Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Response to a Reformer: Got any other bad ideas?

Brandon Dutcher recently wrote an OP-ED piece for his blog and the the Daily Oklahoman about his opposition to the '49th is not OK' advocacy for increased public school funding.  He advocates public school funding based on results.  I think that is an absurd idea.  I don't know Mr. Dutcher, so I looked up his credentials.  Mr. Dutcher is the Senior Vice President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  According to his bio on the OCPA website, he has a B.A. in Political Science and a Master's Degree in Journalism both from the University of Oklahoma.  Mr. Dutcher is a policy wonk; it appears his opinion stems from the point of view of politics and not direct experience in the classroom.

The article wants the reader to believe school choice is the answer to Oklahoma's public school funding problem. I argue Oklahoma already has school choice. How many times have we been told there are too many school districts in this state?  I believe there are 541 local school districts run by elected board of education members, and that is just the public school districts. I don't even have a guess at how many private schools, charter schools, or home school associations there are.  We live in America where people have the freedom to live anywhere they choose, to send their children to any school they choose.  Why do policy wonks like Brandon Dutcher suggest otherwise?  We have an activities organization that has about a bazillion rules on students moving from one school to another.  So why is it the OSSAA has to create rules to keep students from moving too much, and OCPA statesparents in Oklahoma can't have school choice?  Here is the answer, school choice proponents not only want school choice, but they also want convenient school choice;additionally, they either want public funds to pay for school choice, or they don't want the government to pay for anyone's education.  

Mr. Dutcher is of the opinion that money can't help schools. He says Oklahoma isn't 49th in educational spending it's 29th when adjusted for comparable wages. Why is it when educators point out American test scores are the highest in the world when adjusted for poverty - they're leapers, but opponents of increasing school funding can adjust per pupil funding by using comparable wages - and it’s a legit point? Why is it people who are against paying for a public education are always quick to point out money hasn't helped Washington DC?  Does Washington DC do anything right?  I know of no one who wants to follow the Washington DC model for education. Blindly throwing money at public schools has never been my or any education organization's goal to make our schools better for our children. It is a tactic that has been used to persuade public opinion, and it is disingenuous.  What 49th isn't OK wants, CCOSA wants, OEA wants, and teachers want is for the State of Oklahoma to provide funding for the goods and services required of public schools to educate the public's children.  Anyone who suggests we can increase the quality and quantity of these services when decreasing funding is just not sane.  

Why do educators want increased funding?  One reason is to pay teachers a competitive wage! Do you want better teachers in the classroom? Start by treating the teaching profession closer to the level of doctors and lawyers.  Teachers with a four year college degree who safely and securely protect our children while teaching them things like math, science, social studies, and life skills like reading should have an annual salary higher thanthe shift supervisor at McDonalds! What educators want are the resources to close the achievement gap between children of poverty and their non impoverished peers.  (Why is it so hard to understand that children who are behind in academics might need more time with a teacher to get caught up... why is it so hard for people to understand teachers want to be compensated for their time and expertise just like doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and electricians.) I think if the starting teacher salary in Oklahoma was equal to the average starting salary for Oklahomans with a college degree – this would be a great start to improving our schools.  

Speaking of doctors and lawyers, Mr. Dutcher wants educators to get paid based on results. He advocates that schools and therefore teachers shouldn't get any money until they show results.  I went to the doctor the other day about my weight and my cholesterol. You think my doctor should have to show my insurance company the amount of weight I lost or how much my cholesterol went down before he gets paid?  Seriously, doctors wouldn't go for that because they are not sure I'll follow their advice of exercise and eating healthier.  Should he get paid by the pound I lose?  How about a bonus for every point my cholesterol lowers? Americans’ paychecks shouldn't be based on things outside of their control.  Does the district attorney's pay get docked every time a jury votes not guilty?  What about the policemen who made the arrest? 

Mr. Dutcher's final argument might be the most ludicrous!  He suggests, instead of increasing the money allocated to schools, we just decrease the number of students to spend it on?  Either he is completely ignorant of how schools are funded, or he is intentionally misleading the public.  Public schools in Oklahoma get money allocated to them based on the number of enrolled students.  Students leaving the public school would just mean an automatic decrease in the funds allocated to the school. Thus, the amount per pupil would stay the same!However, what students is he wanting to leave public schools?  I'd like him to answer that question. Anyone want to bet it’s the students with high aptitude scores, loving parents, and absent any disabilities or learning issues.

The reason why privatization isn't the answer to our educational problems is in the very definition of 'for profit'. For profit organizations make decisions based solely on maximizing the profits. Do we really want some CEO with stock options and bonus checks determined by the company's bottom line to decide whether or not to spend the money to tutor a 3rd grader who is struggling to read. Or worse, do we want the same CEO to tell struggling learners they can't come to school anymore because it is no longer cost effective?  If this isn't reason enough, here is the final reason privatization will not work - competition only works when all parties have access to equal raw materials.  Will privatization proponents promise that all private schools will accept every child who wishes to enroll regardless of socioeconomic background, parent involvement, aptitude, or disability?  Will they promise not to restrict their enrollment?  Will they ensure they won't require students to perform at a certain level to stay enrolled?  Will they submit to the same testing and accountability requirements as public schools?  I didn't think so either.