  • Nathan also has a photo that shows a female student with scissors pressed against her neck assumedly held by Nathan; 
  • There are multiple videos and pictures of school-aged girls on Nathan’s phone, some in the locker room and others appear to be at school, inside a residence or in a vehicle.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

How many Oklahoma students are continuing to learn?

[Guest post by Mike Brake]

With schools across the nation closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, a key question is: How many students are continuing to learn?

A previous article focused on actual content being delivered through the many different distance/continuous learning programs put in place by local school districts. Some are simply asking students to review previously presented material, while others are more aggressively assigning lessons that would effectively complete the fourth quarter for kids from kindergarten through high school, although most schools are not grading the students’ work.

But the key question – are most if not all students actually linked to their schools and doing the assigned work? – yields different answers depending on where it is asked. It appears that in some schools 10 percent or more of high school students are off the learning grid, at least initially, and that figure could increase as the school year winds to a close.

So far though, Oklahoma does not appear to be as bad as some other states.

A survey conducted during the first weeks of distance learning nationwide showed that up to 40 percent of secondary school students who were supposed to be enrolled and active in the programs were no-shows. When Common Sense Media polled 849 teens, 41 percent of them said they had not attended even one online class. When responding students were limited to those in public schools, the no-shows rose to 47 percent.

In Los Angeles, a newspaper investigation revealed that some 15,000 high school students were not taking part in that district’s online program, while as many as 40,000 had failed to maintain daily contact with teachers. A New York Times investigation showed that online attendance was worst in districts with high shares of low-income families and in rural areas.

Cleveland’s school district reported an initial 60 percent participation rate, but that had risen to 87 percent after the first week of online classes.

Yet another random survey, of 5,659 teachers via the social media app Fishbowl, showed that 55 percent of those teachers reported that half or more of their students were not connecting to remote classes. More than one-third of them said attendance was 25 percent or less. Only 17 percent reported 75 percent or more student participation.

So how are we doing in Oklahoma? Again, it depends on where you ask the question. As might be expected, districts with high concentrations of low-income families are less likely to have internet connections and a parent at home to direct the work, with resulting poor participation in distance learning programs.

There are bright spots. In Enid, district spokesperson Amber Fitzgerald said all students already had district-provided Chromebooks and assured wi-fi hotspots.

“We had a very successful first week,” Fitzgerald said.

Mary Ladd, speaking for Ponca City Schools, said she could not estimate participation rates but felt they were high.

“We had a lot of students down here for their packets,” she said, noting that the line to pick up hard copies of class assignments stretched “more than two blocks. It was unbelievable.”

Dawn Jones at Moore Schools said teachers used the week before remote learning began to assure that all junior high and high school students had access to computers and an internet connection.

Tulsa Public Schools, with 39,105 students the largest in the state, has directed many of its online students to the Canvas learning platform. District spokesperson Lauren Partain said 14,321 students were using Canvas as of April 13, about 40 percent of those enrolled, but she noted that “some schools use Spark or Summit learning management systems, and are not included in Canvas users.”

Other students are “only engaging with teachers via phone, due to internet accessibility,” Partain said. She said the district has now distributed more than 40,000 hard copy learning packets in the first two weeks of distance learning.

Oklahoma City Public Schools assigned teachers to make initial phone or email contacts with all of their students, according to district spokesperson Beth Harrison. That yielded an 89 percent contact rate, she said.

As the continuous learning program began, elementary teachers were instructed to touch base with students twice a week, while secondary teachers, with a higher student count, were asked to make one weekly contact.

Harrison said the district’s continuous learning website logged 132,783 visitors between April 6 and 16. The district has distributed 50,814 paper lesson packets and had 296 calls to a hotline created for students needing assistance.

At Putnam City Schools, spokesperson Sheradee Hurst said the initial day of the continuous learning program logged 35,512 website views for the district of just under 20,000 students.

“Putnam City is actively surveying to ascertain numbers of student/teacher connections,” Hurst said. “Our survey is still in progress. Partial results show district numbers averaging 95 percent.” 

In Edmond, at least one father is concerned that Edmond Public Schools is “throwing in the towel on one-fourth of the school year” and cheating students out of an education. 

It is too early to accurately track how many students – primarily at the secondary level – may be disconnecting from their home district’s learning and lesson resources, either online or in paper format, but according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, during a normal school year, one out of four high school seniors who entered four years before as freshmen fail to graduate. That means that even in good times, significant percentages of students in the upper grades drop out of school. One suspects that as the continuous learning programs continue through May, more of those students who were prone to drop out will discontinue contact with schools and teachers, bringing the Oklahoma non-participation rate more in line with those being reported in some other states.

It is also to be expected that districts with inner-city student populations will see a higher disconnect rate, just as they experience higher dropout rates during normal school years.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Digital learning and homeschooling during—and after—the crisis

"Digital learning and homeschooling have hit K-12 education like—well, like a pandemic," Greg Forster writes.
As in so many other sectors, from politics to business to the movies, people are asking to what extent things can ever return to normal from the drastic changes imposed by our public health emergency. Now that millions of families are experiencing digital learning and homeschooling, at least in a way, will these alternatives come out stronger on the other side of the crisis?