Thursday, July 19, 2018

The end of accountability?

"In American public education and government generally, 'accountability' serves as a shibboleth," writes professor and school board member Robert Maranto, the editor of the Journal of School Choice. 
Many argue that since traditional public schools face democratic accountability, parents need no school choice. Yet the use of term accountability recalls the delicious line in The Princess Bride when, after the arrogant, erudite Vizzini (played by Wallace Shawn) repeatedly shouted “inconceivable” when repeatedly proved wrong, simple swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), answered “you keep using that word—I do not think it means what you think it means.” In most endeavors, accountability means the possibility of losing income, even employment. President Trump might face accountability from impeachment, or by voters saying “you’re fired.” Corporate leaders, at least when their governing boards pay attention, sometimes face termination. In most of the global economy, much of the time those performing in what principals consider an unsatisfactory manner must seek alternative employment.

Yet accountability means something very different in public administration generally, and in public education in particular, for at least four interlocking reasons. First, as preliminary work by Ian Kingsbury and I indicates, our fields’ intellectuals do not define accountability in the same manner as the public at large. For the public, accountability means potential termination. In contrast, leading public administration and education journals define accountability as following administrative processes: Well under a tenth of academic references mention possible termination, and nearly all of those address electoral accountability (as may befall Mr. Trump). Similarly, in our analysis of school superintendent contracts, Julie Trivitt, Malachi Nichols, Angela Watson, and I find that it may be difficult to hold school superintendents accountable for academic performance because their contracts seldom mention student learning, and almost never include even long term achievement or attainment goals. Quite literally, most school superintendents have no contractual obligation to improve education. In the school choice debate, both sides are right: School reformers and backers of traditional public schools are talking past each other.

Second, complex bureaucracies are nontransparent, in part to evade accountability. As an elected school board member, I have found that despite various laws “requiring” transparency, (almost) nothing important that happens in a public school system makes the papers. Reporters simply do not know what questions to ask, and we in school systems will not tell them: doing so might be seen as disloyal to our public schools. As a long-time member of a charter board, I must acknowledge that the charter sector is similarly nontransparent to outsiders. While charters are usually smaller and thus easier for reporters and auditors to monitor for wrongdoing, they also attract less attention. It is not clear which sector is more transparent, something which clearly merits systematic study.

Third is the question of accountable to whom. Fieldwork suggests that public bureaucracies excel at serving the politically connected, or as a teacher told me a few years back, school board members’ children automatically get better teachers. Just as heroes in stories have “plot armor,” my teenage daughter refers to her unsought “school board armor.” In well-run school districts like mine, such impacts are limited. Even so, any bureaucracy is accountable to some, but this is very different from being accountable to all. Interestingly, these inequities are essentially unstudied by educational researchers.

Fourth, accountability requires in some way rewarding or punishing officials for their performance. Yet just as tenure may protect ineffective teachers and administrators, obscure election times and a lack of party cues may protect school board members from electoral accountability. My own election to school board had double the usual voter turnout—6%—again suggesting the matter of accountability to whom. Greater levels of political tribalism present even greater barriers to accountability. Reflecting postmodernism (and posttruth), extreme partisanship kept Democratic party identifiers from recognizing the economic success of the early and middle Bush years, and kept Republican party identifiers from acknowledging the robust economic growth of the final Obama years. Similarly, there is little evidence that either Donald Trump’s poor business record or Hillary Rodham Clinton’s poor policy record at the U.S. State Department affected voter evaluations of the candidates.

If voters fail to hold leaders accountable for relatively objective, high attention national conditions like unemployment rates, they will not hold officials accountable for far hazier matters like schooling. Instead, they may support those of the same social or political group, no matter the educational outcomes. The market paradigm proposes that choice enables parents, those with the most skin in the game, to hold officials accountable for how their own children fare, something about which nearly all parents care and about which they have considerable information. As Somin argues, clear and present self-interest and direct knowledge of how schooling affects their children may enable parents to overcome the tribal loyalties exploited by politicians. Much school choice research should examine the degree to which this occurs; that is, the degree to which messy, imperfect markets or messy, imperfect political processes serve the long-term interests of children.

With the demise of No Child Left Behind, we may see the two-decade old “accountability” regime fade. What comes next? Perhaps we should replace accountability regimes with effectiveness regimes, while acknowledging the complexities that effective for one child may be ineffective for others, requiring many options. Because schooling effectiveness is a very individualized matter, perhaps parents can gauge it better than distant “experts” with less local knowledge and no skin in the game. This makes sense if the child is not the mere creature of the state.
Read the whole thing here.

Don't use test scores to regulate education choices

A new study "adds to the mounting scientific evidence suggesting that standardized test scores are not strong proxies for the long-term outcomes that society actually cares about," Corey DeAngelis writes. "In other words, education regulators ought to realize that the tools that they have to attempt to control the quality of schools are far from perfect. And they ought to realize that families already know what’s best for their own kids."

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

One in three parents fear for their child's physical safety at school

"One in three parents fear for their child's physical safety at school, a sharp increase from 2013 when just 12% said they were fearful," according to the latest PDK poll.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Does a Justice Kavanaugh mean that Blaine Amendments are history?

"It is my hope that a court with Kavanaugh on the bench will finally excise Blaine Amendments from state constitutions," Mike McShane writes. "Their legacy of bigotry has lived long enough."

Worthwhile reasons to move school elections

"Put simply, 'local control' of schools is as much myth as reality," The Oklahoman's editorial board notes today, "an argument bolstered by voting participation in school elections."
In a recent analysis of state boards and commissions, Byron Schlomach, economist and director of the conservative 1889 Institute, highlighted why this is problematic for good policy.

“Because of the outsized role that insiders have in the election of school board members, school boards at times appear to be more interested in serving the interest of the insiders rather than the interests of parents and taxpayers,” Schlomach wrote.

This was apparent when many school boards voted to close school for two weeks this year to let teachers engage in political lobbying, with pay. In many districts, that decision was made without consulting the thousands of student families who faced “great inconvenience and cost to parents and educational detriment to students,” Schlomach notes.

Why did school boards ignore parents? Because the school board members owed their election largely to school employees, not parents.

We have argued for moving school board elections to higher-turnout dates to increase citizen input. Otherwise, until school-election participation improves, lawmakers can legitimately claim to reflect the education views of their communities as much or more than do school board members, because a far higher share of local citizens voted for the legislator.
OCPA has written on this topic for years, and survey research from SoonerPoll (2015) and from Cor Strategies (2017) has found that Oklahomans favor moving local school board elections to November.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Oklahoma’s tools of secular selfishness

It's alarming "when religious leaders make themselves tools of secular selfishness in the name of, yet to the detriment of, better schools for kids," Greg Forster writes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Educator candidates ‘should be examined with heightened skepticism’

"Oklahoma’s education blob—school unions, education schools, and their allies—is becoming unusually shameless in its determination to vote itself another taxpayer bailout," Greg Forster wrote two years ago. As we're beginning to see a new batch of "teacher caucus" stories about educators seeking to become legislators, Forster's observations remain relevant and worth re-reading. Journalists would do well to exhibit a tad more of that famous skepticism they pride themselves on.
A press corps with any self-respect or sense of professional responsibility would ask the blob questions like these: Why have previous increases in school budgets and teacher salaries failed to produce educational improvements? ... How much spending—give us a dollar amount—would be enough to make you say spending is sufficient and any problems that persist are the responsibility of the schools? 
As Pew, Gallup, Quinnipiac, and many others have made clear, Republicans don't particularly trust the so-called mainstream media. (Nearly three in four Oklahoma Republicans trust the news media "not at all" or "not very much," and among conservative Republicans that number is doubtless even more startling.) And even though most reporters probably assume that higher taxes and more government spending on education are warranted, they should strive for fairness in their reporting. As Forster says:
Those who demand that government spend more money on themselves should be examined with heightened skepticism. The public interest (in this case, the education of children) should be clearly distinguished from private interests (budgets, salaries, and home prices). And policy should be designed, broadly and in the details, to serve the public interest only. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Muldrow schools, teacher sued over bullying incident

"A former student at Muldrow High School has filed a lawsuit against the Muldrow Public Schools and a teacher in connection with an alleged bullying incident that occurred on Sept. 29, 2016," Sequoyah County Times editor Roy Faulkenberry reports.
The lawsuit stems from an incident on Sept. 29, 2016, when “a student who had previously been reported to administrators by George Brown's parents as a person who had been bullying George Brown, challenged George Brown to a fight on the Muldrow High School grounds in a pavilion with a concrete floor,” according to the petition.

The petition said Brown fell victim to “severe, pervasive and abusive harassment, bullying, isolation, criticism, mocking and physical assault,” beginning in August 2016.

According to the information filed in the petition, Brown and his parents had reported the incidents of bullying to Muldrow Principal Steve Page.

“When the harassment and bullying behavior commenced in the fall of 2016, the District did not have a bullying policy nor harassment/bullying forms available for Brown or his parents to submit. Brown's parents made the reports directly and verbally to Brown's principal,” the petition said.

It's alleged in the petition that on Sept. 29, 2016, that during a lunch break, the reported bully, who is identified as Julie Bosher's son, Brooks Boshers, told his mother in the witness of several students that he was going to “assault and batter George Brown at the pavilion.”

At that time, the lawsuit says Julie Boshers was a teacher at Muldrow Schools and was on duty to ensure student safety. When her son informed her of his intentions, Julie Boshers' response was, “ do what you have to do.”

Brooks Boshers was reported to have proceeded to the pavilion on school grounds and asked his mother, who was the teacher on duty, to hold his things. Boshers then allegedly body slammed Brown onto a concrete slab and punched him in the back of his head.

“Defendant Julie Boshers, mother of the bully, took no action to try and prevent or stop the student bully from assaulting and brutally battering George Brown. Even though she was equipped with communications equipment, she made no attempts to call for assistance or help, the lawsuit said.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Jindal: 'Choice is the ultimate form of accountability'

In an excellent column today in The Wall Street Journal ("The Moral Logic of School Choice"), former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal takes issue with the argument that schools which participate in school-choice programs should be subject to tougher government oversight. "[T]his logic essentially forces private schools that take vouchers to import the bureaucracy that parents were fleeing in the first place," he observes.
The U.S. has purposefully adopted a deferential, though not absolute, attitude toward parental rights. The government gives parents wide leeway to make choices about their children’s health, diets, and religious practices. Regulators interfere narrowly only in extreme cases to prevent permanent harm, and even then parents have recourse to the judicial system. Shouldn’t parents get the same respect when deciding how their children should be educated?
Indeed, "choice is the ultimate form of accountability, and letting parents pick their children’s schools is valuable in itself, irrespective of outcomes," Jindal reminds us. "Parents’ decisions must therefore be respected even when they are unconventional."

Monday, June 25, 2018

Districts' policies show need for school choice in Oklahoma

The Oklahoman's editorial board cites the latest polling data here.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

What kind of safety?

School shootings are horrible, Joel Belz reminds us, but they affect relatively few schools. Meanwhile, millions of parents should be concerned with their children's moral and spiritual safety. "Don't be sidetracked," Belz says.
The very worst result of all this focus on physical safety would be to forget the intellectual and academic devastation that has beset our culture. SAT scores are full of bullet holes, and so are basic skills tests. The last generation’s misdirected priorities are leaving us with a populace unable—or unwilling—to read. They’re often unable to calculate—and unable to think critically or productively about the educational mess they find themselves in. 
Ultimately, though, parents should be most frightened about their children’s spiritual and moral safety. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

It is no accident that the first segment of the American population to desert the public schools in significant numbers over the last 50 years was made up of evangelical Christians—who sensed the spiritual violence and moral mayhem occurring there.
So millions of Americans, driven by these various fears for the safety of their children, have sought to make a prudent choice. The challenge now is that people will be tempted to be preoccupied with the physical safety rather than the threats that, while less noisy, are potentially the most destructive.
Only three or four schools in America—and I do not use the word ‘only’ in a casual way—have been terrorized during the last few months by ultra-equipped gunmen. Those have been devastating events, whose repetition we should do all in our power to prevent. But let’s never forget the devastation that continues to go on in the hearts and souls of millions of students in America’s supposedly safe schools.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Covington teacher's aide charged with sex crimes, furnishing alcohol to minor

The Enid News & Eagle has the story.

Is school choice the black choice?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Oklahoma's real school expenditures per student have more than doubled since 1970

"Improving student outcomes has proved difficult in large part because we are unwilling to take any major steps to make schools better," economist Eric Hanushek writes.
It appears acceptable just to put more resources into existing schools without any evidence of better academic learning. Real school expenditures per student have more than doubled since 1970 [in Oklahoma they increased from $3,813 to $8,646]—yet our graduates’ achievement remains mostly flat. When we talk about dealing with the rigidities of our current education system, people generally shrink back. Witness, for example, the reactions to teacher strikes in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. There were no discussions of relating any salary increases to the effectiveness of teachers. Indeed, the only thing on the table was more funding for failed existing policies.

Ed prof: teacher certification 'has next to no effect on teacher performance'

Robert Maranto is the 21st Century Chair in Leadership at the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. He also serves on the Fayetteville school board. He previously worked for the Brookings Institution and for the Clinton administration. 

"In contrast to other professions, studies show that certification has next to no effect on teacher performance," he wrote last month in The Wall Street Journal.
Instead it’s is a rote exercise providing the mere appearance of professionalism. There’s a reason the prep schools attended by Barack Obama (Punahou), both Presidents Bush (Phillips Academy), Chelsea Clinton ( Sidwell Friends ) and John Kerry (St. Paul’s) hire uncertified teachers. That certification is the main qualification for public-school teachers shows how differently the country’s elites treat your kids and mine.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sex abuse lawsuit against Oklahoma school to continue

"A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging officials at an Oklahoma school did nothing to stop sexual attacks against a middle school student," the Associated Press reports.

Mounds student said she had sex with coach 'about 100 times'

"A former Mounds High School Girls basketball coach has posted bond after being charged in connection with inappropriate relationships with two students," the News on 6 reports. "Brett Brooksher was booked Tuesday on charges of second-degree rape and sexual battery. Court documents say one of Brooksher's former players said she had sex with him about 100 times starting when she was a junior."

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Scholarship organizations are changing lives

Andrew Rice runs a unique school serving students who are battling to overcome addiction. Oklahoma's tax-credit scholarship program helps students like this—and many more.

Mapping drive-times from private schools in Oklahoma

"More than three-quarters of Oklahoma families could drive their K–12 students to a private school in 20 minutes or less," according to researchers at EdChoice.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Teacher raps venerable civil-rights organization

"The National Rifle Association has manufactured a world where schools must ask 'when' and not 'if'" school shootings will occur, writes Mid-Del social-studies teacher Aaron Baker.

The difference between roads and education

"Parks, roads, even policing, don’t come close to the intensely and fundamentally personal—fundamentally human—purpose of education," Neal McCluskey writes. "To assert that letting taxpaying families choose their schools is akin to letting them build private thoroughfares or parks with public dollars at best trivializes education, at worst threatens basic freedom. Indeed, far from calling for government control, the nature of education cries out for letting all people choose."

Andrew Spiropoulos and I touched on this same subject here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Oklahoma voters support educational choice

According to a new statewide survey commissioned by OCPA and conducted by Cor Strategies (502 likely Oklahoma voters; the margin of error is plus/minus 4.37 percent):
Click on the links above to learn more. Trent England and I discussed the survey results today on The Trent England Show. (Be sure to catch the show every weekday at lunchtime on OCPA’s Facebook and YouTube channels. If you miss it live, Trent's archive is here or listen to the podcast on Soundcloud or iTunes.)

Sexual battery, assault charges filed against Jones High School teacher

KFOR has the story.

Overview of the history and status of teachers' unions

Very informative slide deck from Bellwether Education Partners here.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Children's and teens' suicides related to the school calendar

As tragic as school shootings are, writes Boston College psychology professor Dr. Peter Gray, they are dwarfed by another school-related tragedy: suicide. 

"The evidence is now overwhelming that our coercive system of schooling plays a large role in these deaths," he writes. Moreover, "actual suicides and emergency mental health admissions are just the tip of the iceberg of the distress that school produces in young people."

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Homeschooling surges as parents seek escape from shootings, violence

"Violence and bullying are a driving force," Valerie Richardson reports for the Washington Times, "but school shootings tip the balance for many."

Former principal of Harrah elementary school charged with felony child abuse

The Oklahoman has the story.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

2017 Oklahoma student proficiency rates

See the results by school district here.

New OKCPS superintendent walking into a disaster area

"Oklahoma City schools are in crisis," OCPA's Trent England tells KFOR.
Just one in five students is proficient in math and only one in four is proficient in English. This is not a "problem." It’s a disaster. Everybody in education has good intentions, but all that matters are results. It’s time for a superintendent who ignores trendy programs, expensive consultants, and other distractions. OKCPS spent $9,104 per student in 2017, but many education dollars never reach the classroom. Superintendent McDaniel can show the right priorities right away by asking the school board to spend less on overhead and more on students.

School security for me, but not for thee

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

From homeless to hopeful

Positive Tomorrows is transforming lives, one student at a time.

Ed schools are educationally worthless

"Study after study has found no relationship between teacher training and educational outcomes," Greg Forster writes. "Saying 'ed schools are educationally worthless' is about as shocking to education researchers as saying 'smoking causes cancer.' Yet reforming ed schools is a fool's errand. Oklahoma should make an end run around them." Join the conversation here.

Former Vinita elementary teacher convicted of sexually abusing 8-year-old student

The Tulsa World has the story.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Oklahoma school safety remains focus after recent shootings

"School building design standards and identifying troubled students were topics discussed by state Board of Education leaders at a recent meeting in the wake of another school shooting that resulted in multiple casualties," Ben Felder reports for The Oklahoman.

Edmond mom says district's policies on bullying 'a joke'

"The school bullying issue will receive even more attention from the Edmond School District, intent on identifying problem students before they act out," Steve Gust reports for The Oklahoman.
District Information Director Susan Parks-Schlepp said a committee has been planned since March to "better meet the needs of our students."

Serving on the panel will be district and site personnel as well as representatives of state agencies who specialize in mental health and substance abuse problems.

Another new member will be April Whelan. She is the mother of twins who just completed fourth grade at Edmond's Sunset Elementary. Whelan brought her concerns to the Edmond school board at its May 7 regular meeting. She told board members about the frustration she experienced dealing with a bully she called "John Doe." Barely into the second week of fall classes, a fourth-grader targeted one of her sons with physical and verbal assaults. The offender, she said, also had flipped a desk, cursed at school staff and thrown a trash can in the classroom.

Whelan told the board she took her concerns to Sunset administrators who kept telling her multiple times "it was a process" in dealing with the bully. The offender did receive more than one two-day suspension, but that didn't deter him, Whelan said. During the meeting she said the district's policies on bullying were "a joke."

After the meeting, Superintendent Bret Towne said he had not been aware of the Sunset incident until Whelan spoke to the board. He ordered an immediate investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, Edmond continues to remain vigilant against bullying, Parks-Schlepp said. "The district is troubled by reports of bullying and is committed to putting an end to student mistreatment by providing better training and resources to staff, implementing prevention programs and reviewing the bullying policy for possible revision."

Thursday, May 24, 2018

OKCPS bus drivers skipping required checks, buses found with broken emergency equipment

"Inspection records from 2017 show more than 70 OKCPS buses didn’t meet state safety requirements," FOX 25 reports.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Only 3 in 10 Oklahoma teachers are unionized

Only 30.3 percent of Oklahoma teachers are unionized, according to a new report from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Special education teacher accused of dragging, choking, punching students

"A former Oklahoma teacher is facing two misdemeanor charges after witnesses say she physically injured her special education students," Florida station WFTV reports.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Getting serious about school safety

"It’s time to set aside political agendas and get serious about school safety," says Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James.

Ugly letters from parents force Ada coach to leave

"After leading the Ada High baseball team to one of its most successful seasons in recent history, head coach Austin Jarvis announced his resignation Friday morning," The Ada News reports.
Jarvis took over a Cougar baseball program that had managed just 14 wins combined over its past two seasons. ... However, after being eliminated in regional play the following day, Jarvis returned to the Ada High baseball facility and found a couple of nasty, anonymous letters from parents taped to the locker room door. ...
“This is basically what it said. ‘You’re obviously a good coach, but you’re not a good fit for Ada and you need to find somewhere else to go. It also said, ‘Your kids have brought down the school and are bad influences and have negatively affected the team and school.’ Both my daughter and my son were named. That was our welcome home after the regional tournament,” he recalled.

“They also attacked my faith and my Christianity and basically accused me of not being a Christian. From that and some other emails sent along those same lines, we decided maybe we should take that advice and find somewhere else to go.”

Jarvis said he and his wife, Jamie, made the gut-wrenching decision to leave Ada City Schools—and the baseball program—Thursday evening.

“My wife’s comment to me last night was, ‘We just left a school we were really happy with in Victory Christian and when we left, the parents were hugging us and crying and not wanting us to leave. Then we come here and people are posting letters telling us to get out of town after a good season,’” Jarvis said. “We don’t need to put up with that. It’s just the best thing for our family at this point to move on and go somewhere where the community supports us and wants us here.”

Jarvis said he and his coaching staff had problems with parents at different times this spring, and the letters were not an isolated incident.

“(Finding the notes) wasn’t a surprise. It was kind of the icing on the cake,” he said. “We had some issues all throughout the season. Mostly playing-time things where parents don’t see reality.” ...

Jarvis said one of the most hurtful things about the entire situation was bringing his children into the situation.

“It’s sad that these are parents. If they would just stay out of it, it would be much better for everybody. Me as a coach, I can handle it. I don’t think it’s justified or warranted, but I can handle it,” he said. “But to attack my kids is crossing a line. They’re no different than their kids. They’re still kids. To attack them by name is just not right, just plain and simple.”

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Lawton, Altus students get private-school scholarships

KSWO has the story.

Student shoved in locker by teacher, Tulsa mother says

"This has been one of my biggest fears since I have put her in public schools," the News on 6 quotes the mother as saying. "It's like my biggest fear has come back to haunt me."

Police investigating allegations of misconduct at Broken Arrow school

The News on 6 has the story.

Teacher 'advocacy' time

"The Oklahoma City School Board voted unanimously this week to close schools on Nov. 6, Election Day, to allow teachers and staff the chance to 'engage in continued advocacy,'" The Oklahoman's editorial board notes today.
Yukon Public Schools is doing the same thing, and no doubt other districts will as well. Apparently, taking advantage of absentee voting, or the early voting days available prior to Election Day (including, this year, Saturday Nov. 3), or getting to the polls on Election Day at 7 a.m., before the school day begins, or voting after school that day (polls are open until 7 p.m.)—as Oklahomans of all professions will do—is asking too much of school employees. Instead, boards are deciding it's better to inconvenience parents on that day and extend the school calendar by a day so educators can “advocate.” It's a head-scratching development.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Will Oklahoma school spending improve results?

The Oklahoman's editorial board doesn't seem convinced that it will.

Edmond teacher assistant accused of being high on meth at elementary school

"An Edmond schoolteacher assistant was arrested Tuesday afternoon after she appeared to be high on meth at her work," News 9 reports.

OKC elementary school teacher arrested for allegedly violating fellow teacher in school hall

"A Martin Luther King Elementary School teacher was arrested and charged with sexual battery against a fellow female teacher Wednesday," KFOR reports.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Former teacher says ‘many cases’ of abuse not reported ‘for several days or weeks’

"The number of cases where an Oklahoma teacher or school employee has been accused of or convicted of molesting children seems to grow every year," The Oklahoman's editorial board points out today.
Sadly, in some cases other school employees have engaged in foot-dragging before reporting suspected abuse, so lawmakers deserve credit for tightening up state law on reporting. House Bill 2259, by Rep. Dell Kerbs and Sen. Ron Sharp, both R-Shawnee, requires individuals to "immediately" report suspected child abuse or neglect of children to the Department of Human Services Child Abuse Hotline. Reporting is already mandated in state law, but Sharp, a former coach and teacher, noted there have been "many cases" where abuse was not reported "for several days or weeks after it's discovered." That there was a need for lawmakers to legislate basic morality is nearly as sad as the fact so many Oklahoma children are being abused in the first place.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Parents say Muskogee district not doing enough to stop bullying

"Parents are saying Muskogee Public Schools isn't doing enough to protect their kids from bullying," the News on 6 reports.
Cell phone video of a fight at Alice Robertson Middle School in Muskogee shows several girls start punching eighth grader Alaiyah Armstrong. "That is when the first girl, that's when she hit me, and then everybody else jumped in," Alaiyah said. "A lot of people were surrounding me and it felt like I couldn't breathe at all."
"One day I was just thinking about taking my life, but, I mean, it's not worth it because, like, I just think about my family," she said.

Cleveland school employee accused of sexual assault of student

"A Cleveland Public Schools employee has been arrested on a complaint of first-degree rape, accused of an inappropriate relationship with a high school student," the News on 6 reports.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fallin signs financial transparency legislation

"Oklahoma parents and leaders will soon have access to enhanced information on how much funding a school is receiving, average per-pupil spending and other information after Governor Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2860 today," The Foundation for Excellence in Education reports.
House Bill 2860, and the companion Senate Bill 1199, build upon the state’s existing School District Transparency Act to require the Oklahoma Department of Education to include district and school-level revenue and expenditure data on its website. Additionally, it requires local school districts to link to this data on their websites. This ensures financial data is easily accessible for parents, school leaders and members of the community, as well as promotes resource effectiveness, school empowerment, and fairness.

Muskogee girl beaten up at school

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Regulations haven't produced desired outcomes

The number of regulations in the public school system has grown quickly, Corey DeAngelis points out. "According to the QuantGov database, the number of K-12 education restrictions has increased by almost 1,200 percent since 1970, while student achievement hasn’t budged. Regulations haven’t produced desired outcomes in the traditional public school system."

Perry schools sued again in federal court

"School district officials [in Perry] are accused in a new federal lawsuit of shielding a sexual predator and branding children as liars when they accused an ex-teacher's aide of molestation," The Oklahoman reports today.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Online library offers free lessons, affordable textbooks and courses on a wide range of subjects

In a news release today, TEL Library, a nonprofit organization whose vision is to eliminate cost as a barrier to a quality education, announced the availability of its public, online curriculum library.
TEL Library has built a scalable, sustainable library of free lessons and affordable textbooks and courses that cover subjects ranging from history, science, and math, to literature and writing. Library courses are academically rigorous, yet understandable, and relevant to a broad spectrum of learners from advanced high school, through college, to adult learners. The Library’s lessons are available for free through its reference library and in low-cost textbooks and courses.

TEL Library textbooks and courses are ideal for colleges and high schools seeking affordable textbooks and low-cost white-label curriculum solutions. Homeschool students and other independent learners will also benefit from the Library’s affordable, self-paced courses. Experienced learning designers, information scientists, and domain experts are creating Library lessons, courses, and textbooks. New lessons are constantly in development and are regularly added to the library.

The launch of TEL Library represents the realization of the founders’ vision. “Our mission is to provide affordable, high-quality learning options to everyone,” says Vance Fried, TEL Library president. “Our products are good enough for the richest, yet cheap enough for the poorest.”

Affordable Learning  
Affordable learning options are a means to a very important end. “Education is always important,” states Dr. William English, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. “It’s the one thing that really makes a difference to a nation’s capacity to innovate, its productivity, and our citizens’ ability to understand and engage with one another and to live productive lives. However, we’ve seen an enormous rise in the cost of education over the last three decades. Higher education institutions are under a lot of pressure to figure out a better model going forward. They are asking themselves—can we make education more affordable and accessible? TEL Library saw that we should be able to bring down some of these costs through technology innovation. If you can provide high-quality, scalable content, you can provide an education for a much lower marginal cost than some of the existing frameworks. The kind of innovations that TEL Library has come up with are going to be very useful as educational institutions reorganize, figure out how to use the internet effectively, and incorporate technology in ways that will reduce the cost of delivery and content.”

Scalable, Sustainable Model 
A key educational technology innovation pioneered by TEL Library is the use of Stackable Lessons™, reusable content blocks that can be combined with other lessons, regardless of subject and order, without losing coherence or learning efficacy. It is the use of Stackable Lessons™ that enables the TEL Library model of delivering affordable content that can easily scale in size and scope. “TEL Library’s unique model for lesson design and reuse allows us to address the needs of many different groups with a single content library,” says Rob Reynolds, TEL Library executive director and co-founder of TEL Library. “Better yet, we can address those needs in a scalable and sustainable manner.”

The TEL Library content development and delivery model is unique and innovative. “What I’ve really noticed is there’s a big difference in how TEL Library has approached this innovation as opposed to other organizations,” continues English. “Ed-tech has traditionally been led by business and tech people. They understand at a high level that there’s an opportunity, to deliver all sorts of content better online. They work on the platforms and business models long before they think about the user, and they end up having to strong-arm academics who will take the time to sit down and develop content. What TEL Library did is at the very beginning they reached out to experts in their fields—people who have been educators for a while, are passionate, and really know what they’re talking about, and got them excited about sharing their expertise. So instead of wrangling people, trying to get them to provide content on the platform, TEL Library was able to assemble a really high-quality academic team to put together content that then everything else sort of fits around.”

Accessible Learning 
As an online resource, TEL Library lessons and textbooks are accessible to anyone, anywhere. “People have changed the way they learn and socialize,” says Dr. Ed Harris, administrator of the Brock International Prize in Education, and Professor and Williams Chair of Educational Leadership at Oklahoma State University. “If you want to learn about a new topic or skill, you don't have to go to a brick and mortar building to learn about it. You can find just about anything you could possibly want to know and learn through the internet. It's really changing the whole idea of place, space and time, and how people exist within those constructs. Schools have to keep up. Technology is just a part of our life. An important trend is adapting the learning situation to that. So, the idea of ‘we will build it and they will come’ is just not working now. So, we need alternatives, and TEL Library is one alternative.”

Pricing and Availability 
The TEL Library opens with hundreds of lessons on a diverse set of topics, available for free in the searchable reference collection. In the coming months, the Library will begin offering textbooks for $9.99 and self-paced courses for under $100.

By the fall of 2019, the library will contain thousands of lessons on topics such as economics, literature, composition, history, science, math, marketing, philosophy, religion, computer technology, communication, art history, and more.

To explore the available lessons and courses, and to experience a free TEL Library lesson, visit

Teacher unions lie with statistics

Many education activists "conflate state and total funding, play games with baselines, and ignore noncash teacher benefits," Allysia Finley points out.

How much is enough?

Washington, D.C.'s public schools spend more than $27,000 per student per year, Lindsey Burke and Jude Schwalbach point out, yet only two out of 10 eighth-graders in D.C. public schools can read or do math proficiently.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Too many mandates? School boards can now make them disappear

"Local school officials often justifiably complain that they have to deal with a lot of needless regulation and paperwork requirements imposed on them by the state," Byron Schlomach and Vance H. Fried write in a new policy brief.
Indeed, one count of mandates from administrative rules and statutes in Oklahoma numbers them at about 640. Some are a major imposition. Others are trivial. Some seem to be silly. All, however, have the force of law and require time and effort in order to comply.

Oklahoma’s school boards now have a tool at the ready to unilaterally deregulate schools that they oversee. There is a relatively new law in town, only a few years on the books, that allows a school board to designate any campus a “conversion school.” 
In short, "school boards can make those mandates disappear for any school under their control. ... The conversion school option for public school districts, barely exercised so far, opens districts to legitimate criticism for not taking their fate into their own hands. Complaints about mandates will ring increasingly hollow."

Parents deserve a way to get their children out of unsafe schools

"Roughly one in every 50 public school students in the United States was a victim of a physical assault, sexual assault, rape, attempted rape, robbery, or threatened with physical assault at school during the 2015–16 school year," Tim Benson writes in The Hill.

McLoud district switches to 4-day school week

"McLoud Public Schools will be going to four-day school weeks starting in the fall," the Pawhuska Journal-Capital reports.
Since announcing in January that McLoud would be going to shorter weeks, McLoud Superintendent Steven Stanley has noticed a positive change in the applicants for the teaching vacancies in the district. “We felt like McLoud needed to offer something to make it a unique destination and since we made the decision, there has been a significant increase in the quantity and quality of our applicants,” he said.

During the decision process, McLoud Schools discovered several positives in other schools that switched to four-day school weeks. “When we talked to other schools and did our research, we noticed the morale of students and staff were much higher,” Stanley said. “The amount of students disciplined decreased and the overall attendance at these schools went up.” 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

'My kids were giving up, and it was breaking my heart'

Fortunately, this Tulsa mom was able to find help. And check out other excellent OSF videos here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Oklahoma capital outlays have risen dramatically

Cato Institute scholar Neal McCluskey has a post today showing total, inflation-adjusted, per-pupil expenditures on Oklahoma's public elementary and secondary schools going back to 1999 ("the only span of years for which the federal government has readily available, total per-pupil spending data for public K-12 schools at the state level").

Total spending rose "from $8,310 per student in 99-00 to $9,114 in 14-15, a nearly 10 percent increase," he writes. "However, instructional spending barely rose at all—just $7. The biggest increase was in capital outlays, which spiked 79 percent, or by $427. The next largest increase proportionally was for other support services, which increased almost 48 percent. After the recession, instructional spending dropped 13 percent, but capital outlays rose 36 percent, and a couple of support services saw upticks."

Did I mention that Tulsa Union is spending $22.5 million on a stadium project?

Monday, April 30, 2018

No, teachers are not underpaid

Opt out today

If you're a teacher or school support employee wanting to opt out of your union, this website provides the information you need.


An uncomfortable truth

Some public schools allow Black student-athletes to play for their majority-white high schools even though they can't read or write at grade-level, writes Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times in Tulsa. 

School choice is the solution to school bullying

"In government-run public schools across the country, too many students are unable to escape bullying, even after they leave school grounds," researchers at the Heartland Institute write.
The problems aren’t isolated or minor, either. Twenty-one percent of students aged 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the 2015 school year. During this same 10-year period, there was a steady uptick in youth suicide.

Ruthless cyberbullying, which can terrorize children 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has become endemic because of social media. This suggests that bullying exerts a bigger toll on young people due to its expansive digital presence—tragically pushing desperate students over the edge.

Incessant intimidation and bullying also lower learning potential. In 2015, 14 percent of 15-year-old students attended schools that reported student learning was hindered by students harassing or bullying their peers. Perhaps U.S. students’ stagnant education performance, despite massive increases in school funding over recent decades, can be partially attributed to the hostile learning environments many students are trapped in.

School choice is a viable solution to the problems many children encounter inside and outside of public schools. Parents are desperately searching for more school choice options because government schools cannot protect their children from bullies and other forms of school violence. In fact, nearly two-thirds of people support school choice, including 41 percent who strongly support it, according to a 2018 survey of likely voters conducted by the American Federation for Children. Support is even higher among Latinos and African-Americans.

In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) set a precedent more states should follow when he signed into law the Hope Scholarship Program, a tax-credit scholarship program allowing public school K–12 students who are victims of bullying, harassment, and violence to transfer to another public or private school.

The Heartland Institute is dedicated to improving student safety. In its newly released “Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts” Policy Brief, Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki Alger and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson propose giving public school students a parent-controlled savings account they can use if their children’s current school environment is a danger to their wellbeing.

Under Heartland’s plan, state education dollars, which are annually allocated for public school pupils, would fund a Child Safety Account (CSA), which would be made available to every student facing a dangerous school environment. The funds could be used to transfer eligible students to a safer school (public, private, charter, or virtual) within or beyond their residential district. The funds could also be used for homeschooling expenses. Parents and other private donors could further fund, or “top off,” the CSAs if the state-allocated money is not enough to cover education expenses.

As it currently stands, wealthy families possess a major advantage if they want to transfer their victimized children from a dangerous school because they can afford to pay for private schools or to homeschool kids. CSAs equal the playing field because they allow all students to attend a safe school. CSAs ensure vulnerable students who are unfairly disadvantaged by the financial circumstances of their parents have the opportunity to receive an excellent education—free from constant bullying and harassment.

Alger and Benson contend, “CSAs would offer parents a near-instantaneous solution to school safety problems by empowering them with the ability to quickly and easily move their child to the school they determine to be the best and safest fit. … CSA programs would not be a silver-bullet solution to the bullying and violence problems plaguing America’s public schools, but they certainly would allow all families, no matter their income level, much greater access to the schools best-suited for their children and their unique safety and educational needs.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Former Oklahoma teacher tried to marry a student. Now she's charged with soliciting a minor

The Miami Herald has the story.

Edison Middle School student found with BB gun at school

The Tulsa World has the story.

Tulsa mom worried for son's safety after he's attacked, threatened with a knife

KOTV has the story.

Heavy-handed rules keep minority operators from opening charter schools

Informative post by Greg Forster here.

Parents urge Fallin to weigh in on student-on-student sexual abuse

"The parents of an Oklahoma middle school student who allege in a federal lawsuit that school officials did nothing to stop sexual attacks against the boy during an 18-month period are urging Gov. Mary Fallin to exert her political influence to draw attention to student-on-student sexual assaults," the Associated Press reports.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Yukon school plan raises questions

"Yukon school officials recently announced they will close school for November's general election," The Oklahoman's editorial board notes today.
Said Superintendent Jason Simeroth, “Educators have spoken at the Capitol and now we will make it much easier for our advocates to express their concerns for those that do not support education, and to support those that do support education by voting.”

So Yukon officials think inconveniencing and disrupting the schedules of parents will increase voting? Or is the message that teachers, unlike other adults who also work on Tuesdays, are unable to vote before or after work or take advantage of Oklahoma's simple absentee voting process? The implied message underlying this announcement is muddled, at best.

It also ignores the fact that, in many instances, primary elections on June 26 and subsequent runoffs on Aug. 28 will be more consequential than the November elections, since many legislative seats have a strong partisan tilt. While the June elections will occur during the summer break, Yukon is scheduled to start the 2018-19 school year on Aug. 16, so the runoff elections will be conducted after school starts. In many instances, the large number of candidates in districts means more runoffs are likely this year. Why not cancel school on Aug. 28 to “boost” turnout?

And if Yukon officials really think school interferes with voting, then why is the district not canceling school to “boost” turnout in the spring elections that decide school board races and bond proposals? Aren't those elections even more important to education?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Deer Creek teacher charged

Bullying has 'life-changing consequences'

"Quite frankly, in my role here at the school, I see a lot of this leading to increased mental health issues for our kids," says Jenks High School student assistance program coordinator Paula Lau. "Things like depression, anxiety, not wanting to come to school."

Paoli High School teacher under investigation

"A high school teacher is under investigation after allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a student," The Oklahoman reports.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Does OEA have nearly 40,000 members?

"With nearly 40,000 members, the Oklahoma Education Association represents many, but not all of the state's teachers," The Oklahoman reported last week.

It's true that the OEA claims to have "nearly 40,000 members." But according to the NEA's own financial report, OEA's total membership—active members plus "other" members (staff, students, retired teachers, et al.)—was 19,843 at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

I sent the NEA financial report to The Oklahoman's reporter. Here's hoping The Oklahoman will append a correction to the online version of the story.

UPDATE (April 22, 2018): Still no correction, but The Oklahoman did report today that "[t]he Oklahoma Education Association, which is a member of the National Education Association, had around 19,800 members in 2016, according to a NEA report."

UPDATE (June 26, 2018): The NEA's new financial report is out and the OEA's numbers have dropped again: OEA's total membership was 19,112 at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Oklahoma mom laments 'the constant barrage of hate spewing forth from adults in my school district'

"I will never be surprised by issues of bullying in our schools after observing the copious amounts of bullying that went on during this strike," one Oklahoma mom observes.

Why more school districts are switching to four-day weeks

"Over half of Colorado’s public school districts have permission from the state to compress their schedule," Sophie Quinton reports. "Most such districts are small and rural, but that’s changing. A suburban district near Denver and an urban district in Pueblo have recently grabbed headlines by announcing that they plan to switch to four-day weeks in the fall."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

OEA sends fundraising email to parents

One wonders: How did they get the parents' email addresses?

The real budget story behind the teachers strike: Medicaid and public pensions

"It's worth looking to see what’s really pinching school spending," The Wall Street Journal editorializes today.
Following the nationwide trend, Medicaid has taken a growing toll on Oklahoma’s budget. In 2017 the health-care program that is supposedly for the poor consumed nearly 25% of the state’s general fund, up from 14% in 2008, as nearly 200,000 more people enrolled. Lawmakers are left with less money for everything else, not least education. 

Test scores don't align with life outcomes

"It takes a broad vision to know what education is, and qualitative human judgment to know when schools are providing it," Greg Forster writes. "The future of school accountability is the people at large—not a specialist expert class—empowered to use their full human judgment to evaluate schools that they know personally. In other words, school choice and other forms of local control."

Monday, April 16, 2018

The union behind the teacher walkout

Excellent column by Enid News & Eagle​ columnist Dave Ruthenberg, who exposes the far-left agenda of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) and its parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Oklahoma socialists 'unable to help guide the education strike to victory'

A century ago, Oklahoma had the strongest socialist movement in the U.S.," Eric Blanc writes. "Today, there are signs it's being reborn." I encourage you to read the whole article ("Red Oklahoma").

Anger grows over union effort to sabotage Oklahoma teachers strike

The World Socialist Web Site has the story.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Students assigned to lobby legislators?

The generally fawning coverage of the Oklahoma teacher strike often fails to address some questionable practices, including apparent attempts by some teachers to dictate opinions to students.

The mother of a Mustang High School student told OCPA that her son’s class, instructed by the high school soccer coach, was given a graded assignment to write letters to legislators supporting the strike.

After asking that her son not be identified by name in fear of possible retaliation, she forwarded a photo of the assignment written on the classroom board calling on students to pen letters demanding more school funding or addressing “competitive education” issues, including teachers leaving Oklahoma for higher pay and the use of teachers granted emergency certification.

Students were apparently not given any other opinions to explore.

“It’s fine to give an assignment to write to a legislator, but not to tell them what to say,” the mother said. She said the teacher gave the class the assignment and immediately left to join the strike.

A call last week seeking comment from Mustang superintendent Sean McDaniel was not returned. A call today yielded a recording that school is closed.

Teacher rebellion continues

'Far less than half of our students are prepared'

Oklahoma Achieves issued the following statement regarding today's 2017 NAEP score release.
Oklahoma Achieves is disappointed, though not surprised, by Oklahoma’s static performance on the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) as reported today. While Oklahomans determine the values and standards that guide our public education system, it is important that we know where our students stand with respect to their peers across the country. Educators, policymakers, and experts across the spectrum agree that the NAEP is the gold standard when it comes to assessing whether students are prepared for college and career opportunities.
Today’s scores reveal that far too many of our students are still not on track to meet the challenges ahead. Oklahoma students, like much of the country, saw no statistical difference in scores for 4th grade math and 8th grade reading and math. However, especially troubling is a four-point drop in our 4th grade reading scores. We must continue to strengthen Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act to ensure students are getting remediation prior to third grade, when it becomes much harder for students to catch up.

We know there is much more to be done to make sure every student graduates on a path to their dream job and these scores reinforce that we must think differently about how we educate our students in the 21st century. Simply put, far less than half of our students are prepared with the skills and knowledge they need to compete for the jobs and educational opportunities of tomorrow, and the long-term trend is disturbing.

Oklahoma Achieves calls for greater urgency and action, and we implore policymakers to raise their expectations even further. States like Florida, that saw increases in their scores, have wholeheartedly embraced innovation and reform. We urge lawmakers to pass legislation this session that provides school district fiscal transparency, as well as offering teachers a career ladder for professional advancement. As our state looks ahead, future reforms to the system should focus on personalized learning and offering more choice to suit a student’s specific learning needs. Our state can no longer rely on the one-size-fits-all model we operate under today [emphasis added].

While much attention recently has been rightly focused on ensuring that we can attract, retain, and reward the best educators, we must also recognize that our public education system must change to provide the educational opportunities our students need and deserve. This is why it is critical that students return to the classroom as soon as possible so they don’t fall even further behind.

Business leaders with Oklahoma Achieves believe that the core principles of accountability, transparency, return on investment, choice and innovation, and a relentless focus on students provides the roadmap for much-needed change to our system. Today’s scores show that Oklahoma’s education system is not adequately preparing students for the future. We have much more work to do.

Teacher revolt is spreading

Monday, April 9, 2018

Cockroft disappoints on ed freedom, taxes

State Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Wanette) seems like an upstanding young man with a wonderful family. But it’s been disappointing to watch his political trajectory over the years. In my experience, it's not uncommon for politicians to campaign as conservatives but then to veer leftward once they get under the dome—"growing in office" and earning "strange new respect" from tax consumers and liberal journalists. (With any luck, after 12 years some of these ex-pols land cushy jobs in the higher education bureaucracy.)

When he was first trying to get elected, candidate Cockroft made a written promise to the taxpayers in his district that he would "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes." Eight years later, we find incumbent Cockroft voting for many efforts to increase taxes—including what appears to be the largest tax increase in Oklahoma history—and then boasting about it. He also voted to weaken SQ 640.

The American Conservative Union rates legislators each year. In 2017, Rep. Cockroft earned a rating of 47 percent. That’s an “F.” Rep. Cockroft professes conservatism, and I don't doubt his sincerity. But as one old sage put it, “Don’t read their lips. Read their budgets.” Cockroft’s lifetime ACU average is now 66 percent.

Equally troubling is his departure from principle when it comes to securing parental rights in education. The national GOP and Oklahoma GOP platforms endorse educational choice, of course, and Oklahoma has a successful tax-credit scholarship program which is helping hearing-impaired children, homeless students, teenage students battling addiction, rural students who want a faith-based education, bullied children, autistic students, and many more. And according to economists at Oklahoma City University, the program is saving the state money. Inexplicably, Rep. Cockroft this session voted against expanding the program to help even more children. And, far from being ashamed of his vote, he actually liked and retweeted the praise he received for it. 

Many politicians would never send their own children to a public school where they weren’t taught to read or do math. Or where the children are bullied or sexually harassed. Or where the teachers don't show up for work. But by continuing to favor the tax-financed monopoly school system, these politicians continue to make alternatives unaffordable for many of their constituents.

Federal government funds nearly a third of OSDE salary expenditures

"A review of who is paying state education agency (SEA) salaries suggests that many employees within these bureaucracies have competing priorities," Jonathan Butcher writes, "and may have to spend more time meeting federal requirements than serving the students in their states."

Oklahoma teacher has sex with student during walkout

"A Clinton Public Schools teacher reportedly confessed to having sex with a student several times, including during the ongoing teacher walkout, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation," The Oklahoman reports. The teacher had taken a group of students, including the 15-year-old rape victim, to the walkout at the state Capitol last week.

I'm gonna go with "wildly inappropriate."

'Teachers rebellion maps our path to power'

Fascinating article from People's World, a publication associated with the Communist Party USA:

Oklahoma teacher tells socialist website: 'I'm an activist now'

"This is my job now," one Oklahoma teacher tells "I didn't know it was my job, but I'm an activist now." She says she thinks her school will be out for the rest of the school year.

Oklahoma teachers discuss broadening strike

Oklahoma workers at a critical crossroads

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Striking Oklahoma teachers 'intoxicated by their own demands'

AEI's Rick Hess and Grant Addison have a terrific piece ("Oklahoma’s striking teachers are intoxicated by their own demands") today in The Hill. Excerpts:
On Thursday, March 29 the Oklahoma legislature enacted a new teacher-pay scale that boosted average teacher pay by $6,100—or 16 percent. This represented a remarkable win for teachers: In 2016, Oklahoma’s average teacher salary of $45,276 ranked 49th nationally, according to the National Education Association (NEA). The raise was funded via new taxes on gas, tobacco, and oil production, along with a new limit on income-tax deductions.

Yet, teachers were not placated—and on Monday, April 2, they started the walkout. The next day, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a $2.9 billion appropriations bill for education funding in fiscal year 2019—a 19.7 percent boost in spending over the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The legislation includes $353.5 million for teacher pay (funding the $6,100 average raise); $52 million for support personnel pay; $50 million for textbooks and general state aid; and $24.7 million for health-care benefits. Fallin signed additional legislation providing a $1,250 annual pay bump for school-support personnel and tiered raises for state employees ranging from $750 to $2,000.

Still, the walkout continues, with teachers seeking additional concessions. Their stance has garnered widespread support and glowing media coverage. And while the sympathy is easy to understand, it should be noted that, after the 16 percent boost, average teacher pay in Oklahoma will next year exceed the state’s median household income of $50,943.

Indeed, the new average teacher salary of $51,376 will vault Oklahoma into the very middle (29th) of NEA’s teacher-salary rankings, with Texas the only bordering state with higher average salary—by about one percent. Add the fact that Oklahoma boasts the third lowest cost of living in the U.S, and it’s fair to say that Oklahoma’s teachers will now be reasonably well-compensated relative to their peers across the country.

It’s also worth noting that base salary doesn’t take into account health-care, retirement, and other benefits, which amount to about 24 percent of Oklahoma teachers’ total compensation, according to federal data. As former Obama administration appointee Chad Aldeman has documented, teachers have the highest retirement costs of almost any public-sector profession—and that public sector employees generally enjoy health and retirement benefits that dwarf those of their private sector counterparts.

Of course, Oklahoma does spend less per-pupil than other states: The NEA reports per-pupil spending in Oklahoma was $9,036 for the 2016-17 school year, down from $9,056 in 2008-9 (all in inflation-adjusted dollars). This is less than other states spend, though it still amounts to more than $225,000 a year for a class of 25 children. While more dollars can only help, that amount would seem to go farther than it has, if spent wisely and well.

After all, between 1992 and 2014, inflation-adjusted per-student spending in Oklahoma increased by 26 percent, even as average teacher salaries rose only 4 percent. If teacher pay had merely kept up with per-pupil spending, average teacher salaries would be more than $56,000 today—even before the bump contained in the new legislation. Meanwhile, as public-school student enrollment in Oklahoma increased by 17 percent from 1992 to 2015, teacher-workforce growth lagged behind—but non-teaching staff increased by 23 percent.

The same district leaders who have added outsized numbers of non-teaching staff and failed to rein in benefit costs are now finding it convenient to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their teachers in pursuit of additional funds. Rather than seeking to force teachers back to work, superintendents have closed their schools and cheered them on—protecting teachers from the need to officially break the law or even sacrifice personal days. At least 50 school districts have been closed across the state, including those in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, the state’s two largest districts. The consequences of this for children and working parents are severe, even if they’ve drawn little attention amidst a narrative focused on the heartwarming story of middle-class earners winning an overdue raise.

“There are broader implications going forward for any more days canceled,” said Oklahoma City Public Schools spokeswoman Beth Harrison, “because it starts to impact instructional time, which starts to impact families.” After five days, the walkout has consumed most of the six extra days built into the calendar to account for emergencies like weather-related closings, with many school systems now looking at adding additional minutes to the school day or pushing back the last day of the year to make up for lost time.

Meanwhile, as veteran teacher-union reporter Mike Antonnuci has observed, as was the case in West Virginia, “no one is losing pay for going on strike.” Following the wholesale triumph of West Virginia’s teachers in their recent strike, which was likewise accompanied by widespread support and adoring press, superintendents see which way the wind is blowing. Doubtless, school leaders in Kentucky, Arizona, and other states at-risk for teacher strikes are also taking notice.

There’s an important conversation to be had about teacher pay, benefit costs, and how to attract and honor terrific teachers—and pay fairly professionals who put in a solid day’s work. And, like many, we think the gains that Oklahoma’s teachers have now won are reasonable and appropriate.

But it appears that, even more than in the case of West Virginia—where teachers returned to work with a comparatively Spartan 5 percent pay bump—Oklahoma’s walkout is quickly becoming detached from efforts to ensure that dollars are spent responsibly. When teachers who have already claimed a massive win are shuttering schools over demands for retiree cost-of-living-adjustments and the need to “staff-up” other state agencies, it seems farfetched to say that student concerns are still front and center.

Oklahoma education workers defy and push forward

The publication Workers World (motto: "Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World Unite") is now covering the Oklahoma teacher strike. "This burgeoning struggle against austerity cuts and for meeting people’s needs shows signs of continuing to expand in the days and weeks ahead—with teachers and school workers in the lead," Workers World reports today.

Oklahoma teacher strike continues

"The right to high-quality public education is pitting teachers against the entire political establishment and the two big-business parties, which defend the wealth and power of the ruling class," the World Socialist Web Site reports today.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Report shows 4 of 10 Oklahoma students need remediation in college

"Forty percent of Oklahoma's public high school graduates are not prepared for college-level work in at least one subject area when they arrive on campus," The Oklahoman reports today.
Of the 17,557 students who graduated in 2016 and entered an Oklahoma public college or university that fall, 7,119 enrolled in at least one remedial course. The number increased 1.5 percent from the previous year, according to the report to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
To see a complete list of remediation rates by high school site, click here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

$476 in union dues

Mike Antonucci has a new post showing the state dues levels for every NEA state affiliate for 2017-18. 

Oklahoma Education Association dues are $287, he reports, plus $189 for the NEA national dues. As for local affiliates, "there are roughly 13,000 local affiliates and their dues vary so widely—from zero to a lot—it’s impossible to gather them all."

Not surprisingly, many Oklahoma teachers cite cost as their reason for leaving the OEA.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Oklahoma’s cost-of-living-adjusted teacher pay now 11th in the nation

Thanks to the newly enacted teacher pay raise, Oklahoma's teacher pay now ranks an impressive 11th in the nation after adjusting for cost of living. This according to economist Byron Schlomach, director of the 1889 Institute. "An additional $3,900 raise, which teachers are demanding for a total of $10,000, would see Oklahoma’s cost-of-living-adjusted pay rise to fourth among the states," writes Dr. Schlomach, who is also a scholar-in-residence at the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at Oklahoma State University, an institute chartered by President Burns Hargis and the board of regents in 2015.

Dr. Schlomach's table is based on the NEA’s average salary figures for 2016 and the 2017 cost of living index calculated by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. He says the ranking "does not account for changes in other states’ averages such as the recent increase in West Virginia."