Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The extinction of Public Education

Belief systems are what is troubling Oklahoma public schools. No, you don’t have to go back and reread the previous sentence: our biggest problem with public education is the preconceived notions many of us have that give us our perspective, our point of view, our belief system.  It came to me in a moment of clarity, an epiphany if you will, during the OK Central PLAC legislative panel held in Edmond on January 28th.  It was that ah ha moment, and then suddenly everything made sense to me.  Public Education is in serious trouble.

Education is a microcosm of life; you get out of it what you put into it.   You want a better tomorrow than today? Then get an education! Get an education: I hate that phrase.  It implies you can get knowledge through a window like you can a cheeseburger. Seriously, they do not hand out knowledge.  You have to work at it, you have to earn it, and you have to put forth effort to reap the benefits of schooling.  Education is very little about ability and a lot about perseverance, attitude, and work ethic.  Does that sound familiar?  It is the same recipe for success as in almost any endeavor we take in life.  

So there I was sitting in the audience with a bunch of super charged parents listening to the legislators talk about public education. But as I sat there listening to what I was sure would be a group of legislators pandering to the crowd during an election year, I was shocked to find completely the opposite.   This is when reality slapped me in the face - and it stung.  It all suddenly made sense to me.  You want to know why public education’s budget has been in a slow decline lately; it’s because the people who make those decisions think public education is already over funded.  You can get all the data you want. You can show them the per pupil expenditure cuts, the cuts to RSA, cuts to ACE, the cost of fuel, insurance, textbooks, or whatever else you want to show them.  THEY DON’T BELIEVE YOU! They have already tuned you out; dismissed your research, your concerns, and your pleas.  They feel public education has enough money because of carryover funds, or because of admin costs, or for any other reason.  However, it doesn’t stop with funding.

Public education enthusiasts are pleading to tone deaf politicians in almost every phase of public policy. Legislators immediately dismiss our research, data, and years of actual experience in the field because they have been given the information backing up what they want to believe.  They have cemented their position on the matter BECAUSE of their preconceived notions and found a source of information that affirms the position they take as fact. The problem for me is the position they have taken is not an Oklahoma position; it’s a position rooted in model legislative policies from Florida, FEE or ALEC.  To make matters worse, the pieces of information backing up their claim are coming from our State Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

The debate is over for them.  Trust me; Senator Jolley and Rep. Martin are both on the appropriations committee.  If they wanted public education to have more money, public education would get more money!  If that is not bad enough, even the State Sup says public education doesn’t need more money (but she’ll take more money to dole out to her handpicked vendors).  If legislators thought our 3rd graders were being tested too much, we would stop testing our 3rd graders.  If they thought local boards of education could be trusted, then we wouldn’t have A-F accountability.  If they valued the work of a teacher, then they would treat them with respect and pay them a decent wage.  This is why I believe public education is in for the fight of its organizational life.  Is public education defeated; has it been left for dead by those who think the debate is over?  NO!, the life blood of public education will not give up; we will not go away in silence.  Students in public education need us to stand up and say the debate is NOT over! Students in public education need us to be strong and to be vigilant.  Students in public education need us to work diligently to make our Senators and Representatives listen to us, or we need to diligently work to replace our Senators and Representatives.  We had better act now or the debate will be over!