Friday, May 30, 2008

Senator Obama on Education

Sen. Barack Obama's speech, "What's Possible for Our Children," was delivered at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, Colorado on Wednesday:

"It's an honor to be here at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts. Just three years ago, only half of the high school seniors who walked the halls of this building were accepted to college. But today, thanks to the hard work of caring parents, innovative educators and some very committed students, all 44 seniors of this year's class have been accepted to more than 70 colleges and universities across the country.

I'm here to congratulate you on this achievement, but also to hold up this school and these students as an example of what's possible in education if we're willing to break free from the tired thinking and political stalemate that's dominated Washington for decades, if we're willing to try new ideas and new reforms based not on ideology but on what works to give our children the best possible chance in life.

At this defining moment in our history, they've never needed that chance more. In a world where good jobs can be located anywhere there's an Internet connection— where a child in Denver is competing with children in Beijing and Bangalore — the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge. Education is the currency of the Information Age, no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success but a prerequisite. There simply aren't as many jobs today that can support a family where only a high school degree is required. And if you don't have that degree, there are even fewer jobs available that can keep you out of poverty.

In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Already, China is graduating eight times as many engineers as we are. By 12th grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And we now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world. In fact, if the more than 16,000 Colorado students who dropped out of high school last year had only finished, the economy in this state would have seen an additional $4.1 billion in wages over these students' lifetimes.

There is still much progress to be made here in Thornton, but the work you've done shows us that we do not accept this future for America.

We don't have to accept an America where we do nothing about six million students who are reading below their grade level.

We don't have to accept an America where only 20 percent of our students are prepared to take college-level classes in English, math and science. Where barely one in 10 low-income students will ever graduate from college.

We don’t have to accept an America where we do nothing about the fact that half of all teenagers are unable to understand basic fractions. Where nearly nine in 10 African-American and Latino eighth-graders are not proficient in math. We don't have to accept an America where elementary school kids are only getting an average of 25 minutes of science each day when we know that over 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require a knowledge base in math and science.

This kind of America is morally unacceptable for our children. It's economically untenable for our future. And it's not who we are as a nation.

We are the nation that has always understood that our future is inextricably linked to the education of our children — all of them. We are the country that has always believed in Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth or birth."

That's who we are. And that's why I believe it's time to lead a new era of mutual responsibility in education, one where we all come together for the sake of our children's success. An era where each of us does our part to make that success a reality: parents and teachers, leaders in Washington and citizens all across America.

This starts with fixing the broken promises of No Child Left Behind. Now, I believe that the goals of this law were the right ones. Making a promise to educate every child with an excellent teacher is right. Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right.

But I'll tell you what's wrong with No Child Left Behind. Forcing our teachers, our principals and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong. Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong. Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.

We must fix the failures of No Child Left Behind. We must provide the funding we were promised, give our states the resources they need and finally meet our commitment to special education. We also need to realize that we can meet high standards without forcing teachers and students to spend most of the year preparing for a single, high-stakes test. Recently, 87 percent of Colorado teachers said that testing was crowding out subjects like music and art. But we need to look no further than MESA to see that accountability does not need to come at the expense of a well-rounded education. It can help complete it — and it should.

As president, I will work with our nation's governors and educators to create and use assessments that can improve achievement all across America by including the kinds of research, scientific investigation and problem-solving that our children will need to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy. The tests our children take should support learning not just accounting. If we really want our children to become the great inventors and problem-solvers of tomorrow, our schools shouldn't stifle innovation, they should let it thrive. That's what MESA is doing by using visual arts, drama and music to help students master traditional subjects like English, science and math, and that's what we should be doing in schools all across America.

But fixing the problems of No Child Left Behind is not an education policy on its own. It's just a starting point.

A truly historic commitment to education — a real commitment — will require new resources and new reforms. It will require a willingness to move beyond the stale debates that have paralyzed Washington for decades: Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo; more money versus more accountability. It will require leaders in Washington who are willing to learn a lesson from students and teachers in Thornton or Denver about what actually works. That's the kind of president I intend to be, and that's the kind of education plan I've proposed in this campaign.

It begins with the understanding that from the moment our children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is not the color of their skin or where they come from. It's not who their parents are or how much money they have.
"It's who their teacher is. It's the person who stays past the last bell and spends their own money on books and supplies. It's the men and women here at MESA who go beyond the call of duty because you believe that's what makes the extra difference. And it does.

And if we know how much teaching matters, then it's time we treated teaching like the profession it is. I don't want to just talk about how great teachers are. I want to be a president who rewards them for their greatness.

That starts with recruiting a new generation of teachers and principals to replace the generation that's retiring and those who are leaving. Right here in Colorado, more than 6,000 teachers won't be returning to the schools where they taught last year. That's why as president, I'll create a new Service Scholarship program to recruit top talent into the profession and begin by placing these new teachers in overcrowded districts and struggling rural towns, or hard-to-staff subjects like math and science in schools all across the nation. And I will make this pledge as president to all who sign up: If you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to paying for your college education.

To prepare our teachers, I will create more Teacher Residency Programs to train 30,000 high-quality teachers a year. We know these programs work, and they especially help attract talented individuals who decide to become teachers midway through their careers. Right here in MESA, you have excellent teachers like Ike Ogbuike, who became a math teacher after working as an auto-engineer at Ford and completing a one-year, teacher-residency program.

To support our teachers, we will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits — one of the most effective ways to retain teachers. We'll also make sure that teachers work in conditions which help them and our children succeed. For example, here at MESA, teachers have scheduled common planning time each week and an extra hour every Tuesday and Thursday for mentoring and tutoring students that need additional help.

And when our teachers do succeed in making a real difference in our children's lives, I believe it's time we rewarded them for it. I realize that the teachers in Denver are in the middle of tough negotiations right now, but what they've already proven is that it's possible to find new ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them.

My plan would provide resources to try these innovative programs in school districts all across America. Under my Career Ladder Initiative, these districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as mentors to new teachers with the salary increase they deserve. They can reward those who teach in underserved areas or teachers who take on added responsibilities, like you do right here at MESA. And if teachers acquire additional knowledge and skills to serve students better — if they consistently excel in the classroom — that work can be valued and rewarded as well.

And when our children do succeed, when we have a graduating class like this one where every single student has been accepted to college, we need to make sure that every single student can afford to go. As president, I will offer a $4,000 tax credit that will cover two-thirds of the tuition at an average public college and make community college completely free. And in return, I will ask students to serve their country, whether it's by teaching or volunteering or joining the Peace Corps. We'll also simplify the maze of paperwork required to apply for financial aid and make it as easy as checking off a box on your tax returns because you shouldn't need a Ph.D. to apply for a student loan.

Finally, as so many of you know, there are too many children in America right now who are slipping away from us as we speak, who will not be accepted to college and won't even graduate high school. They are overwhelmingly black, and Latino, and poor. And when they look around and see that no one has lifted a finger to fix their school since the 19th century, when they are pushed out the door at the sound of the last bell — some into a virtual war zone — is it any wonder they don't think their education is important? Is it any wonder that they are dropping out in rates we've never seen before?

I know these children. I know their sense of hopelessness. I began my career over two decades ago as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago's South Side. And I worked with parents and teachers and local leaders to fight for their future. We set up after-school programs, and we even protested outside government offices so that we could get those who had dropped out into alternative schools. And in time, we changed futures.

And so while I know hopelessness, I also know hope. I know that if we bring early education programs to these communities, if we stop waiting until high-school to address the drop-out rate and start in earlier grades — as my Success in the Middle Act will do — if we bring in new, qualified teachers, if we expand college outreach programs like GEAR UP and TRIO and fight to expand summer learning opportunities for minority and disadvantaged students — like I've done in the Senate — or if we double funding for after-school programs to serve a million more children, as I've proposed to do as president, if we do all this, we can make a difference in the lives of our children and the life of this country. I know we can. I've seen it happen. And so have you.

Yes, it takes new resources, but we also know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child's education from day one. There is no substitute for a parent who will make sure their children are in school on time and help them with their homework after dinner and attend those parent-teacher conferences, like so many parents here at MESA do. And I have no doubt that we will still be talking about these problems in the next century if we do not have parents who are willing to turn off the TV once in awhile and put away the video games and read to their child. Responsibility for our children's education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them and spend time with them and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

This is the commitment we must make to our children. This is the chance they must have. And I will never forget that the only reason I'm standing here today is because I was given that same chance. And so was my wife.

Our parents weren't wealthy by any means. My mother raised my sister and me on her own, and she even had to use food stamps at one point. Michelle's father was a worker at a water-filtration plant on the South Side of Chicago and provided for his family on a single salary. And yet, with the help of scholarships and student loans and a little luck, Michelle and I both had the chance to receive a world-class education. And my sister ended up becoming a teacher herself.

That is the promise of education in America, that no matter what we look like or where we come from or who our parents are, each of us should have the opportunity to fulfill our God-given potential. Each of us should have the chance to achieve the American dream. Here at MESA, you've shown America just how that's possible. I congratulate you, and I wish you continued success, and I look forward to working with you and learning from you in the months and years ahead. Thank you."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Standstill Budget = Cuts?

An issue brief examines the standstill budget and whether or not it will bring about cuts to vital Oklahoma services. Keep in mind the impact the tax cuts had on this budget.

A question to ponder: can it really be a standstill budget when it increases $47M?

The Oklahoma Legislature adjourned last week after having approved appropriations for the upcoming year of $7.089 billion, an increase of just $47 million, or 0.7% compared to the current year.

A new issue brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute examines the main features of the FY '09 budget and reveals that flat funding may lead to cuts in programs and services in the year ahead.

With tax cuts enacted in previous sessions hampering revenue collections, most state agencies received no additional funding to cover rising costs or mandatory employee benefit increases. The brief notes that inflation for the goods and services purchased by state and local government are rising even faster than costs for the economy as a whole. In addition, agencies have been left to absorb costs for employee pension contributions that have increased by $66 million in the past three years and employee health care costs that have more than doubled since FY '03.

While most agencies will do whatever they can to avoid cutting services to the public, in some cases cuts may be unavoidable. As the new fiscal year approaches, close monitoring will be needed to understand what decisions are being taken to manage the budget squeeze, and to track the effects of these decisions on public programs and the clients and communities they serve.

The brief also notes that while Oklahoma has so far dodged the economic downturn plaguing other states, any prolonged or deep economic slowdown is likely to exacerbate the state's current budget challenges and create major shortfalls in the years ahead.

Just click here to read and download the full issue brief or a two-page fact sheet on the FY '09 Budget Basics from the OK Policy website.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reading Incentives

This article about reading incentives leaves me with an uneasy feeling about pleasure reading. In previous posts, everyone knows how much I love reading for pleasure and how important it is for adults to model the behavior for kids. You can find the introduction to the article later in the post.

I've just finished two books, "The Alexandria Link" and "The Romanov Prophesy", by an author new to me, Steve Berry. My incentive for reading them was pure enjoyment. Sadly, it seems reading for pleasure is not as popular as it once was.

Reading Scores Get 'Bump' From Student Incentives, Study Finds
By Erik W. Robelen

School-based reward programs that offer students such incentives as cash, free MP3 players, or other gifts appear to produce improved reading achievement across grade levels, preliminary findings from an ongoing research project suggest.
The analysis, which looked only at charter schools because of the prevalence of incentive programs in the independent public schools, found no impact on students’ performance in mathematics.

Released today by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes , at Stanford University, the study comes as a growing number of school districts and charter schools around the country are experimenting with such reward programs in the hope of improving student learning and behavior. The analysis suggests that incentive programs may well be a cost-effective measure...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Common Ed Press Release on Bonds

Bond Jeopardizes Schools

Class sizes are growing, fuel costs are increasing and resources are scarce. At what point do the record 641,000 school children, up 3,000 from last year, in Oklahoma Public Schools become a legislative priority?

Today, the legislature approved a $475 million bond package. It will cut future common education funding from two dedicated revenue sources.

“This is a poor way to fund our state. Passing bonds to make-up for cutting taxes is irresponsible government. Some of the things funded in the bond are pressing needs for Oklahoma, but at what cost to our schools? If the children are our future, why not protect that investment,” said Roy Bishop, Oklahoma Education Association President.

The bond included $300 million for roads and bridges, $100 million for higher education, $25 million for a Tulsa river project, $25 million for dams and $25 million for a Native American cultural center.

More than $30 million annually is expected to come from the general revenue fund to pay back the bond debt, devastating already cash-strapped state agencies.

Schools stand to lose even more funding. Money from Motor Vehicle Fees and Taxes will also be used to increase funding at the expense of schools. In addition, the proposal removes a trigger which required state revenue growth before additional funds were earmarked for roads. This proposal guarantees that schools will have less money available for appropriations in the future.

According to state statute Title 47, the intent of the legislature is that motor vehicle fees and taxes be used for general government functions of the state, counties, municipalities and schools. Now schools will be put on the back burner so mandated road programs can be funded.

“Chambers, realtors and businesses always make the point that a good education system is what will attract people to our state. Funding education will grow our economy,” said Mark Bledsoe, United Suburban Schools Association Executive Director.

With early predictions estimating a multi-million dollar budget shortfall for next year, education leaders said their fiscal situation is grim.

“Our school districts are already downsizing. In addition to rising fuel costs straining our budget, we are not hiring first-year teachers back, our class sizes are getting bigger and we have to cut essential electives,” said Randall Raburn, executive director of Cooperative Council of School Administration.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tax cuts and Funding for the Elderly

Try to follow the arguments of this logic where editors champion tax cuts and later complain about the standstill budget and funding priorities for other agencies. With over $560M in tax cuts this year and projections totalling $2B in the near future, the leaders of our state had money to allocate to a variety of state agencies.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the above mentioned editorial:

"The state has not made nursing homes a priority; this year's standstill budget ensures continued below-cost reimbursement rates and an inadequate number of inspectors....

We will toast the day when care of the elderly brews up as much discussion among lawmakers and the public as do education and child welfare."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Promises, Promises!

A promise is a promise. Lawmakers would do well to remember that as time runs out on an opportunity to fully fund higher education's endowed chairs program.

This is the opening paragraph to an editorial found in the Oklahoman. I guess they forgot about the promise to get teachers to the regional average in salary.

Friday, May 16, 2008

TRUST not Trustworthy Part 2

The truth about the Trust advertising campaign from David Averill of the Tulsa World.

Road lobby would detour education funding

There is no doubt that Oklahoma's highways and bridges are bad and that the state faces a herculean task bringing them up to snuff.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation faces a construction and maintenance project backlog estimated at $9 billion to $12 billion. Among those projects are more than 1,000 bridges that are outdated or load-restricted and in need of replacement.

While lawmakers and governors have infused some serious dollars into the system in the past few years, ODOT's current funding level is still only 12 percent higher than it was in 1985, which doesn't even come close to keeping up with inflation. Since 1985 the Consumer Price Index has increased 70 percent and the average daily vehicle miles driven in the state has increased by 50 percent.

That said, however, it is a shame that an advocacy group formed to lobby the Legislature for increased highway funding has conducted an advertising and public relations campaign that can be described most generously as misleading.

Among other things, the group's media blitz ignores or downplays the fact that if legislation it supports were passed -- a bill to earmark most motor vehicle fees for ODOT -- it would take money away from public education.

A group called the TRUST Coalition (Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation) has been pushing for the earmarking of motor vehicle, or license tag, fees for highway and bridge maintenance and construction. The group's membership includes road contractors who stand to benefit from increased construction.

The group's TV ads and press releases have constantly sounded the theme that motor vehicle fees are "road taxes" or highway user fees and that they are being "diverted" to other purposes. Its executive director has said that as a result of this so-called diversion, "We're paying for good roads, we're just not getting them."

The coalition's pitch is not true.

License tag fees are not and never were intended to be road taxes or highway user fees. They are not being diverted from road building and therefore can't be restored to that purpose. The fees, which amounted to nearly $622 million in 2007, are collected in lieu of personal property tax on cars, trucks and boats.

By law, 36 percent of motor vehicle fees go directly to local school districts. The coalition's ads and press releases lump those revenues among "non-highway" uses of the tag fee collections, never mentioning the words "school" or "education."

In addition to the 36 percent for local schools, about 45 percent goes to the state's general revenue fund and about 16 percent goes to various county and municipal highway and bridge funds. A dab also goes to the law enforcement officers retirement fund.

The coalition's proposed legislation, House Bill 3342, would not take away the 36 percent of motor vehicle fees that go directly to local school districts. The group's concern is the 45 percent that goes to the general fund. It claims that earmarking part or all of those revenues for roads and bridges would not harm education.

The no-harm claim is not true.

While education is woefully under-funded in Oklahoma it still is a big item in the state budget. About 36 percent of the budget each year goes for common schools (grades K-12). When higher education and vo-tech are added, total education funding approaches 60 percent of the budget.

That means that for every $100 that is diverted from the general fund and earmarked for another purpose, $60 is no longer available for common, higher and vo-tech education.

When a pie is re-cut to give someone (let's say transportation) a bigger slice, it means that someone else (schools) will get a smaller slice.

The roads coalition is not saying that it favors taking away money from education and giving it to highways. But that would be the result if its proposed bill became law. And that is especially true as the state faces standstill budgets, or worse, in the coming years.

Highway maintenance and construction are in desperate straits. Oklahomans say they want better roads but they don't want to pay for them. A modest gasoline tax increase put to voters a couple of years ago was resoundingly defeated. A bill passed by the Legislature promised $50 million a year in new money for highways but it was keyed to state revenue growth which isn't happening. Federal transportation matching money is being left on the table.

But shame on the TRUST Coalition for casting a covetous eye on a public education system that already is below the national average in per-pupil spending and whose teachers are among the nation's lowest-paid. And shame on it for pretending that that's not what it is doing.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

TRUST not Trustworthy Part 1

Oklahomans have been hit with a media campaign for roads and bridges funding by a group called TRUST. They have been less than accurate about the impact the proposals will have on education. I authored this piece for the Tulsa World.

All state agencies need more funds

There is a ''big bucks'' media campaign being waged in Oklahoma to try to convince legislators to better fund our roads and bridges.

The ads would have you believe that money from motor vehicle fees belongs to transportation and is being diverted to fund other state programs.

Actually, this could not be further from the truth.

Title 47 of the state statutes clearly states that the intent of the Legislature is that all motor vehicle fees and taxes shall be used for the general governmental functions of the state, counties, municipalities and schools and for the maintenance and upkeep of roads at all levels of Oklahoma government.

The 2007 collection from this fund was $608,271,976 and was allocated to the general revenue fund, to school districts, and to various city, county and state transportation and road funds.

Clearly, the money is going exactly where it was intended to go by the Legislature.

The media campaign financed by the TRUST transportation coalition has been successful.

Roads and bridges will be receiving more than originally promised for next year with additional increases the following year.

Sadly, that is not the case for other state agencies and programs. For those not able to finance a media campaign, the financial picture is bleak.

With $114 million less to spend next year and the current lower-than-predicted state revenue collections, it is hard to have optimism for the future of our state.

Because of those lower collections, education funding was short $42 million this year.

And while the Legislature says it is trying to make-up the shortfall, educators know how hollow those words can be.

The rhetoric of getting teachers to the regional average in pay, and providing increased operations funding for schools facing the increased costs of diesel fuel, heating and cooling costs, and other necessities are the recent examples of broken promises made to education this year. The future of services provided to Oklahomans won't get any better.

Tax cuts totaling $560 million dollars have been adopted by our Legislature with more to come.

Additional income tax cuts were temporarily suspended this year because of a ''trigger'' that was placed in the law in case of slower than expected state revenues.

These cuts will cripple our ability to provide good roads, safe prisons, healthy citizens and great public schools for every child in Oklahoma -- all services our citizens deserve.

And, as the budget gets tighter and tighter, the competition among deserving state agencies and programs will be more prevalent and those who have the money for a media campaign will win.

The result will be happy days for one and terrible days for all the others. Certainly, this is not a good way to run state government.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Bond Issue and SB 2100

$500 Million Bond Jeopardizes Education

Common Education leaders are concerned the bond proposal being discussed will create debt for Oklahoma and jeopardize already cash-strapped state agencies. Tax cuts have already eroded our infrastructure. If the bond is passed, it would:

*Require the bond debt to be paid out of the state general revenue fund starting next year.

*Result in less money and further cuts for education and other state agencies that vitally depend on funds from the state general revenue.

Voice your opposition against the bond.

SB 2100 Still Looms

School Districts already have the right to deregulate. This law is not needed. Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.

SB 2100 was passed by the house and the senate. Our best chance to preserve teachers' rights and working conditions is to send the bill to conference. This legislation session is scheduled to end May 23rd. We have two more weeks to keep a watchful eye on this dangerous bill. If the bill is sent to conference, our lobbyists can discuss important changes to protect your rights.


SB 2100 would allow school districts to:
Not follow all state regulations, only a select few.
Eliminate contract negotiations.
Reduce standards for teacher certification.
Eliminate due process.

Contatct your legislators at

Thursday, May 08, 2008

School Choice Series

Series of 10 policy briefs looks at research evidence on school reform

While advocates of school choice offer it as the key to school reform and opponents warn of its consequences, a close examination of research on the topic finds a decidedly mixed picture of the benefits and shortcomings of school choice.

School Choice: Evidence and Recommendations, a collection of 10 policy briefs on specific topics related to choice, brings together some of the top scholars in the field and presents a comprehensive overview of the best current knowledge available. Together, the briefs offer reason to believe that school choice can further some educational goals, but they also offer many reasons for caution.

The series, funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, is edited by Gary Miron, Kevin G. Welner, Patricia H. Hinchey, and Alex Molnar.

“School choice is a reform ideal that consistently has been debated and contested,” according to lead editor, Gary Miron. “This contentious debate arises, in part, because choice means so many different things to different people. But the debate often overlooks the diversity within the broad realm of school choice and the differences in how specific types of school choice are legislated and implemented.”

Miron says that a “key aim of School Choice: Evidence and Recommendations is to facilitate a more nuanced understanding of school choice.”

Indeed the expected outcomes of choice—usually presented as improved student achievement and instructional innovation as competition spurs all schools to do a better job of educating students—have thus far not been borne out on a large scale. Each of the 10 briefs that make up School Choice: Evidence and Recommendations zeroes in on particular aspects of choice and offers research and policy-making recommendations:

In Negotiating Public and Private: Philosophical Frameworks for School Choice, Terri Wilson examines the underlying philosophical assumptions that undergird choice proposals, including varying and sometimes conflicting understandings of public and private realms of action.

In How Legislation and Litigation Shape School Choice, Julie Mead traces the history of battles in the courts and the legislature over choice proposals, including legal rulings on school segregation that helped set the stage for some of the early public school choice measures, offered as tools for school integration.

The Impact of Advocacy Funding on the School Choice Debate, by Wendy C. Chi, documents the spending of ideologically based donors who fund communication and political action for and against choice policies.

School Choice and Accountability, by Gregg Garn and Casey Cobb, find evidence that undermines the common assumption that choice programs are by their nature more accountable to families or communities than traditional public schools.

In Funding Formulas, School Choice, and Inherent Incentives, Clive Belfield reviews the way particular approaches to paying for choice programs can influence their outcomes.

Teacher Qualifications and Work Environments Across School Types, Marisa Cannata presents original research that compares the qualifications and working conditions of teachers in various school settings.

Educational Innovation and Diversification in School Choice Plans, by Chris Lubienksi, examines and critiques the oft-held belief that choice schools will drive innovation.

School Choice and Segregation by Race, Class, and Achievement, by Roslyn Mickelson, Stephanie Southworth, and Martha Bottia, points to ways in which choice programs may be increasing segregation and stratification among schoolchildren rather than expanding diversity, more than 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation.

In The Competitive Effect of School Choice Policies on Performance in Traditional Public Schools, David Arsen and Yongmei Ni test—and find little current evidence for—the claim of school choice advocates that choice plans will also spur improvement in traditional public schools.

Finally, in The Impact of School Choice Reforms on Student Achievement, Gary Miron, Stephanie Evergreen, and Jessica Urschel review evidence for and against claims that schools of choice inherently contribute to greater achievement by students.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Standstill Budget & Bonds

Representatives of CCOSA, USSBA, USSA, OROS and the OEA held a press conference (1) to state our opposition to bond proposals and the impact they would have on the state's general revenue fund.

The state’s $7.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2009 is a standstill budget and has virtually no increased funding for schools or other state agencies. The state arrived at the standstill budget because of $560 million in tax cuts over the past couple of years.

Legislators are contemplating the use of a bond issue that will allow the state to sell bonds for specific projects, and pay off the bonds with state general revenue beginning next year.

The proposed bond issue is thought to have highway money, Higher Education Endowed chairs, Native American Culture Center, and a laundry list of legislator requests.

The contemplated projects are all worthy projects which deserve funding from the general appropriations process but this is bad economic policy. The state of Oklahoma will be buying on credit and the Governor and legislative leaders have already told us next year could be worse than this year.

We are in this mess because of tax cuts ($560M with potential to reach $800m-$1B) that could have funded our vital state services and education's needs including money for operations and getting teachers to the regional average in salary.

It's time for responsible members of the Oklahoma House and Senate to step up to the plate and put an end to this issue.

The following is the press release:

Education advocates said the FY 2009 $7 billion balanced budget may not be balanced at all. Despite the Oklahoma law requiring a balanced budget, lawmakers are deciding to borrow money in the form of bonds.

“We are simply buying on credit and leaving Oklahoma’s children to foot the bill,” said Dr. Randal Raburn, Executive Director of the Cooperative Council of School Administrators.

If the proposal is passed, a bond package of at least $500 million dollars would be borrowed with the promise of paying back the money from future state general revenue funds.

“We are not opposed to all bonds,” said Perry Willis, Executive Director of the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools. “It is one thing to pay them off with already designated money and quite another if they intend to use future general fund revenues that could be going to education.”

Oklahoma already ranks 48th in per pupil expenditures. With increases in fuel and other operations costs and no new money coming to schools, school districts are feeling the pinch. Over the last three years, schools operations funding have been short an average of $29 million, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“We are mortgaging our future with this type of deficit spending. This is clearly the negative impact of the $560 million dollar tax cuts,” said Roy Bishop, Oklahoma Education Association President.

A record student enrollment of 641,000 this year, nearly a 3,000 increase, and a fast-changing population challenged by poverty and language barriers require a commitment from our legislators to fully-fund education and protect its revenue sources.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Send SB2100 to Conference

SB 2100 was passed by the house and the senate. Our best chance to preserve teachers' rights and working conditions is to send the bill to conference. If the bill is sent to conference, our lobbyists can discuss important changes to protect your rights. Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.


SB 2100 would allow school districts to:
Not follow all state regulations, only a select few.
Eliminate contract negotiations.
Reduce standards for teacher certification.
Eliminate due process.

What is conference?Before a bill can become law, it is voted on by both the house and the senate. Amendments can be made to the bill, and then the bill is sent back to the house of origin. Senate bills are sent back to the senate and house bills are sent back to the house. The house of origin can vote to accept or reject the amendments. If the house of origin rejects the amendments, the bill is then sent to conference. The bill is discussed further in conference and voted on again by both the house and the senate before it goes to the governor to be signed into law or vetoed.


OEA's legislative and political organizing (LPO) staff would like to thank you for your contributions to the Fund for Children and Public Education. We raised more than $40,000 over Delegate Assembly weekend to support Friends of Education.
Don't forget!Call your Legislators today.

Monday, May 05, 2008

On Paying Teachers

Thank you Ken.

A sad Oklahoma story

By KEN NEAL Senior Editor 5/4/2008

State is mired in the past on teachers' salaries

The Sand Springs Education Foundation recently honored a "hometown boy" for his outstanding record as a football coach and educator.

He was a fellow with whom I started first grade. He and I finished high school at Sand Springs in 1953. I am leaving his name out because he would be embarrassed for me to tell this story.

But it is Oklahoma that should be embarrassed because his experience tells us a lot about what has been and still is wrong with the state's education system.

Our man attended college in a Midwestern state, played football there and obtained a degree in mathematics.

Upon graduation from college, he began looking for teaching opportunities. He wanted to return to Sand Springs to coach football and teach math.

But, then as now, Oklahoma was not the land of opportunity for teachers.

In fact, the state had just refused to raise teachers' salaries.

So our man answered an advertisement seeking teachers in a far-off northern state. He got a job in a small city, coached there for a few years and then became head coach in a suburb of a northern metropolis.

He coached there for 20 years, won his league's championship 15 times and was runner-up the other five years.

He was coach of the year several times in a large state and was honored by his coaching colleagues many times. He was so revered in his city that when the high school built a new stadium it was named for him.

He compiled a record of 161 wins and only 31 losses as a head coach. He retired early in 1986 to allow his trusted assistant to move up, but continued to teach for another five years.

He had a remarkable career. The sad part is that he could have had that career in Oklahoma. It's even sadder that he tried to do that, but could not justify returning home to work for far less money than he could make elsewhere.

That has been -- and still is -- the story of Oklahoma. We won't pay teachers salaries that make the state competitive. For that matter, we don't pay prison guards, welfare employees, judges and attorneys or just about any state worker what they could earn in other states.

We have had Legislature after Legislature that expects teachers and state employees to work for less than elsewhere, presumably because they are willing to sacrifice their families' welfare for the privilege of living in our great state. Lovely as it is, it is not that great.

Even now our Legislature has broken its word to teachers. Three years ago, lawmakers resolved to raise their salaries to the regional average. This year schools needed $64.9 million to do this, but the lawmakers failed to appropriate a dime for the raises.

The reason? The Legislature for the past two years has cut taxes, claiming the cuts would boom the economy. Of course, that is what George H.W. Bush called "Voodoo economics." The only thing that has kept Oklahoma spending from sinking even lower than it has is the soaring price of crude oil. The state gets 7 percent of the gross sales and a booming oil industry means more income tax revenue and bigger and bigger royalty checks.

Even with this oil windfall, the state's income has not met expectations. Lawmakers wring their hands and cry over no new money and a "steady state" or level budget. This, from the guys who engineered this state of affairs with their irresponsible tax policy.

For schools and other state agencies this "steady state" budget means sharp cuts, because all costs, particularly transportation costs, are higher than last year. In some school districts, teachers will be fired in order to pay those higher costs.

Lawmakers have convinced themselves and the people, that taxes in Oklahoma are too high and that government is spending too much money.

The facts are that Oklahomans are taxed at a level lower than most of the states and spending on education, highways, corrections and other services is less than almost any state.

But what of our Sand Springs boy who was forced to spend a highly productive career in another state?

He did well. He influenced hundreds of high school football players in a positive way. He taught hundreds of students to be mathematicians. He obviously influenced generations of people in his adopted hometown, far from Oklahoma.

But Oklahoma suffered. It reared this man; it educated him; it inspired him to be a coach and a teacher; it set him on his way in life, only to let him down when it came time to provide him a job.

Oklahoma was the loser in this transaction.

One wonders how many times this sad little story has been repeated in the past 30 years. How many of our best and brightest have we lost to other states because of our short-sightedness in paying teachers and others?

How many Oklahoma students have been deprived of being led by a man like our honoree at Sand Springs because of legislative stupidity (sorry, there's hardly another word for it).

The lawmakers even now are heading toward adjournment without making substantive progress on necessary services like public schools, highways, and corrections.

They never learn. It has been 50 years since our man struck out to teach and little has changed with Oklahoma education.

We are mired in the past.

Flawed Research:School Choice

School Choice Report Card Earns Poor Grades

EAST LANSING, Mich. (April 29, 2008)—Choice and Education across the States, a new report from the Heartland Institute, gives letter grades to states based on the extensiveness of their school choice systems. A review of the report for the Think Twice project concludes that it offers little or no useful information for policy makers.

Wendy Chi, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder, reviewed the report, which was written by Michael Van Winkle and released on April 17th by Heartland, whose stated mission is to “promote free-market solutions” that include “parental choice in education.”
The report, according to Chi, does little more than offer policy makers the argument that states should increase school choice, dressed up with a letter grade for each state.

Chi did praise the report for its clearly stated grading system, whereby states with more school choice options and fewer restrictions in choice programs got higher grades. But she criticized the report on several grounds. She noted that the basis for awarding grades was merely the “values and beliefs of the Heartland author.”

Chi finds that the report’s grading criteria “make no attempt to determine how states are employing the different types of school choice, nor do they attempt to assess the quality or results of those choice programs.” As a result, “a state with little demand for school choice would be awarded a better grade by the Heartland standard if it adopted poorly functioning, underfunded, ill-received choice programs that resulted in lower student performance.”

Finally, Chi criticizes the report’s assertion that an increase in school choice will strengthen accountability and improve student achievement. She explains that the author’s belief is not supported by empirical research. More generally, she notes that the report offers very little in the way of objective data to support its advocacy. Many of its claims are “unsupported assertions, offered without citations,” she writes.

In the end, the state legislators who are the intended audience for the Heartland report are likely to learn little of substance from it, other than the extent that the state offers school choice. As a result, she concludes, “it would seem the report is of use only as an advocacy document.”

Find the complete review by Wendy Chi as well as a link to the Heartland Institute’s report at: