Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Bixby teachers union conducted ‘strategic’ voter targeting at district facility

"During Oklahoma’s primary election season, Bixby Public Schools administrators allowed school facilities to be used for political activities by a union Oklahoma Education Association affiliate, the Bixby Education Association," Jonathan Small writes in The Journal Record.
The BEA is a union that represents government employees and gives 40 percent of the dues it receives from teachers to their far-left affiliate, the National Education Association.

In fact, the BEA used schools to organize phone calls and door-to-door canvassing targeting a strategic list of voters. Asked about these activities, the BEA deleted references to targeting particular voters from its website and insisted they were just reminding people to vote.

That is hard to believe given how much adult interest groups like the BEA have at stake in shaping the debate. Organizations like the BEA have worked hard this year to shift education debates away from academics and toward funding. Their allies—including local school administrators—do everything they can to keep the public conversation focused on state government rather than on what local districts might do better.
Should education debates focus just on money? Are local administrators incapable of directing more resources to the classroom? Students might benefit from a public debate on these questions, but the interests of a handful of adults often trump the needs of students.

Bixby Public Schools was already a tragic example of adults protecting their own power and money at the expense of students and taxpayers. Last year, the district got caught mishandling sexual assault allegations in order to protect Superintendent Kyle Wood. The school board allowed him to retire with full benefits plus a $167,000 payout even though the alleged assaults took place at Wood’s own home.

Are Oklahoma public schools accountable?


It's not "accountability," I write over at Education Post, if no one is held accountable.

Claremore teacher charged with sexual battery

"A 24-year-old Claremore teacher was charged after allegedly being in an inappropriate relationship with a Claremore High School student," the Tulsa World reports.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Dysfunctional schools endanger kids


Over at the blog Fourth Generation Teacher, one former Oklahoma teacher tells why she hung it up. "I had to do it for my mental health and happiness," she says.

This young woman, who obviously has a heart for children, describes a dysfunctional school system in which the adults won't place some students in the proper educational setting and/or won't discipline them. "I had a fight every day between students," she says. One particular student, she says,
would hit the students, pull their hair, hit me, punch me, punch them, etc. ... I would get phone calls every day from parents about how much their kids were getting hurt by this little girl. Do I blame the little girl? Absolutely not. She is a child who is going through so much. Do I blame the school system for letting that happen? Yes. This same girl one day had a necklace around her neck in the gym in the morning she was “pretending” to choke herself. Knowing that she has tantrums, I was told by an administrator not to poke the bear and let her keep playing with it. Five minutes later I am taking my class back to my room, and I see her turning blue with that necklace wrapped around her neck and she can’t get it off. Thank God it had a snap and I pulled and ripped it off of her. She finally got placed ... in March. She was safer and she was happier. However, I saw our systems fail us when she was supposed to be there to begin with and no one thought it was crucial enough to keep not only her safe but my other students safe as well.
She tells of another violent student who "would kick, punch, choke, and hit students every day."
He would kick, push, and hit me most of the time too. He would throw chairs around the classroom. I would have to evacuate my classroom because of his violence at least twice a month. Daily, he would run out of the classroom around our three-story building. I would have to stop class to chase him and find him to keep him safe. Then I was told not to chase him, to let someone know. But even then, I’m worried for his safety. When I’d chase him, I wasn’t supposed to. When I wouldn’t chase him. I was supposed to. It was a damned if ya do and damned if ya don’t situation.
I had another student almost get kidnapped at my school. A coworker and I basically saved them, they were walking to a car with the wrong people. We got threatened by those people. Did anyone take it seriously? No. That same girl held scissors to her throat in the middle of class one day trying to cut herself. My class was in tears scared. That poor girl. She’s a first grader and feeling the need to do that.
Read the whole thing here.

Oklahoma teachers are the ones in the trenches every day; they're the ones with firsthand knowledge of school quality and safety. Is anyone surprised that, according to survey research that SoonerPoll conducted for the state's largest newspaper, nearly 4 in 10 Oklahoma teachers would choose a private school or homeschooling for their own children?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How beneficial is Oklahoma pre-K?

"Many consider Oklahoma a national leader in pre-K education," Greg Forster writes in a new policy brief, "but how beneficial are pre-K programs?"
The empirical evidence is very uneven in scientific quality, especially as compared with the evidence on other education policy issues like school choice. A careful review of the research reveals that the better the studies are in scientific quality, the less likely they are to find benefits. The potential of expanded pre-K to disrupt the parent/child bond must also be considered, especially since the increasing fragility of the household is a leading factor in the perpetuation of poverty. Any large-scale expansion of pre-K would involve large financial costs, doubtful benefits, and the potential for unintended social harm.

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.