Saturday, September 28, 2019

Don’t accept excuses — your child can learn to read

An OCPA policy brief last month reminded us that colleges of education are failing and offered proposals to improve teacher quality. Sadly, then, a story this week from Oklahoma Watch (“In Oklahoma, a Discredited Theory of Reading Is Widely Used”) came as no surprise.

“In classrooms across Oklahoma and the nation,” Jennifer Palmer reports, “students are taught to read using a theory that has been discredited by decades of research by brain scientists.”

Hats off to Oklahoma Watch for shining a spotlight on this enormous problem. Think about it: fully 7 in 10 Oklahoma fourth-graders are not proficient in reading. The numbers are even worse for minority students. Many of these children, thinking there's something wrong with them, will go through life with unspeakable distress. As their frustration mounts, many will slide into delinquent behavior. Many are destined for welfare or prison.

Unfortunately, illiterate children grow up to become illiterate adults. As one longtime Oklahoma educator with a doctorate in education has pointed out: “More than 20 percent of our state’s population, or nearly 400,000 people, can’t read.”

This massive failure is as unnecessary as it is heartbreaking. “To teach a child to read properly is not difficult,” says author Douglas Wilson. “Local education professionals have made it seem difficult, and the entire process has been shrouded with arcane professional terminology. But the only term that concerned parents need to know and understand is phonics.” (Wilson’s 1991 book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning basically launched the modern-day classical Christian education movement.)

“It's almost a sin what we're doing to our children,” phonics tutor Sylvia Brown once told me. Mrs. Brown is a former public-school speech pathologist, assistant principal, and principal in Tulsa. “In my 30-some years of teaching, I have not met a child who couldn't read when we go to the basics and teach him his alphabet then teach him his sounds," she said."I haven't met one yet. Maybe there is one out there on this planet, but I don't believe there is."

Your child needs a strong foundation in phonics. He or she needs to be taught — in a direct, systematic, and intensive manner — how to match sounds with the letters that spell them.

In the words of world-renowned reading expert Siegfried Engelmann, a professor emeritus of education at the University of Oregon who died this year at the age of 87: “If your child is not reading by the end of the first grade and is not retarded (IQ below 75), do not accept excuses that blame your child.”

What to Do

I will discuss some schooling options below, but right up front it's important for you to know that you can do this yourself. My wife and I recommend Engelmann’s book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which we used with all of our children. You won’t regret it. As Susie told our oldest son when he graduated high school:
What stands out in my mind is that I was able to spend time with you. I am grateful that I got to be the one sitting next to you on the couch, listening as you slowly sounded out letters, words, and sentences. It was I who got to be the one to hear you read for the very first time.
Indeed, teaching your child to read may turn out to be the most fulfilling thing you'll ever do.

If your child is in a public school and is not learning to read, you must ask the school to give your child a firm foundation in phonics.

Another option is to seek out a private school, though you'll want to make sure it's one that provides a firm foundation in phonics. Don’t panic — private schooling is more affordable than you might think: according to The Journal Record's 2019 Oklahoma Policy Review, average private school tuition in Oklahoma is $4,588 for elementary schools and $6,140 for high schools. Moreover, scholarships are available. Oklahoma has two programs to choose from:

  ➤  Many students are eligible for a private-school scholarship funded by private donations (for which donors receive a state tax credit). Click here to learn more about the program. To explore schools, click here, here, or here, for example.

  ➤  Many students — special-education students, foster kids, children adopted out of state custody, and more — are eligible for a Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship. Click here to learn more about the program. (Ironically, many children shunted into special education are there only because of a teachin' deficit disorder: the grown-ups never taught these children how to read.)

As I've lamented for 25 years, school-produced illiteracy is a huge but underappreciated problem. "Men can always be blind to a thing," Chesterton observed, "so long as it is big enough." The illiteracy epidemic and its victims should be in the news every week, not only at Oklahoma Watch but in media across the state. 

Moreover, it's time for our state's political leaders to bring greater scrutiny to bear on those whom author and attorney Bruce Shortt has called "Oklahoma's crack team of government educators — the folks who spend billions of dollars a year to achieve heretofore unknown levels of semiliteracy and illiteracy among otherwise normal children."

Journalism and public policy aside, the main thing for parents is to make sure your child can read.

  • "We cannot continue to fail our students by not making explicit scientifically-based reading instruction a national priority," says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. And check out these MRI photos.
  • "There is no reason a child cannot read before they are in third grade, but our teachers have to teach based on the science of reading, and that is not happening across this state," says Oklahoma state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. "It is happening in pockets. ... No child needs to struggle to read if we are teaching them properly."
  • "Evidence shows that virtually anyone can learn to read if they are taught to associate letters with particular sounds (phonics) and that trying to teach students to read using the whole language approach works poorly," Erik Gilbert writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education ("How Ed Schools Became a Bastion of Bad Ideas"). "Still, colleges of education continue to resist phonics."
  • Joy Hofmeister weighed in on this topic again. "The science of reading is not being taught in every classroom," she said. "There are veteran teachers who believe they are teaching reading correctly, and actually some of the methods are compounding the difficulties with children who struggle to read. And they’re doing that without realizing it."
  • "[S]tate officials say many teachers still use reading-instruction theories that brain research has shown don’t work and can be detrimental," Oklahoma Watch reports. "We see that struggle persist year after year," says state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. "We can overcome dyslexia and other struggles only through explicit systematic phonics instruction."

Friday, September 27, 2019

OKC student headbutted teacher in the chin

"Oklahoma City police said a John Marshall Middle School student has been arrested for allegedly assaulting a teacher," News 9 reports.
The teacher said it all started when he noticed a group of students skipping class. “Maybe 12-15 students just running up and down the hallways, not in class,” the teacher said. “So, I used the in-class intercom to call the office and said, ‘Hey, we need an administrator down here.’”

The teacher said one student physically ran into him and began a physical and verbal altercation, when the unexpected happened. “(I) got him to his feet, stiffened his arms, and put his head down,” said the teacher. “(I) got into a fighting stance and (the student) headbutted me right in the chin.”

A school resource officer arrived immediately as did the new school principal. There was no doubt in the teacher’s mind that he would have the student arrested and facing assault and battery charges.

“I think there just needs to be some consequences for their (student) actions when they are not being held accountable, and they know that,” the teacher said. “Now that they know that, the culture has been created within the school where the students know how far I can go, I can go pretty far and not have anything done.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Child abuse, education-establishment style

Climate change is not the major threat to children, writes former teacher Larry Sand.

'We have individuals that would like to come into schools and do everyone harm'

"We have individuals that would like to come into schools and do everyone harm, from our kids to our teachers and anyone that’s around," teacher-union boss Ed Allen tells KFOR.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Spoils system: ‘Government employees pick their politicians’

"One of the key challenges for education reformers is the huge size of the government school monopoly as a 'reverse patronage' employer," Greg Forster explains ("The government school monopoly as reverse patronage program").
The power of entrenched education special interests is not only, or even primarily, in the money collected through such means as union dues. The single greatest political obstacle to education reform is the large number of people who get their jobs from the status quo, and will therefore show up during elections to vote and volunteer for politicians who will protect the status quo. ...

Every smart legislator finds out who the big employers in their district are and pays close attention to their concerns. This isn’t primarily about seeking to please the employers in hopes of getting their campaign donations (although it is that, too); it’s primarily about seeking to please the employees in hopes of getting their votes. And in virtually every legislative district in the United States, one of the biggest local employers is the government school monopoly.

This system gives us what we might call "reverse patronage." In the 19th century, under the patronage system, hiring and firing in most government jobs was directly controlled by political officeholders. Politicians in each party would hire their party’s people to staff the government from top to bottom. (On one famous occasion, Abraham Lincoln kept his Civil War generals waiting while he attended to more important business: deciding which party faction to give control of a Post Office appointment.) Each change of party would bring massive turnover. This was also called the “spoils system” because government jobs were like the spoils of war for whoever won the election. 
In short, Forster explains, "In the government school monopoly, we have a reverse form of patronage. Instead of politicians picking their government employees, government employees pick their politicians."

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Anti-bullying bill sidelined as bullying problem grows

Ray Carter has the story.

Only 57 percent of Tulsa students feel safe at school

"Half of Tulsa Public Schools students felt like they 'belonged' last year, while 57% reported feeling safe at school," the Tulsa World reports.
Monday’s presentation also revealed that 33.2% of third-grade students last year were proficient in reading, compared to 34% in 2017-18. ... Further, 26.1% of TPS students were proficient in both reading and math last year, which was behind the district’s goal of 27%. The number of 11th graders meeting SAT benchmarks in math and English language arts has declined from 33% in 2018 to 27% in 2019.

School cancelled for Yukon Public Schools due to threats

FOX 25 has the story.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Parents suing Broken Arrow Public Schools and former teacher over molestation charges

"Parents of four Broken Arrow students are suing a former elementary school teacher and the school district," KJRH reports. "The lawsuit alleges that the school district was negligent and did not provide a safe learning environment for the students."

Saturday, September 7, 2019

‘I'm absolutely against it’: Stitt disapproves of school districts hiring lobbyists

"Four school districts—Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Bixby, and Jenks—spent nearly $200,000 combined in taxpayer funding on contract lobbyists during the 2018-2019 school year," Ray Carter reports. "Those lobbyists were hired even as the four districts were also paying thousands more to a range of organizations that employ numerous other lobbyists on behalf of the school districts."
Gov. Kevin Stitt
That school tax dollars are being expended on contract lobbyists has raised a host of concerns, and critics of the practice include Gov. Kevin Stitt, who issued an executive order this year that banned similar practices at state agencies. “If a state agency or a school district is using taxpayer dollars to hire a lobbyist, I’m absolutely against it,” Stitt said in an interview. “If I found out that the school districts are using taxpayer dollars to hire lobbyists, 100 percent I’m going to call them out on it. I’m going to share with Oklahomans what’s happening. It’s just counterproductive. What are they lobbying for? We have the best interests of our children at heart, and to hire a lobbyist to monitor legislation or use tax dollars to muddy the water at the Capitol, I just don’t see it as being productive.”
For their part, some school officials defend the practice. But it does raise concerns about indirect funneling of taxpayer dollars to political campaigns, as well as concerns about open-records laws. Sadly, the practice is not uncommon nationwide.

It's a classic case of what a former adviser to the Oklahoma Speaker of the House called taking your money and lobbying for more of your money.

OKC teacher was trampled at school, is now plagued with anxiety

"Another teacher injured was at John Marshall Middle School," News 9 reports.
Miranda Bradley, an 8th grade English teacher, said she was supposed to go back to work Wednesday, but the thought of returning to that environment is giving her severe anxiety. 
Bradley said bruises all over her body are the result of a fight in the cafeteria at John Marshall Middle School back on August 22. “It was madness,” she recalled. “Pandemonium. And I finally made my way out. And not seconds after I got out of the cafeteria, here come the kids behind me. And I got trampled. I fell and then they trampled me.” 
When she finally went to the doctor, she was also diagnosed with a concussion and sprained wrist. But even worse, she said, is the crippling anxiety. 
“I’m covered in hives. I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. My blood pressure is through the roof,” said Bradley.

Accuser says superintendent paid teachers for sex

Longtime Peckham school district Superintendent Gary Young "is accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with young children as well as current and former students and staff members, including one staffer who said she received poor evaluations when she rejected his sexual advances," The Oklahoman reports. The state Department of Education has received a complaint that Young had an inappropriate relationship with one teacher who, based on her degree and years of experience, should be paid a minimum salary of $47,531 but instead is paid $87,849, plus an additional $9,097 as a support employee.

Friday, September 6, 2019

To help with childhood trauma, expand school choice

"Expanding school choice is not an alternative to providing greater access to effective trauma services," Greg Forster writes. "It is the best way to provide greater access to effective trauma services. Even better, it would greatly reduce the number of children who need such services in the first place."

Critic of virtual schools has degree from online university

An Oklahoma lawmaker who has been critical of virtual charter schools holds a doctorate from a for-profit online university that was subsequently closed amid claims it was a diploma mill. 

(For what it's worth, the late North Korean dictator Kim il-Sung holds an honorary degree from the same university.)

ChoiceMatters is helping bullied kids find a different school

The organization's director, Robert Ruiz, knows firsthand about the problems of bullying and school violence.

News flash: Competition works

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

Here’s a statement few people will dispute: Competition works. Yet when it comes to education, some policymakers and most public school employees act as though the way to improve the quality of service to families and their children is to limit their taxpayer-funded choices to just one local option.

Proof to the contrary can be seen in the rash of schools now offering 100-percent online education.

For several years now, a handful of online charter schools have offered students an online education. The biggest and most well-known of those providers has been Epic Charter Schools.

Parents have been choosing online learning even though the per-pupil spending at online charter schools is significantly less than the per-pupil spending at a traditional brick-and-mortar public school.

The number of people pursuing K-12 learning online in Oklahoma is astounding. Epic alone reports roughly 24,000 students statewide this year. Those families have chosen online learning for many different reasons, but some of the most commonly cited are the greater range of course offerings, the special needs of children, and bullying problems at local schools.

Chances are you know a family with children who have benefited from online schooling. Because state funding follows students, the exodus to online charter schools has had financial consequences for traditional districts. Now those schools have been forced to step up their game.

At Sapulpa, the local school is offering a virtual academy that provides students “full or partial online delivery of instruction with an element of student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of learning.”

Sound familiar?

Noble Public Schools’ virtual academy provides a 100-percent online education but still lets online students participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, band, and chorus.

Norman Public Schools now offers students “the flexibility to complete all of their coursework outside the traditional school building” through online learning.

Union Public Schools has launched Union Virtual for students in grades 6-12. Sand Springs offers online learning. Broken Arrow offers a full-time online program. So does Lawton. So does Ponca City. And so do others. The list goes on and on.

This is a huge change occurring across Oklahoma to the benefit of students and their families. And the rapid pace of this change is being driven by competition from just a handful of online charter schools.

Policymakers should not simply celebrate this success, but build on it by expanding school-choice opportunities. If the modest level of competition produced by a small group of online providers can create this kind of change, imagine what would happen if Oklahoma had a truly robust education market competing for all students. Then the boom in online learning would be only a hint of better things to come.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

School choice saved, changed Oklahoma boy's life

"My oldest son—a well-behaved, honor-roll student—attempted to take his own life," writes an Oklahoma mom.
Internal struggles had changed school from a place of learning to a place of fear and despair for him. Feeling trapped, he almost succeeded in taking his own life and shattering ours. 
Following this near tragedy a few important things happened: My son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a diagnosis that helped him understand why he was feeling so lost. And I moved him and my two other children out of public school and into a virtual public school where they could learn in an environment better suited to their needs.

Amid riots, pepper spray, handcuffs, 11-year-olds 'too scared to go back' to OKCPS middle school

"The Oklahoma City School District says they are making big changes to combat the violence at John Marshall Middle School, but some parents told News 9 they still don't feel safe sending their kids there," News 9 reports.
Those parents said they are permanently pulling their kids out of the school. The district said 34 students have left the school since the beginning of the year. The district spokesperson also said that some of those students may have been waiting for transfer approval.

Eleven-year-old Ezekiel and his buddy Joshua were not at school on Tuesday. They're supposed to be 5th graders at John Marshall Middle School. According to their parents, they are too scared to go back. "The second day of school there was a fight that broke out while he was on his way to his classroom and he ended up getting hit," said Veronica Murphy, Ezekiel’s mother. "They’ve never been in a school like this before," added Etta Dunlap. "Nor seen the riots, the pepper spray from police tactics, the tasering of kids. They put the kids in handcuffs."

Oologah students create device to help students during school shooting

The News on 6 has the story.