Friday, October 16, 2020

Why is Epic popular?

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

Ask the average citizen what they know about Epic Charter Schools, an online public K-12 school, and you’ll typically hear two responses. First, the school’s critics are vocal, fierce, and determined to shut down Epic, and second, the school is increasingly popular among parents.

Some will consider those two facts incompatible. Why would parents flock to a school that is constantly under fire from bureaucrats and teacher unions who regularly remind us they know better than the rest of us? The answer is simple. Because parents believe that Epic provides a better educational product than many local brick-and-mortar schools, particularly in the state’s urban centers. If Epic’s back-end business functions have been questioned by a flawed state audit that encouraged Epic to make inaccurate calculations, that’s of little concern to parents focused on the welfare of their child.

One parent of an Epic student, addressing members of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, put it bluntly: “A lot of the parents that are inside Epic think that brick-and-mortar schools are mad because they’ve had too many kids pulled from them and they’re losing too much money and they’re trying to get Epic shut down.”

Due in part to COVID-19 and the continued closure of many physical school sites, along with the bad-to-terrible online alternatives provided by local districts, families have flocked to Epic this year. The district now serves more than 61,000 students—all of whom proactively chose the school—making Epic Oklahoma’s largest school by enrollment.

The demand for Epic’s services shows parents desire parental school choice. Those who feel Epic has gained an outsized role are often people who oppose parental school choice. But if we truly care about parents and families having access to the school they believe best meets their student’s needs, we need to increase the length of the school-choice menu.

Lawmakers should provide families the ability to use their tax funding at any school of their choice. If a local district won’t provide in-person instruction, allow families to transfer to other districts or private schools without restriction or penalty. When a local district is failing to educate children, let families use tax dollars for private-school enrollment. When a district refuses to stop bullying, let a child choose from a wide range of online, charter, public, and private school options.

Consumer choice and competition generate improvement in all other fields. They can do the same thing in education. But right now many families have only two choices: the local traditional school or a statewide online charter school.

The great challenge in education today is not whether Epic used the proper accounting codes for administrative expenses (the main allegation contained in the flawed state audit), but the fact that tens of thousands of families have demonstrated a strong desire for a greater array of parental school choice options for their children.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Parents furious after 4-year-old found walking home alone

"A local couple wants to see Hennessey Public Schools make some changes after their young son got locked out of his school and tried to walk home alone," KFOR reports.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The educational roots of injustice

"We employ millions of people and spend billions of dollars a year on K-12 schools and higher education," Greg Forster writes. "Yet those schools have been extensively colonized by pedagogical quackery and political claptrap connected to the radical left, and our society has failed to reproduce in its young people a commitment to even its most basic civilizational ideals. Through universal school choice, we can return control of K-12 education to families."

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Three former Ponca City coaches face sexual misconduct charges

"An investigation at Ponca City High School has been cracked wide open with the now-former head wrestling coach, an assistant coach, and a volunteer coach all facing a slew of charges including rape, harassment, and placing a child for prostitution," KFOR reports.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tulsa schools include ‘social justice’ in staff training

"A recent training program at Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) advised teachers to incorporate 'social justice' into all courses, including subjects such as physical education and math," Ray Carter reports.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Lawmakers’ request is an attack on needy children

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

State House Democrats have asked Attorney General Mike Hunter for an opinion on whether it is legal to use federal funds to help low-income (and often minority) students attend private schools. Yet that question has been asked and answered—in the affirmative—repeatedly.

Earlier this year Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, providing hundreds of millions to state governments for COVID-19 response. Oklahoma education entities were among the recipients with public schools getting $160 million, state colleges—both public and private—getting another $159 million, and nearly $40 million placed in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.

Stitt designated $10 million in GEER funding for his “Stay in School” program. That program is expected to provide more than 1,500 Oklahoma families with up to $6,500 apiece for private-school tuition. That’s a bargain compared to roughly $9,200 apiece that would otherwise be spent educating those kids in public schools.

The beneficiaries of the “Stay in School” program will include homeless children, teens recovering from addiction through a “sober school,” and low-income minority children from the state’s urban core. Apparently, some House Democrats see that as a bad thing and are trying their best to now deprive those children of educational opportunity.

But Democrats are doing so based on a legal foundation that makes quicksand look like bedrock.

The section of the CARES Act governing GEER Funds states that governors are authorized to support not only local public schools but also any other “education-related entity” the governor “deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld government programs that allow children to attend private schools, declaring, “We have repeatedly held that the Establishment Clause is not offended when religious observers and organizations benefit from neutral government programs.”

Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a brief in one such recent U.S. Supreme Court case. Hunter said prohibitions on uses of state funds for religious purposes do not prohibit aid to students who then attend private religious schools.

Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court referenced Hunter’s brief in its ruling, and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) awarded its 2020 U.S. Supreme Court Best Brief Award to Hunter’s Solicitor General Unit for that brief.

Also, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has found that taxpayer funds can support students who attend private schools—and their ruling was unanimous.

Put simply, there is no question about the legality of the “Stay in School” program.

Even as the debate over “Stay in School” funding continues, federal CARES Act funds have gone to private colleges such as the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma City University. But Democrats have voiced no objection to supporting those private colleges with federal funds, only to using federal cash to aid some of the neediest children in Oklahoma.

Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Aiming for universal school choice

"Universal choice is the principled—and pragmatic—education policy," Greg Forster writes. "Every Oklahoma family that wants choice should have it—now."

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Did the education system play a role in our current cultural unrest?

Protesters set up a guillotine outside the home of billionaire Jeff Bezos on June 28, 2020. A flyer promoting the march
on Bezos's home called for an end to his "abuse and profiteering" and to "abolish the police, the prisons, and Amazon."

In a recent survey, likely Oklahoma voters were asked: "Do you agree or disagree that the current cultural unrest is rooted in what our students have learned in the public education system?"

As you can see here, Republicans and Democrats differ sharply. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Notable GOP support for school choice

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

In politics, as in retail, consumer demand drives product selection, only politicians offer policies rather than baked goods. So it’s notable that multiple speakers strongly advocated for school choice policies every night of the recent Republican National Convention.

That type of strong, vocal support only happens when politicians are certain a policy is both popular and beneficial, as several speakers demonstrated.
Survey research consistently shows strong support
for school choice among Oklahoma Republicans.

Sarah Hughes, whose eight-year-old son is a beneficiary of a Wisconsin school choice program, told national viewers her son “would have slipped through the cracks in public schools” but now has been provided the educational opportunity that will allow him “to succeed.”

Tera Myers, whose son has Down syndrome and is a beneficiary of an Ohio school-choice program, likewise noted her son says school choice “helped my dreams come true” and allowed him to become the “best I can be.”

Such stories are not outliers, nor are they isolated to places far from Oklahoma. Our state has seen dramatic success stories generated by school choice.

For example, in north Tulsa this year Crossover Preparatory Academy continued educating students through distance means when Tulsa Public Schools effectively threw in the towel, other than having online review of past content.

Many of the low-income, all-male and mostly minority students at Crossover Preparatory Academy in north Tulsa attend that private school because of a state tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

The benefits of their private-school education can be seen by comparing those students to their socio-economic counterparts still in Tulsa Public Schools. A TPS official recently told the State Board of Education that district now expects that kids “who might otherwise have been predicted to be two years below grade level” are instead going to be “approximately three years below grade level.”

The kids at Crossover still have opportunities thanks to education, but many kids in TPS do not and will pay the price for years.

Former state Rep. Jason Nelson, who helped create a state program that pays for children with special needs to attend private schools, has reported some parents “have told me that it saved their child’s life.” That is not hyperbole. Oklahoma’s school-choice programs have served children with special needs, teens recovering from addiction, survivors of horrendous childhood abuse, and more. School-choice has not only changed lives but saved them.

As the nation grapples with issues of inequality, one of the best paths forward is to expand school choice in Oklahoma and elsewhere. As Donald Trump Jr. bluntly noted, if officials really want to “help minorities in underserved communities,” the best option is to “let parents choose what school is best for their kids.”

Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president, noted at the RNC that education “is the great equalizer.” He’s right. It’s time we give all students of all races and economic backgrounds a greater chance at success through school choice.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

While teachers' kids get special treatment, other Oklahoma parents are out of luck

In some Oklahoma school districts (Oklahoma City, Norman, and Owasso, for example), "teachers and other staff are allowed to bring their children to physical school sites and the district provides adult supervision of those pupils' on-site 'distance' learning," Ray Carter reports. 

The special treatment given to the children of school staff has not gone unnoticed by other parents. But the perception of special treatment may be the least of the problems created by the program. Benjamin Lepak, a legal fellow at the 1889 Institute who previously provided counsel to 24 elected officials across three counties while working for a district attorney, said such arrangements appear to violate the Oklahoma Constitution.

It's small wonder that Oklahoma voters, by a margin of two to one, say that if schools don’t open in the fall, parents should be able to take their tax dollars and go to another school.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Choice is what parents need in the era of COVID

"School choice is not a magic wand that removes tradeoffs and hard choices," Greg Forster writes. "But it allows parents to make the tradeoffs that make sense to them."

Monday, August 31, 2020

School choice highlighted at RNC

At the recently concluded Republican National Convention, numerous speakers stressed the importance of school choice. The topic was mentioned every day of the convention, by multiple speakers.

Oklahoma government funds controversial sex-ed curriculum

"Many 'age-appropriate' and 'abstinence-based' sexual education courses in public schools are far more graphic than parents realize, and often stretch the meaning of the word 'abstinence' to include a wide range of sexual activity," Ray Carter reports. "One sex-ed program criticized by officials is allowed in Oklahoma schools and funded by a state agency."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Private-sector forces create a government success

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

After having been at the bottom of the barrel, Oklahoma now ranks in the top 10 for bridge conditions, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration. That success is the result not of government, but primarily of private-sector forces. And similar improvements can be generated elsewhere by taking advantage of market forces and the benefits of competition.

In 2004, nearly 1,200 of Oklahoma’s 6,800 highway bridges were considered structurally deficient. Today, only 86 highway bridges are considered structurally deficient, and each is already scheduled for improvements through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year construction plan.

Increased funding was a component of that successful turnaround—but only one component. The more important factor was reliance on private-sector competition to generate improvement.

How? The state’s eight-year road plan has an equal emphasis on performance and outcomes, along with funding. Notably, ODOT uses state funds to pay private entities to perform the work. That’s not a minor detail.

ODOT’s contracts include bonus pay for high-performance and, on the flip side, the agency can and does fire contractors who don’t live up to expectations. Imagine that.

Thus, this is a “government success” built almost entirely on free-market competition and the superior service produced by the private sector. It’s a success that can be duplicated elsewhere.

Each year it is common for education advocates to call for the creation of an eight-year plan for schools. Yet those advocates typically want a plan focused only on increased funding, not increased funding tethered to increased reliance on competition and private-sector providers. But the road-and-bridge plan shows such competition is crucial.

If school funding were increased each year, with parents allowed to use their taxpayer dollars to choose a child’s school (public or private), we would quickly see improvement in education that matches the improvement in state bridges. When pay is tied to educational outcomes for children, providers quickly show they can provide better outcomes—knowing that if they don’t, bad providers will be let go.

Such choice is especially important now as many districts are ignoring the needs of children by telling parents they can go online-only or do without. Notably, in the urban areas where such take-it-or-leave-it edicts are coming from public schools, most private schools are finding a way to safely offer in-person instruction. Those private schools do so because their pay is tied to consumer needs, not bureaucrats’ wants.

There’s a reason Oklahoma’s eight-year plan for roads succeeded when the old Soviet Union’s five-year plans generated only misery. One relies on private-sector forces, while the other trusted government bureaucrats over market forces.

As Oklahomans rightly celebrate our top 10 ranking in roads, they have reason to note our continued low ranking elsewhere, including education, and then ask this question: Why not copy success?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Oklahomans say per-student funding should follow the student

By a two-to-one margin, Oklahomans say that if schools don’t open in the fall, parents should be able to take their tax dollars and go to another school. This according to a statewide survey of active likely voters conducted August 10–13, 2020. The survey, with a sample size of 630 and a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent, was commissioned by OCPA and conducted by Cor Strategies (script here, results here, methodology here).

Voters were also asked about their view of homeschooling: “With COVID-19 forcing many parents to pursue home-based education solutions, would you say your opinion on homeschooling has become more or less favorable as a result of the coronavirus?”
  • Much more favorable ... 31%
  • Somewhat more favorable ... 26%
  • Total more favorable ... 57%
  • Somewhat less favorable ... 11%
  • Much less favorable ... 15%
  • Total less favorable ... 26%
  • Unsure ... 18%
The “more favorable” view prevailed among Republicans (62% more favorable, 21% less favorable), Independents (51% more favorable, 28% less favorable), and Democrats (52% more favorable, 28% less favorable).

Friday, August 7, 2020

The cost of 'free' education becoming unaffordable

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

What if you paid for a service, were then told the service would not be provided, that you wouldn’t get your money back, and that you are now expected to pay for the same service again? That’s the reality facing parents in Oklahoma school districts that have refused to reopen physical sites and are instead mandating distance learning for all.

Through numerous taxes, Oklahomans have already paid for children’s education. But now they are being told they will pay for much of that service a second time, either directly or indirectly.

To cite one example, this week Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that $15 million in federal funding will be used to launch 30 community centers to serve roughly 4,200 children. The centers will have mental health professionals, social workers, virtual learning tools such as computers and iPads, meals and snacks, a weekend backpack program, and other programming to support families.

Put simply, Oklahoma is spending $15 million to provide many services that have already been funded through other taxes and would normally be provided in schools. Stitt’s plan is necessary only because some public schools refuse to reopen.

Families will directly pay additional costs due to continued school shutdown.

Many parents must work and now must also ensure their children’s safety while they are gone. Some will hire babysitters—another added cost of schooling. But many will not be able to afford that alternative, so some parents may have to quit a job to stay home with children. That’s a huge financial burden for many families and an insurmountable one for many single-parent households.

In some homes, older siblings will be left in charge of younger siblings, but that’s obviously not ideal and cause for concern.

Churches and other civic organizations will no doubt step up and provide places for children to stay that are safe. Once again, however, that requires spending additional money that will not go to other uses.

Officials at schools that are going online-only claim they want to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure, yet in many instances, parents will be forced to rely on alternatives that still involve large gatherings of children during the day, just in non-school settings.

As a result, the virtual-only model will do little to reduce potential COVID exposure among children, who are not very susceptible to the virus anyway, and the online-only model will increase the cost of education for families who can least afford to bear additional financial burdens.

This highlights the continued need for education choice in Oklahoma. Parents should be allowed to use their education tax dollars to send their children to the school of their choice. Otherwise, the cost of “free” public education will only continue to skyrocket as the service provided to parents declines.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Tulsa Public Schools teacher arrested for lewd proposal to minor

KTUL has the story.

Oklahoma lawmaker sees 'looming crisis' of double-counted students

It's no secret that Oklahoma taxpayers are paying to educate "ghost students" in numerous school districts.

Now state Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Bristow), to his great credit, is sounding the alarm that the number of double-counted students is about to increase dramatically.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Stitt addresses real need with education plan

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell are pictured here outside the state Capitol with students and staff from Crossover Preparatory Academy after the State of the State address on February 3, 2020.

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

Governor Kevin Stitt’s background as a businessman is often apparent in his understanding of financial realities that traditional politicians ignore. Hence, the governor’s willingness to save, rather than spend, much of last year’s budget surplus.

But Stitt’s “Stay in School” initiative highlights another benefit of his private-sector expertise: the governor’s understanding that Oklahoma cannot afford to squander human capital.

Stitt’s plan uses $10 million in federal COVID funding to help low-income families served by private schools. More than 1,500 Oklahoma families will be able to access $6,500 apiece to attend private schools.

Contrary to teacher-union wailing, Stitt isn’t “starving” public schools in the process. The $10 million is a small share of the state’s overall $360 million in federal funding designated for education response to COVID-19.

But even if that wasn’t the case, there’s good reason to praise Stitt’s bold leadership. A longstanding problem in Oklahoma (and nationwide) is the existence of a huge academic achievement gap between low-income students in the urban core and their counterparts from higher-income households.

That gap is often a canyon. To cite just one brutal example, just 22 male African American senior students finished Tulsa Public Schools college-ready in 2015, based on ACT testing. Not 22 percent, mind you, but 22 young men—period.

That gap exists not because those children are somehow incapable of learning, but because the system fails them. And experts agree the COVID shutdown last spring made things worse. Across Oklahoma, many schools effectively stopped teaching in March. Higher-income families could afford to offset that loss with private tutoring or the purchase of quality online programing, but lower-income students were often left to fend for themselves.

Often—but not always.

Some of Oklahoma’s private schools had stepped up to the plate long before anyone had heard of COVID. Crossover Preparatory Academy serves mostly working-class minority male students in grades six through nine in north Tulsa. Those students continued to learn even after public schools effectively shut down. So did homeless children served by Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City and the low-income, predominantly minority students served by Cristo Rey OKC Catholic High School.

Students at all three of those schools are expected to benefit from Stitt’s “Stay in School” initiative.

In contrast, many of Oklahoma’s urban schools are expected to remain closed and offer only online learning for at least nine weeks of this school year. An analysis by consultants at McKinsey and Company estimated that if in-class instruction does not resume until January 2021, low-income students will lose more than a full year of learning because of poor quality or non-existent online instruction.

The “COVID slide” has been called the “summer slide on steroids.” Stitt’s plan provides real hope to needy families who would otherwise be dragged down by that academic avalanche.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Generation Citizen disapproves of Trump directive on illegal aliens

A directive from President Trump bans the counting of illegal aliens for the purpose of congressional apportionment. The inaptly named Generation Citizen, a liberal nonprofit active in Oklahoma classrooms, disapproves of the president's action.

OKC public schools training equates racism to COVID-19

"A mental-health training event conducted this week by Oklahoma City Public Schools declares that violence against racial minorities is a pandemic comparable to COVID-19," Ray Carter reports. "The event—“Back to School 2020: Mental Health in the Dual Pandemics of COVID-19 & Systemic Racism”—is being conducted on July 27 and 28."

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Bee can really sting

Oologah-Talala's response to student abuse raises questions

"Officials from the Oologah-Talala Public Schools, recently rebuked by the State Board of Education for failing to take seriously repeated accusations of sexual misconduct by teachers, provided an update to state board members during the group’s Thursday meeting," Ray Carter reports. "But details of that update, combined with the sometimes-defiant tone of the presentation, may have raised additional questions about whether the district is taking the sexual-abuse-allegations issue seriously."

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Are teachers unions' reactions to coronavirus accidentally creating school choice?

"Paradoxically," writes Lindsey Burke, "the teachers unions may be enabling the free-market, parent-driven reform of K-12 education to unfold."

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Education opportunity to increase statewide under Stitt plan

"In an announcement that gained praise from national education leaders, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Friday he will use millions of dollars in federal COVID funds to increase educational opportunity across Oklahoma, boosting financial resources for students, families, and schools across the state," Ray Carter reports.
Among other things, Stitt’s plan will boost online course offerings in rural schools, close the digital divide for low-income families by assisting with technology purchases, and provide scholarship assistance so low-income students who already attend private schools can continue doing so. ...
Stitt’s plan will use $30 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, authorized by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to pay for three new programs. GEER funds represent a portion of total federal COVID-19 funding provided to the state of Oklahoma and are controlled by the governor. Oklahoma received $360 million total in federal funding for Oklahoma’s public education systems to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, of which $39.9 million was directed to the GEER Fund.

Thirty million dollars will be divided between three new education initiatives: Learn Anywhere Oklahoma, Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, and Stay in School Funds.
Here's a primer on how to use the digital wallet:

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bigots lose, school choice wins, today at Supreme Court

"Religious bigotry is one reason we have 'public schools' in the United States," Trent England writes. "Government-run schools with compulsory attendance were developed as a tool to wipe out minority religious views. That conflict continues, and today the Supreme Court sided with religious minorities in a dispute that arose in Montana but that also helps protect a program in Oklahoma."

"Espinoza buttresses the already favorable educational choice environment in Oklahoma," the Institute for Justice points out.
In Oliver v. Hofmeister, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld a publicly funded scholarship program for students with disabilities under the state’s Blaine Amendment because the program was neutral toward religion and the aid was for the child. Espinoza reinforces that Oklahoma is free to enact any type of generally available educational choice program its policymakers believe will best serve the state’s students.

U.S. Supreme Court upholds tax-credit scholarship program

Ray Carter has the story.

OKCPS to create school clubs that will be BLM chapters

KOKH has the story.

Teacher unions seek police ouster from schools

"Teacher unions are among those now seeking to have police evicted from public schools as activists decry those officers’ presence as a sign of 'systemic racism,'" Ray Carter reports.

Friday, June 26, 2020

State board of education reprimands Oologah-Talala for teacher misconduct cases

"Oologah-Talala Public Schools had its state accreditation placed on probation Thursday and its local school board and superintendent are being publicly reprimanded by the Oklahoma State Board of Education," the Tulsa World reports. "Representatives of the Rogers County school district were first summoned before the state board in October, citing their handling of four separate cases of teacher 'misconduct of a sexual nature involving students' over the last four years."

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Lockdown proves value of school choice

Some wealthy public school districts, where geographic boundaries have the effect of keeping education segregated, enjoy lavish facilities—such as this $2 million Deer Creek media center that boasts its own café. Private schools like Crossover Prep in north Tulsa cannot afford such things but nevertheless responded well to the COVID lockdown.

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

When schools in Oklahoma and nationwide transitioned to distance learning in April in response to COVID-19, many schools simply stopped teaching students. Recent polling indicates parents noticed—and aren’t happy with that fact.

A recent RealClear Opinion Research nationwide survey found 40 percent of families are now more likely to homeschool or use virtual school after the COVID lockdowns. The desire for alternatives is understandable given how many traditional schools handled their duties during the shutdown. In too many cases, schools simply stopped teaching new material or even grading lessons that students were asked to complete.

And that trend was not a product of the “digital divide” that makes online learning more challenging for low-income students. In fact, some of the state’s wealthiest suburbs were among those who did the least for students.

Norman Public Schools informed parents and students that “no grades will be taken on activities assigned during distance learning.” Longtime journalist and Edmond parent Ted Streuli noted in a column that 90 percent of homes in Edmond have internet access, yet he wrote that students in that suburban school were asked to cover only “material they’ve already mastered” that “doesn’t count” because it was not graded.

Insufficient technical expertise was not the chief barrier. EPIC Charter Schools, the state’s largest online K-12 provider, offered several free distance-learning tools to other Oklahoma public schools, including two hours of staff development. Reportedly, only four districts took EPIC up on that offer by the April start of the statewide school re-opening via distance learning.

In March, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education estimated that only 10 percent of schools nationwide would provide “any kind of real curriculum and instruction program.”

It turns out student demographics mattered less in this process than school officials’ grit and dedication. For example, Crossover Preparatory Academy, a private school in north Tulsa that serves mostly working-class minority male students in grades six through nine, continued teaching and grading new material. That school serves many students with significant economic challenges and a lack of home internet access, yet school officials found a way to serve those children anyway.

As a result, those young boys in north Tulsa received a better education this year than many of their affluent peers who attend suburban schools. The suburbs may have lavish facilities, but long-term benefit is generated by student learning, not school architecture.

Many students at Crossover attend that school thanks to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, which supports school-choice options for low-income students. Lawmakers had the chance to build on success and expand that program this year, but House Republican leaders refused to hear the bill even after the Senate passed it.

Perhaps House Republican leaders feel what happened to students in Edmond and Norman should be the standard statewide. But polling suggests that parents, in Oklahoma and elsewhere, disagree.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Are House Republican leaders dishonest or ignorant?

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

If this year is like most election years, Oklahomans will receive campaign mailers from state Republicans decrying Washington, D.C.-style politics and proclaiming themselves fiscal conservatives. But in this year’s session—primarily because of House Republican leaders—lawmakers fully embraced D.C. politics and abandoned responsible financial stewardship.

Few things highlight this sad reality more than House Republicans’ decision to increase Oklahoma’s unfunded liability by advancing an unfunded “cost of living adjustment” (COLA) for retired state government workers—a transparent election-year ploy to buy votes with other people’s money.

The negative consequences for working families will be significant.

When Democrats controlled the Legislature, they also advanced unfunded COLAs in election years. That ultimately drained pensions so fast Oklahoma ranked 47th among the 50 states by 2007.

Between 2000 and 2010 the unfunded liability of Oklahoma’s state pensions increased from $6 billion to $16 billion. Things got so bad that by 2010 actuaries predicted the teachers’ retirement plan would never achieve fully funded status.

However, when the GOP won power, that first generation of Republican legislative leaders—who not only touted conservatism on the campaign trail but practiced it in office—began reforming pensions. One major reform, abandoned this year by House Republican “leaders,” was to ban the raiding of pension assets through unfunded COLAs.

Major progress has since been achieved, but—contrary to the fiscal fairy tales offered by some lawmakers—state pensions are still far from whole. Oklahoma’s government pensions started the year with $7.8 billion in unfunded liabilities. That figure is larger now thanks to the unfunded COLA.

The teachers’ retirement system, in particular, faces major challenges. The teachers’ system already had more money going out in benefit payments than what was coming in through employee and employer contributions. The system must make up the difference with investment earnings. Now, those earnings are reeling due to the stock-market collapse tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma portfolio has declined by $1 billion since June 30, 2019, and its funded status has fallen from 72.3 percent to around 64 percent.

The unfunded COLA further drained system assets, adding an estimated $400 million in unfunded liability to the teachers’ system.

I am a CPA who previously served on the board of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, so I understand what those numbers represent: reduced benefits for current teachers upon their retirement, diversion of funds from schools and other needs to retirement systems in the future, and tax increases for working families to cover unfunded liabilities (or some combination of all three).

When incumbent Republicans dismiss the hard financial realities created by their raid of pension assets—done amidst a global pandemic when the livelihoods of working Oklahoma families are being decimated—citizens must ask if those lawmakers are willfully ignorant of financial reality or deliberately misleading constituents. Those are the only two possible answers, and neither inspires voter confidence.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Never let a crisis go to waste

A Tulsa nonprofit organization is working “to make sex education as accessible as possible for youth and families in our community to engage with during the COVID-19 pandemic.” One featured item is a coloring book with the typical pronoun propaganda (not to mention words that are inappropriate for children who are young enough to like coloring books). The organization coordinates programs for Tulsa Public Schools, Tulsa Union, and other districts.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

School-choice foe arrested for lewd proposals to a minor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Why indeed?

The academic and social benefits of homeschooling

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

Saturday, May 9, 2020

How big a Department of Education does Oklahoma need?

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

Friday, May 1, 2020

COVID chaos requires bold reforms

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 27, 2020

Calls to change absentee voting process raise fraud concerns

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

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Literature review shows positive academic outcomes for homeschoolers

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

The case against homeschool regulation

Kerry McDonald makes it here.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

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

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

Sunday, April 19, 2020

How many Oklahoma students are continuing to learn?

[Guest post by Mike Brake]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 17, 2020

Digital learning and homeschooling during—and after—the crisis

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

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Independent schools and the coronavirus

[The following is an open letter to independent school leaders from Benjamin Scafidi and Eric Wearne.] 

It is an understatement to say that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted American families, culture, the economy, governments, healthcare systems, and your schools as well. Like many other institutions in American life, schools have been forced to make radical changes in day-to-day routines, including ceasing their face-to-face interactions with students. Students now receive instruction, assignments, and tests in their homes using virtual means—with no transition period for teachers, parents, and students.

This letter makes a case that, as soon as possible, independent schools should create plans to:
  • Keep your students and staff safe from the virus during the 2020-21 academic year;
  • Maintain fiscal solvency, including keeping enrollments at desired levels; and
  • Demonstrate to your families that you will provide educational value to their children under the likely scenario that they will spend a significant amount of time learning from home during the 2020-21 academic year. 

The Likely Health Environment for the 2020-21 Academic Year

The good news first: Dr. Anthony Fauci’s expert opinion as of April 7 is that we will likely be in “good shape” to open schools on time for the 2020-21 academic year.

While we are all hoping for the best, we need to be realistic. For example, in his April 7 remarks, Dr. Fauci also said that school opening on time was not an “absolute prediction” and that “it's going to be different, remember now, because this is not going to disappear.”

This summer of 2020 will be your most intense planning summer ever, as you make crucial decisions on how to deliver the best education possible to your students under the following likely scenario—schools open on time this summer and fall as the coronavirus abates, only to close when the virus spreads again, then open their doors to students and educators again, and then close again. 

Of course, we are not virologists and there are other possible scenarios, but all of them seem to indicate that school doors will be closed for substantial time periods during the next school year. As Dr. Fauci said about the coronavirus on April 5, "there is a very good chance that it’ll assume a seasonal nature. We need to be prepared that since it will be unlikely to be completely eradicated from the planet that as we get into next season, we may see the beginning of a resurgence."

On April 6, Dr. Gabriel Leung made this same point:
After achieving a sustained decline … and bringing the number of daily new cases down to an acceptable baseline thanks to stringent physical distancing, a society can consider relaxing some measures (say, reopen schools). But it must be ready to reimpose drastic restrictions as soon as those critical figures start rising again—as they will, especially, paradoxically, in places that have fared not too badly so far. Then the restrictions must be lifted and reapplied, and lifted and reapplied, as long as it takes for the population at large to build up enough immunity to the virus.

Trying to see our way through the pandemic with this “suppress and lift” approach is much like driving a car on a long and tortuous road. One needs to hit the brakes and release them, again and again, to keep moving forward without crashing, all with an eye toward safely reaching one’s final destination.
In an April 7 letter to the White House, a National Academy of Sciences panel indicated there was a lot of uncertainty but that it does not appear that warm weather will cause the COVID-19 to dissipate. Of course, our information about this coronavirus will change as scientists learn more about how it spreads and learn more about the efficacy of various treatments.

Given that scientists are still learning more, there are several scenarios that are possible during the upcoming interim period of “semi-normalcy” that will likely last well into 2021. Regardless of which public health scenario is realized, they are likely to involve different dates of return to normalcy in different states.

History is also instructive: The Spanish Flu of 1918-19 came in three waves: The first wave in March 1918, the second—and worst—wave came in August 1918, and a third in March 1919.

Very recent history comes to us from some of the countries that did an excellent job containing this coronavirus: Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan each had outbreaks before the U.S., and “flattened the curve” at very low levels of rates of new infections—but the virus is already returning to them.

It appears that prudent risk management suggests, at a minimum, that schools need to be prepared for students toggling between receiving instruction at school and students receiving instruction at home—where this toggling may occur during the entire next school year.

Given the likelihood of students switching between learning at school and learning at home, independent schools must rethink how you deliver educational services to your students for the 2020-21 academic year—and you have mere months to do it. Further, given the large effect of the coronavirus on the macroeconomy, independent schools are going to be especially impacted.

The Coronavirus Macroeconomy and Independent Schools

While we do not know if the current economic recession—that surely just began—will be as bad as the Great Recession, it is worth remembering the impact the Great Recession had on the independent school sector.

The Great Recession began in December 2007. As shown below, nationwide independent school enrollment declined by about 640,000 students from 2007 to 2011—a decline of 10.9 percent. Enrollments recovered to 5.72 million by 2017.

Nevertheless, 2017 enrollment was still down by 3.2 percent when compared to 2007—a decline of almost 200,000 students.

Estimated Enrollment in American Independent Schools

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics

Any adverse impacts on enrollment due to the coronavirus recession that surely began in March 2020 are going to be in addition to adverse enrollment impacts due to demographic changes in America. As shown below, the number of births in the United States fell by 12 percent from 2007 to 2018—from 4.32 million in 2007 to 3.79 million in 2018.

Number of Births in the United States (in millions), 2007 to 2018 


Without any action on your part, fewer births over the past 12 years and the poor coronavirus macroeconomy will likely lead to significant enrollment decreases in the independent school sector, for fall 2020 and beyond. Of course, some schools and some regions of the country will be impacted more than others.

Given the coronavirus economy we are in, and given the likelihood that students will toggle between learning at school and learning at home for at least large stretches of the upcoming school year, we recommend that you immediately begin conversations with your school community on the following six questions:
  1. How can we—credibly—convince our school community that we will provide more safety against the coronavirus relative to public schools?
  2. What will be our crisis management plan when one of our teachers, staff, or students tests positive for the coronavirus?
  3. Enrollment drops are likely, so what do we do for families who will have just a one-year liquidity problem?
  4. Do we need to implement a temporary reduction in compensation for the next academic year?
  5. How can we make our work environment better for our teachers and staff when they and their children will be toggling between school-home-school-home?
  6. How can we best educate our students next year, when they will be toggling between school-home-school-home? 
We are providing some questions and some guidance. But you and your individual school communities will have to decide on the answers for yourselves—given your specific situations and given health updates that will be forthcoming over the summer months.

Health Considerations for the 2020-21 Academic Year

How can we—credibly—convince our school community that we will provide more safety against the coronavirus relative to public schools?

We do not know to what extent instant testing or N95 masks will be available, or how effective homemade masks are. As doctors' offices are doing now, are schools prepared to take each person’s temperature and ask them health questions before deciding whether to let them into the school building each day?

Depending on a school’s population, and the possibility of a partial but incomplete lifting of distancing rules, school leaders may consider using a hybrid-style schedule for part of the year. Schools may create Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday cohorts, in which only half or so of the school population is on campus any particular day, making distancing easier. On the other days of the week, students would do work at home assigned by their teachers. If this is not practical for your families, can you use the gymnasium, auditorium, and other non-classroom space for class meetings, in order to keep students at safe distances from one another?

If we are required to quarantine next school year, perhaps encourage closed circles of 2-3 families to do so together (interacting only with each other, not necessarily in the same home). If 2-3 families were in the same quarantine circle, they could safely take turns supervising each other’s children when they are learning at home and not at school during the academic year.

You need a health safety plan, and you need to communicate it clearly to families and staff over the summer. Safety is clearly the paramount concern at this time. Independent schools are well versed in explaining your value proposition in terms of academics, faith and values, structure, and physical safety. For this upcoming academic year, you will have to clearly communicate your value proposition in terms of keeping students and staff safe from the virus when they are at school.

Until a vaccine is developed and widely used and/or herd immunity is present, it is likely the case that keeping students and staff healthy is your first concern.

What will be our crisis management plan when one of our teachers, staff, or students tests positive for the coronavirus?

First, alert the relevant public health authorities. Second, obey the law. Third, be transparent—immediately—with your families and staff. We are not experts in this area by any measure, but you need a crisis management plan.

Immediate Financial Considerations for Independent Schools

Enrollment drops are likely, so what do we do for families who will have just a one-year liquidity problem?

You may need to reach out to each of your families—one on one—to ascertain their financial situation for 2020-21. You would hate to lose an entire family because of a one-year liquidity problem. You can counsel them as to possibilities for funding their children’s education, such as tapping into home equity and/or taking money out of retirement accounts (the latter can be done penalty-free in some cases under the recently passed CARES Act). Mention any scholarship aid or targeted tuition reductions, if you are willing and able to provide them. 

When your governor and state legislature are providing emergency funds to local governments, including public school districts, consider asking them to appropriate money for emergency scholarship programs for 2020-21 (or expand existing programs). If students leave your schools and enroll in the public sector, that imposes a significant cost on state taxpayers, as they must appropriate new per student “formula” money to accommodate the increase in public school enrollments. State governments could appropriate emergency funding for 2020-21 for modest private school scholarships, $3,000-$7,000 per student. These scholarship amounts are below or significantly below per student state “formula” funding amounts for public schools in most states. Again, if students leave your institutions for public schools, that places a fiscal burden on the state.

Do we need to implement a temporary reduction in compensation for the next academic year?

If (a) enrollment is down and (b) net tuition revenue per student is down due to targeted tuition reductions to families in need, then this double-whammy to your revenues may necessitate spending reductions. Perhaps your school has significant reserves or a significant endowment so you can weather the (hopefully only a one-year) storm. If not, you have at least two options. 

You could make a clarion call to your families, alumni, and benefactors asking them that if they are maintaining, or somehow increasing, their income during the coronavirus economy to consider making additional donations—above their normal level of giving—to help families in need attend your schools next year. Some middle-income families who maintain their incomes may be receiving federal stimulus funding. Ask families in those situations to consider donating those funds to help provide temporary scholarships to families in need. Families who maintain their incomes will spend less on eating out, vacations, and fuel—because of the virus. 

Another option is to implement cuts in compensation including a suspension of any employer match on retirement accounts or temporary pay reductions.

Educational Considerations for the 2020-21 Academic Year

How can we make our work environment better for our teachers and staff when they and their children will be toggling between school-home-school-home?

Maintaining a coherent—but flexible—schedule for students, parents, and teachers is important. Imposing singular demands on the specific technology platforms teachers use will be difficult, as individual teachers have a variety of comfort levels with this level of technology and online instruction, especially on short notice. Some schools are currently requiring the use of a particular platform while others vary based on subject area or preference. Teachers should be required to have some kind of live check-ins with students online. At least weekly is best; daily check-ins may become onerous for families. Maintaining some kind of meeting schedule is important; some teachers may want to meet online more than others, but the times allotted for these class sessions should be clear and predictable for students and parents to avoid conflicts. 

Some hybrid home schools, which only meet 2-3 days per week under normal circumstances, have mostly kept their normal work routines going in the online environment. Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, might be considered “class days,” while the rest of the days are considered “home days” in which students complete work (assigned by their teachers) at their own pace. This also gives teachers dedicated, predictable time to do their grading and preparing, and to conduct their family lives—especially when they may have their own children with them at home. This “hybrid” model may be best for conventional independent schools as well. 

How can we best educate our students next year when they will be toggling between school-home-school-home?

Smaller institutions, such as independent schools, tend to be much more nimble than large institutions when crises such as sudden shutdowns occur. We have seen multiple breakdowns in our largest-scale institutions, and a lot of support for the most local ones. This is a potential advantage for many kinds of independent schools. Hybrid home schools are perhaps a useful group to learn from in terms of academics as well. They have experience in shifting instruction from school to home on an ongoing basis. Conventional schools should look to hybrid home schools in their community to see how they handle this toggling of the learning process between school and home.

If conventional school leaders ask hybrid home school leaders and teachers, they will learn that when significantly more learning occurs at home:
  • Students will have to read more books or have more books read to them, as appropriate. The latter during virtual synchronous sessions with their teachers and classmates or with their parents.
  • Students will have to do more research projects, as appropriate given student ages and expertise, and will spend more time on virtual creative activities like preparing and delivering presentations, creating artwork and music, creating videos, etc.
  • Students will do more writing on their own, and rewriting of their marked-up work on their own, as appropriate.
  • Students will be asked to discuss concepts with their family members as part of their lessons.
  • To get a fuller educational experience, students cannot be glued to a screen all day doing lessons, and so those lessons will incorporate more time with outdoors, hands-on, or interpersonal activities. 

More suggestions from hybrid home school practices are discussed here and in Little Platoons: Defining Hybrid Home Schools in America, forthcoming this spring from Lexington Press. It is possible that work done at home, guided by a school support system, can produce strong academic results. When public school systems have experimented with this concept in the past, they sometimes place a lot of value on students having logged-in seat time for accountability purposes. This typically isn’t necessary. New research shows graduates of hybrid homeschools to be well-prepared for college, based on both their confidence and their college GPAs, compared to similar peers. Parents can support well-structured, content-rich lessons, especially if more of the content is simply reading and discussing ideas, and if they have the support of a school.

Of course, independent schools have their students do each of the above activities as a matter of course. But in this era of the coronavirus, they may have to do more of these activities than usual, because students may be spending significantly more time at home. Students doing more learning activities that are amenable to being completed at home—more reading, more writing, more rewriting, more research, more public speaking, more creative activity, and taking low-stakes standardized tests on-line (like CogAt or Iowa)—are certainly not bad things. We are advocating that independent schools make the most of the situation caused by quarantines that are likely to come next school year.

As soon as possible, you should convene your educators into small appropriate groups by grade and subject to rethink your educational offerings in order to best serve students who will spend substantial time during the 2020-21 academic year learning from home. The next school year will be here soon.

You will need to have a solid education plan that convinces your families that you will be providing value to their students—if they will be spending a significant fraction of the 2020-21 academic year learning at home. Of course, you should not publicize this plan until the appropriate time, as health experts learn more about this coronavirus.

Concluding Remarks

We wish we had better news for you, but the coronavirus is with us—until we get wide distribution of a vaccine and/or herd immunity perhaps 16 months or so from now. For prudent risk management, it is best if independent schools create health, fiscal, and educational plans for the 2020-21 academic year now—to offset likely negative effects of the coronavirus on your schools.

Thank you for your great service to your students, your communities, and our nation.

Benjamin Scafidi (Ph.D. in economics, University of Virginia) is a professor of economics and director of the Education Economics Center in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Eric Wearne (Ph.D. in educational studies, Emory University) is a visiting associate professor of education statistics in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. He has done some of the first academic research on hybrid home schools. Both have extensive experience working with independent school leaders in various capacities. The views expressed are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Kennesaw State University, the Coles College of Business, or the Education Economics Center.   

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Most say EPIC's safety, academic quality better than their prior school

"An independent survey conducted by TPMA of Indianapolis for the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board found parents come to EPIC because of negative experiences in their prior schools and the unique opportunities online education provides," EPIC superintendent Bart Banfield writes today. The study found that nearly 40% of respondents came to EPIC because of bullying. Moreover,
Approximately 94% of TPMA’s survey respondents believe EPIC provides a safe educational environment, and nearly 60% say EPIC’s academic quality is “significantly better” than their prior school. Fewer than 1% said EPIC’s academic quality is “significantly worse.” About 80% of parents said they intend to keep their children in EPIC through graduation.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Study documents 'dramatic decrease in youth suicide' when school is not in session

With spring break upon us and possible virus-related school closures to follow, this academic paper ("Back to school blues: Seasonality of youth suicide and the academic calendar") is worth another look. It documents "a dramatic decrease in youth suicide in months when school is not in session. ... This evidence suggests that youth may face increased stress and decreased mental health when school is in session."

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Former teacher says bullying in Oklahoma schools 'a very serious situation'

Ray Carter has the story.

Salina students were warned teacher 'is going to touch you, there's nothing you can do about it'

"A Salina teacher is now out of a job nearly a year after police began investigating accusations that he was inappropriately touching students," the News on 6 reports.
The attorney for the victims accuses the school of not doing anything. Prosecutors charged John Horner in January with eight counts of lewd molestation. Parents said they are frustrated with how this case was handled. ... Horner's dismissal comes nearly a year after investigators said they interviewed several students who accused him of inappropriately touching them and making unwanted comments. 
"Accusations started as far back as 2014, so he's been allowed to at least do this for five years where the girls have been warned by upperclassmen as one class graduated and the next class comes in. They've actually been warned horny Horner is going to touch you, there’s nothing you can do about it," said attorney Chase McBride.
Horner was charged with eight counts of lewd molestation back in January. McBride currently represents 10 victims and believes there could be more. "What blows our mind through this whole thing is that this man has been on the payroll—taxpayer dollars for at least a year after knowing that he is going to get charged with felonies and molesting children in the community," said McBride.
Court documents said that the school started an investigation in March of 2019 and a day later found no further investigation was needed. Then parents called police who began their own investigation, which ended in the in eight felony charges being filed. 
McBride said the school continued to pay Horner for about a year. "They've been paying him. They've been sweeping things under the rug. Since investigating this, we've had witnesses come forward the farthest back we've got at this point is 2014," said McBride McBride said Horner should've lost his teaching license and been suspended as soon as the allegation came to light. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Politicized teaching feared with Oklahoma’s ‘climate change’ standards

"The inclusion of 'climate change' material in Oklahoma's new science standards for public schools, beginning as early as middle school, has business leaders concerned classrooms could become politicized and schools weaponized against economically foundational industries," Ray Carter reports.

Setting a journalist straight on school choice

Journalists at the Enid News & Eagle are entitled to their own opinions, Corey DeAngelis writes, but not to their own facts.