Friday, May 31, 2013

A-F: Why?

"What the hell is going on out here" - Vince Lombardi

I think this quote is a very accurate description of how most #OKlaED feels regarding the A-F grading system.  Welcome to the age of Educational Accountability.  I say welcome because most of us (including me) were or still are in a state of denial.  Yes we are sheep; naive in the ways of politics and privatization of core government services.  Accountability! Doesn't sound like too awful of a word.  How can you be against holding people accountable?  Oh how wrong were we. As a taxpayer, I think accountability is a grand idea.  I want good roads, safe bridges, quality hospitals, clean water, and a host of other things.  I want the police to "protect and serve," and I want them held accountable if they don't protect or serve.  Sounds simple in theory, but I'm not living in theory; I'm living in the real world where theory always sounds good but rarely is.  

Allow me to take a shot at the A-F system.  It is by far the biggest and most absolute non-working contraption ever conceived in the history of the world.  I know that is a big statement, yet I feel that it is also accurate.  Let me justify my remarks a little bit.  As a parent who has lived in your district for your entire life, do you actually care about the mathematical formula or the AVERAGE?  Say you think your child's teacher is not doing a quality job for your child, do you care that the school's average is an A or a B?  Are you going to stop thinking your child is being mistreated when during a meeting with the teacher the principal says "just look at our report card and you will see that we are an A school"?!  "Oh in that case, I will stop being upset at the treatment of my child because the school's grade is so good" will NEVER be a response to this situation!  So what does the average of the school do for you here?  NOTHING!  Second example, your daughter just made a 5 on the AP English Comp test, just earned a 32 on the ACT, and just accepted a full ride National Merit Scholarship to Oklahoma State University.  Are you going to run up to the principal and complain that your child isn't getting a very good education because the high school's A-F grade is a C?  NOPE!  Why, because parents care about how their child's education is going and not the mathematical average of all kids.  

The only logical explanation for the grade is for people who might want to move and have a choice of districts or a company that might want to relocate.  I'm betting the family moving and looking for a school for their child will look at a lot more than the school's A-F average.  I'd venture to say that housing, neighborhood, and other amenities rank higher on the list.  However, for those who are looking solely at education to make their decision, I think they make their decision on things that aren't even considered in the A-F formula.  For instances, where in the formula is the calculation for Clinton's back to back Legal Team State Championships?  Where in the formula is the calculation for the Academic All Staters, National Merit Scholars, the West Point Appointees, Band State Championship, the Vocal Music State Sweepstakes Champions, the 30 or so Vocal and Band All Staters, or the school's 16th State Football Championship?  Not to mention, Clinton's AG program produces State and National FFA degrees every year; we've had multiple State and National honorees in FCCLA every year, our Golf and Tennis teams make the State Tournament every year, and every kid in school gets an iPad.  Where is that in the A-F formula?  I've said for ever there is more to education than you can measure by taking a test.  I think those things I mentioned matter, and I think they matters to parents too!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Way more than 180 days per year

Ever hear the age old adage about teachers;  Must be nice to work half a year, 8 to 3, and get all those summers, weekends, and holidays off?  I ran straight into this very argument the other day when I was at the capitol advocating for teacher pay raises.  I was told that Teachers get paid "pretty good" for only working half the year.  They even said it with a straight face.  For the first time in my life I was speechless (for those who know me know what a rare occasion that is).  The insinuation that teachers only work half the year is ludicrous.   No ludicrous is too polite: foolishness, folly, idiocy, reckless, and just plain stupid!  Ever driven by an elementary school around the middle of July?  That parking lot full of cars isn't the glee club.  It is elementary teachers getting their class rosters, putting up bulletin boards, working to make their classrooms perfect, and getting all their lesson plans ready so they can welcome all their students on the first day and go to work educating them!  And it is not just elementary teachers. Secondary teachers almost always put in time on these so called days off.

As I'm driving home from the capitol, I just kept getting more and more angry about the flippant attitude the legislator used to dismiss my suggestion of raising the state minimum teaching salary.  Then it struck me; I'll compare teachers to legislators!  Did you know that the legislative session is only 90 days per year?  Exactly half of a Teacher contract.  You think their pay is half what a teacher makes.  Nope. Not even close.  According to News 6 (click to see the full news story) beginning Oklahoma Legislators earn $38,400 in base salary plus a per diem of  $9,472.  That adds up to $47,872 per session.  First year teachers on the other hand earn a salary of $31,600 per year plus $0 per diem.  And I'm not even talking about benefits.  Just straight apples to apples comparison of scheduled days in session.  Legislators (and I'm not talking about leadership positions; they get $12,000 to $17,000 more per year) earn $47,872 for 90 days.  That equals $531.91 per day of session.  Teachers: $31,600 for 180 days rounds out to be $175.55 per day of the school year.  Legislators are term limited to 12 years and then can retire on a legislator's retirement package.  Teachers have to put in 90 years of age and service.  Most of them work until they can draw social security. Me, I have to put in 37 years as an educator before I can retire.  So legislators put in 12 years for full retirement, teachers have to put in over 35.  Some might argue that every 2 or 4 years legislators have to win an election.  I say that teachers get voted on every year.  To be fair, I have no idea what the legislator retirement system is like.  I do know that teacher's retirement is one of the worst funded retirement systems around.  Heck, even those guys who rebuild our roads and bridges have a retirement system that is better than ours, and they only have to work 20 years to retire.

Now, I do not think for a minute that legislators only work 90 days.  I know they spend a bunch of time in the fall with their interim studies.  I know many times legislators start committee meetings around 8 am and they do not finish the day until late in the night.  I know they spend time in meetings, budget hearings, conference calls, and caucus meetings.  Furthermore, I know they read tons of emails, answer thousands of phone calls and letters, listen to constituents, attend lots of community meetings, and marshal the local parade.  So I know it is ludicrous to suggest they only work 90 days a year.  Everything I just said about legislators and their days in session applies to teachers.  Teachers spend hours at home grading essays, working nights and weekends getting lessons ready, staying in their rooms on parent teacher nights so they can talk to parents.  They attend their students' ball games at night, and work concession stands and gate duty.  They get stopped at the grocery story, post office, and the quick shop by parents and grandparents who want to know about their kids and grandchildren.  They take classes during the summer, attend professional developments to improve the way they do their job, and study their subject area so they are better equipped to teach our children.  They attend workshops geared toward improving their proficiency with technology and then spend hours converting what they did in the past to work with the new tech they just learned.  And that legislator had the gall to tell me teachers only work half the year!  If that is true then he only works a quarter but gets twice the pay!  

Teacher Pay: Why Teachers deserve more

I think teachers need a pay raise.  Thus, I have been calling for a teacher pay raise.  I don't think it should come as any surprise to anyone who has been reading my blog posts that I am an advocate for teachers and relieving the burdens leading to their dissatisfaction or leaving the profession.  Low teacher pay is both a major cause for dissatisfaction and a burden.  Teachers have not had their state salary schedule adjusted since 2006.  Can anyone think of anything that is cheaper in 2013 than in 2006?  Minimum wage has seen 3 increases in that time.  Gas just jumped $.30 here in Clinton.  Insurance Premiums - higher; Groceries - higher; Movie Tickets - higher; McDonalds - higher; Vacations - well, I can't tell you because I can't afford to take my family on one.  The point is that everything around teachers cost more now than they did in 2006.  It doesn't take a genius to understand that teachers are going backwards with their ability to provide a living for their families.  This is a major burden.  Teacher pay should be addressed and pay raises given.

Recently the Daily Oklahoma editorial staff opined that teacher pay isn't a factor in Oklahoma's teacher shortage or a factor in our teachers leaving the profession.   They went on to argue the biggest trouble with teacher quality are the low entrance standards 
in teacher preparatory programs at our state colleges and universities.  WHAT!?  I must have missed something.  Did they actually just suggest that teacher quality can be improved by limiting the number of college students trying to become teachers?  That logic is akin to saying we can improve customer service at Wal-Mart by reducing the number of employees Wal-Mart is allowed to hire.  Yep, the DOK thinks if fewer teachers are allowed to teach, then the quality of those remaining teachers will be better.   I thought we already had a teacher shortage problem.  How will further reducing the number of teachers entering the profession improve teacher quality of those ALREADY in the profession?  Ever notice how free markets and competition is the solution to school choice, but exclusivity is their solution to teachers?  However, they don't want to pay the teachers anymore; they just want better people doing a better job at the same discounted salary - doesn't make sense to me either.    

The DOK points out some research reports concluded teacher pay isn't a top reason for teacher attrition.  Yes, some research indicates pay is not in the top 4 reasons why teachers quit.  Makes sense to me; teachers in Oklahoma knew the pay sucked when they signed up to be a teacher.  However, once they had to work so hard for that lousy pay, they left the profession.  Some research (click here to read the full report) indicates low pay contributes up to 78.5% of all teacher dissatisfaction. That is number 1 by a landslide.  The next 3 reasons together didn't add up to low pay dissatisfaction.  Pay is the reason why teachers are dissatisfied; Pay is the reason why they look for jobs in other states or other professions.  Pay is not the reason why they just quit.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire

When I was a boy my grandpa used to tell me axioms for life.  My favorite was “Jason, don’t argue with a fool or mud wrestle a pig; people who just walk by might not can tell who’s who!”  A second axiom from my childhood was do not get into an argument with people who buy ink by the barrel .  A third, and yet vital saying was “the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to one”.  Sage advice.  However, what do we do when a bully, who is a fool, buys ink by the barrel?  Well, I am going to argue with a fool; I'm going to stand up to the bully and let the chips fall where they may!

The Daily Oklahoman editorial staff is a bunch of liars!  Yep, I said it.  Liars!  And what irritates me more is I believe they know they are lying.  They can't actually support many of their arguments.  They are promoting an agenda and will stop at nothing to discredit all other thoughts on school improvement.  They are constantly telling their readers it is professional educators who are being disingenuous.  For example, in Thursday’s “School Spending Should Actually Fund Reforms” they suggested new dollars for education are needed to fund reforms, but local administrators can't be trusted to use the money correctly.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!  They suggested it was school superintendents who refused to pay for National Board Certified Teachers, employee health insurance, Reading Sufficiency, etc.  Then they jumped all the way to crazy town and suggested it was irresponsible for administrators like Tulsa’s Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard to point out that this year’s tests might not be valid for the 9100 Oklahoma students whose tests were interrupted.  The DOK staff wants to discredit superintendents so people won't take them seriously when they offer their expert opinions on school reform.  They do not want a bunch of facts to get in the way of their agenda.  They made the case that because administrators will not fund reforms or spend their money wisely, they could not be trusted to call a train wreck a train wreck!  

For those who do not know, schools get money from the SDE and schools spend it according to the way the SDE sends it out.   In other words, ACE remediation money has to be spent on ACE remediation and Reading Sufficiency money has to be spent on Reading.  Statements saying anything else is happening are just plain lies.  Let us not forget the SDE told everyone that Teacher, Leader, Effectiveness was only going to cost $1.5 million.  When the final bill came in at $4.5 million, the SDE told everyone schools would have to make up the difference.  And school's did just that; they spent local discretionary money on reforms that were mandated and underfunded.  It was not the area superintendents who did not fund TLE; it was local superintendents who funded those reforms when not enough money was available.  Superintendent's do this all the time; they overcome the underfunding of mandates.  It was also the SDE that zeroed out the RSA money, the Professional Development money, and NBCT money, yet schools still had to meet those requirements.  It was the SDE who funded ACE remediation with pennies on the dollar, and schools are still providing remediation and tutoring for students because those students' diplomas are at stake.  Still, the DOK has the audacity to say administrators who “engage in such blatantly misleading rhetoric to undermine educational goals doesn't inspire confidence in their willingness to actually fund those same reforms”!  

Calling out Dr. Ballard and other Oklahoma educators because they speak out on educational issues is ludicrous.  I know Dr. Keith Ballard.  I think he is a passionate advocate for students enrolled in Tulsa Public Schools.  I also believe he is doing what he thinks is right for kids in his district.  If he says the test interruptions caused irrevocable harm to kids needing to pass those tests to graduate, then I believe him.  The DOK editorial staff is trying to tell John Q. Public professional educators have it wrong about the testing mishap; it wasn't a big deal.  Well, I don't believe the DOK knows what the hell they are talking about.  I don't believe for 1 second the editorial staff is telling the truth when it comes to education policy.  I believe they have an agenda, and I think they will go to any length to promote that agenda. 

What a bunch of liars.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Teaching: The Discount Profession

Educators have had a rough week.  It started on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with one of the biggest testing debacles in the history of our fair state.  (I’ll spend more time on the students’ perspectives of the testing issue later in the week.)   Then, on Thursday, we find out about the future of #OKlaED school finance.  The first thing that came to my mind was “You’ve got to be kidding me!”.  

Here are my thoughts on why this should matter to teachers:

The 2014 budget is the largest state budget in Oklahoma history.  Click here for the details: 

1.       A total of $267 million more new dollars will be appropriated in 2014 than in 2013.
2.       New money for Public Schools in the 2014 equals $74 million.
3.       Supplemental to cover health insurance as required by law in 2013 equals $16 million.

I’m really fortunate that two of my mentors in this profession are without a doubt two of the most knowledgeable people regarding school finance: Shawn and Kevin Hime.  Therefore, these are the facts as I understand them.  Some might ask how a teacher can be upset with $74 million new dollars for education.  Let me explain why teachers should be ticked off about the budget.  It’s a shell game, a magician’s trick, smoke and mirrors, or any other con game you can think of. 

1.       The 2014 budget for Public Schools is $124 million less than the budget for 2009.
2.       Health insurance will cost around $60 million for Public Schools.
3.       In 2014, there are 34,000 more students enrolled in Oklahoma Public Schools.
4.       The state’s financial commitment to public schools has eroded from 36.1% to 33.8% while student enrollment continues to increase.
(History of state budget and common education share)

In laymen’s terms, Public Schools in the state of Oklahoma have $204 Million less dollars and 34,000 more students.  This is why it should matter to Oklahoma parents.  Their kids are being subjected to a discount education!  If public schools typically get around 36% of the state’s general revenue, then why did public schools only get 28% of the new money?  Oklahoma experienced the nation’s 3rd highest cuts to education and now has the largest economy in state history.  This transcends logic!  Why is it that more students are enrolling, costs are continuing to rise, yet the state’s commitments to public schools are continuing to decline?   Each of the last 2 years the state has DECREASED the money given to schools based on enrollment midway through the year!  It is the only 2 times in history that has happened.  The state gives an allocation for schools to budget in July when teachers are hired and resources are purchased, but then tells schools  they were wrong and take back some of that money. 

I only bring up the state budget because it it insulting to teachers.  This continued erosion of state support for public schools, once again, comes at the expense of the teacher.  Teachers haven’t had a pay raise since before 2008.  For perspective, in 2008 gas was $1.78 a gallon and minimum wage was $5.25 per hour.  In 2013 gas is $3.41 per gallon (at the station on the corner) and minimum wage is $7.25.  So gas has nearly doubled and the cost of nearly everything else has increased drastically.  It doesn't matter if it is movie tickets, the price of a McDonald’s value meal, or the groceries at the store.  Everything has increased except teacher salaries.  To make matters worse, channel 43 news on Saturday night showed why it was important for students to graduate HS.  Their research indicated people with a college degree have an annual salary of $55,432 per year.  Compare that to the SDE’s average teaching salary in 11-12 of $40,496.  Furthermore, I bet not very many people have even thought about how this discounted salary plays toward teacher’s retirement.  Currently there are 51,719 teachers who will retire one day and watch as the cost of living continues to rise while 30 plus years of discounted salaries turn into discounted fixed incomes. 

Why does this matter? Teachers are tired of seeing HS graduates enter the job market and immediately make more money than what teachers are making after 20 years of service.  Parents should be tired of seeing the best of Oklahoma teachers take jobs out of state or out of education because they can’t afford to support their family on a teacher’s salary.  Teaching is a noble profession, not the discount profession.

State Minimum Salary Schedule