Monday, April 30, 2018

No, teachers are not underpaid

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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."

UPDATE: An Oologah-Talala High School teacher is also accused of having sex with a student at his house during the teacher walkout.

'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."

Bernie Bros are on board

Monday, April 2, 2018

Socialist website calls for solidarity

"Everyone who wants to see education justice and a revived working class movement needs to support the Oklahoma teachers and public workers," Elizabeth Lalasz writes for