Thursday, October 01, 2009

Flawed Research: Strategic Vision and OCPA

One of my favorite categories in this blog is called "Flawed Research." This category deals with studies opponents of public education have used to try to discredit our schools. The organizations tout the results as gospel to push their anti-public education agenda.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is noted for using these studies to enhance their positions. Op-ed columns, press releases and press conferences have sung their praises.

Not surprisingly, when put under scrutiny, researchers find a number of flaws and/or serious issues with the creditability of the studies. A few days ago, a survey commissioned by OCPA and conducted by Strategic Vision out of Georgia, was used to show how poorly students were doing in Oklahoma in regards to Civics instruction. These results were based on phone interviews to questions found on the US citizenship test.

Our state newspapers both used the information in stories to show how schools were failing their students. The results, if legitimate, would have raised serious questions. However, a few days after the splash in the press, there was some serious investigative reporting done and further information about the polling company, Strategic Vision, came to light.

The reporting puts into question the validity of the research and results, and puts OCPA clearly in the spotlight of the "Flawed Research" category. One story, Can Oklahoma Students Really be this Dumb addresses the results and methods used by the polling company while the other story, Pollsters Under Fire for '08 Surveys, brings the historical credibility of this company into question.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rest in Peace Governor Bellmon

The death of former Governor Henry Bellmon brings back tremendous memories of his forward thinking and courage in supporting education with HB 1017. The Governor was a true education champion and his work was a benchmark other states hoped to reach.

Sadly, over the last few years, Governor Bellmon had to watch as members of the legislature have tried to eliminate all of the gains made under this bill. Remember, this bill was passed, and than voted on, and passed, by the people of Oklahoma.

May you rest in peace Governor Bellmon knowing there are those of us who will continue to fight for your educational legacy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Education Stimulus Dollars Used to Fill Budget Holes

In a story by Kelsey A. Kemp, "A survey recently conducted by the American Association of School Administrators reported that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding has prevented school districts nationwide from implementing reform and changes.

The survey, Schools and the Stimulus: How America's Public School Districts Are Using ARRA Funds, reports that while the ARRA funds mean additional dollars in school districts, most of that money is being used to shore up fiscal budget holes and, even then, the stimulus money is often not enough to prevent school districts from eliminating personnel and core subject teaching positions. According to the survey, more than 67 percent of the 160 school administrators said that the stimulus dollars were being directed toward filling state and local budget holes, and 53 percent of the administrators surveyed said they were unable to save teaching positions for either core subjects or special education."

Does it surprise anyone that stimulus money is being used to fill holes created by budget shortfalls? The money from the federal government was supposed to be used for new programs and innovations. What does this mean for the future of our schools? You can bet the opponents of public education will talk about how the stimulus money didn't work without addressing the real issues.

It's time we let President Obama and Secretary Duncan know what is taking place and we need to hold our legislators accountable for the budget mess they've created.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Oklahoman Begins Support for SQ 744??

"A survey being released today by the nonprofit Oklahomans for Responsible Government calls on school districts to make more information available to taxpayers via Web sites. Transparency, the group contends, is an effective and cost-efficient way to keep the public informed about matters ranging from public meetings to budgets. We agree."--Oklahoman Editorial

One of the components of SQ 744, aka the HOPE Campaign, is the commitment to school transparency. In an editorial, both of the Oklahoman and Oklahomans for Responsible Government support school transparency. They are finally seeing the light. Can their endorsement of SQ 744 be coming soon?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Editorial Facts and Common Sense: Plan B Less Money for Teachers?

"How do you fill a $55.6 million hole in your grand strategy to reshape the education world?

It's a good question, but not an insoluble one. The answer will require the help of all the people who have brought the district this far in the process. The Tulsa philanthropic community will be called on for bigger donations. The state will need to give more, too. The teachers' union may need to consider taking a bit less. The district will have to scour its budget looking for other ways to reallocate the tax resources it has."--Tulsa World Editorial

The Tulsa School District found out it was not one of the schools selected for foundation money from Bill Gates. These excerpts from the world let you know how difficult it is to put these plans in place. There isn't enough money to do this kind of plan so the "teacher;s union" needs to take less.

Another broken promise in the performance pay debate. This isn't unusual. Performance pay plans fail because there is never enough money as they collapse under their own weight. Teacher's "buy in" to a program while changing aspects of their bargained contract. What do they get for it--broken promises and a weaker contract. It takes money to fund these programs and Tulsa has its work cut out for it to fund what they wanted to do.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Editorial Facts and Common Sense: The Same Weak Argument

"Furthermore, the income tax cuts of recent years aren’t responsible for the revenue shortfall."--An excerpt from a recent editorial in the Oklahoman when discussing the shortfall in collections as state agencies are notified they will face a 5% cut in their budgets.

The impact of the cuts will have cost Oklahoma $ 2 Billion in growth revenue. The writer(s) try to continually make their weak argument at every chance they get forgetting the lessons they should have learned if they would have done their homework regarding the last time our state cut growth money when oil prices were high.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

NEA President on Health Care

Here is a copy of the letter NEA President Dennis Van Roekel sent to President Obama. (A similar one was sent to members of Congress.) I don't see anything I can't agree with as a citizen concerned about this issue. Maybe if we centered the debated on these points instead of exaggeration and fear-mongering, we'd have a civil discourse.

March 03, 2009
Dear President Obama:

The National Education Association commends you for placing health care reform at the top of your agenda and for convening a Summit on Health Care to examine this critical issue. Our 3.2 million members, including teachers, education support professionals, and higher education faculty, have long been strong supporters of the need for access to quality, affordable and comprehensive health care coverage for all residents of the United States.

While health care reform is vital to the recovery of our nation's economy, it is also a crucial ingredient for successful public schools. NEA members know firsthand that the lack of necessary medical and dental services for children and students of all ages creates a serious impediment to the learning process. In addition, families with access to a regular source of medical care are more likely to keep the entire family healthy and create a better learning environment within the home. By helping public schools attract and retain top-quality educators, health care benefits also play an important role in ensuring great public schools for all students. When school nurses become primary care providers, as happens all too frequently today, we're well past the time for health care reform.

NEA believes that health care reform must:

1. Guarantee coverage for the uninsured, currently estimated at 45 million individuals, including 9 million children;

2. Control costs so that premiums and health care services are affordable to all, regardless of income or employment status;

3. Incorporate provisions and standards related to medical safety and quality;

4. Result in comprehensive health care coverage that includes but is not limited to medical, surgical, hospital, behavioral health, prescription drug, dental, vision, hearing, and long-term care services and allows choice of providers;

5. Include preventive, wellness, rehabilitative, and disease management programs;

6. Make use of health information technology to reduce medical errors and administrative costs.

We recognize that there are many ways that health care reform could attempt to achieve the broad goals outlined above, but we also know that some proposals under discussion could ultimately be more harmful than helpful. For that reason, NEA also believes that reform must:

*Ensure the availability and security of employment-based health benefit plans. The employment-based system is a proven and effective way for workers and their employers to mutually agree upon the health benefit packages that make the most sense for them. Health care reform must not disrupt this system.

*Guarantee that the employee tax exclusion for health benefits is not limited or capped in any way. Over the course of their careers, many public education employees have traded salary increases for the long term security of a comprehensive health plan. Telling hard-working employees that benefits will be cut or that they will pay more taxes would unfairly penalize them. A tax on salaries above a certain amount would also be unfair to experienced educators who, after decades of dedicated service, have climbed to the top of their salary schedules. Limiting or capping the tax exclusion for health benefits could have a disastrous effect on public education by discouraging highly qualified workers from entering or staying in the profession.

*Maintain the ability of workers and employers to determine the appropriate level of health care benefits available to both active and retired employees, including the ability to negotiate above any basic benefit plan floor that might be legislated.

*Recognize and accommodate the specific circumstances of public sector employers, including their tax status. For example, reform proposals that include employer incentives to encourage continuation of employer-sponsored health care benefits should be mirrored in the public and private sectors.

*Ensure that health care benefits are available through a current or former employer, a government-sponsored program such as Medicare, Medicaid, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and/or a new initiative that would meet the goals outlined here. To ensure coverage of those who need it, NEA would support the creation of a well-funded public plan with comprehensive benefits intended for individuals and for small employers who do not currently offer health care benefits to their employees.

We thank you for your consideration of our views on these very important issues. We look forward to working with your Administration to ensure quality, affordable health care for everyone in America.

Dennis Van Roekel, President

House Ways and Means CommitteeHouse Energy and Commerce CommitteeHouse Education and Labor Committee Senate Finance CommitteeSenate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Kindle in Every Backpack?

Here is an interesting opinion about all children having their own "Kindle in a backpack" so they can keep up with changing textbooks, the weight of textbooks and other issues facing students when dealing with books.

It's a concept that will be debated as we continue to move forward with new technologies. One only has to wonder how far the publishing companies are willing to go when this could conceivably cut into their profits.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Reading Coming to a Close

I hope you've found some time during the summer months to take some time for yourself and read a good book or two. I've had some really enjoyable fiction reads including "The Doomsday Key" by James Rollins; "The Devil's Punchbowl" by Greg Iles; and I just finished "A Plague of Secrets" by John Lescroart.

All of them were good reads, and if I had to recommend them I would pick Iles first, followed by Rollins and finishing up with Lescroart.

Iles work is takes you to life in Natchez, Mississippi for corruption, gambling,prostitution, and dog fighting. He is very graphic in his writing--so be warned.

I've never read any of Rollins work but I enjoyed this story line and there are a number of ethical/real life questions that makes you really think about dealing with the earth's population.

I've always enjoyed John Lescroart's work and this is no different. Secrets continues to build on the relationship between lawyer Hardy and detective Glitzky. I was surprised when he revealed the person/s who were responsible for the crimes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Editorial Facts and Common Sense

An editorial in the Oklahoman, addressing Oklahoma's poor showing in per pupil expenditure based on the latest US Census Bureau's report, brought out suspect arguements as it tries to refute Oklahoman's support of the HOPE campaign (SQ 744).

In an effort to address perceived short-comings, Oklahoma is compared to Utah whose students do better on the NAEP, despite warnings by NAEP officials for states not to compare results if states have their own state standards.

Utah's students are recognized by the writer as being "predominately white and more affluent" than Oklahoma's students. For years, the impact of poverty on kids has been a strong indicator of success. In comparing kids from the USA to other countries, America's public schools are bashed for not being competitive. But when you take out the scores of students in poverty, our kids come out on top.

No one is saying you ignore those in poverty, but to ignore the role poverty plays in students lives is irresponsible.

Another "fact" is that common education receives 35% of the Oklahoma budget. What the article fails to mention is that common ed use to receive 39% of the budget as its share continues to decrease.

Oklahoma is supposedly working very hard and will do better "when the economy recovers and revenues permit." Oklahoma is an oil state. The revenues coming in were incredible. Because Oklahoma had so much growth revenue, the legislature, thinking the revenue would last forever, cut taxes. They learned nothing about oil revenue, tax cuts and the impact on revenues occurring in the 1980's. For Oklahoma, our revenue problems, with a shortfall of $2B, are largely self-imposed.

The piece even states "[t]he claim that the Legislature enacted tax cuts at the expense of schools is unfounded...." Is it really? The state has a shortfall of a couple of billion, and it's not at the expense of schools? Not only schools but everything else.

Addressing salaries for the Oklahoman has always been about merit pay and the salary schedule. When presented with ways to enhance teacher pay, they balk at the possibilities and always return to the same old arguments.

Paying teachers to be competitive with other states and other professions gives Oklahoma the opportunity to recruit and retain people. However, when we aren't competitive, we end up with teacher shortages the legislature addresses by passing a variety of ways to become a teacher. We don't have a teacher shortage in our state. We have a number of graduates with education degrees who are in other professions because the pay and benefits are so low.

As more information is made available showing the legislature's embarrassingly low commitment to kids and our future, you will continue to see responses that try to white-wash the truth. Sadly, all Oklahomans are impacted by the "white-wash" and our state will have a difficult time competing and growing in its second century if the truth is not told.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thoughts from a Boston Cab Driver

During a cab ride back to my hotel on my recent stay in Boston, I struck up conversation with the driver. He shared a number of interesting stories including fares in which he picked up a number of athletes, Mr. & Mrs. Tom Hanks, and his favorite passenger, Donald Sutherland. As the conversation shifted to Boston and the surrounding area, I asked him how long he’d been a resident. All my life, he said.

When someone responds in that manner, I always ask them why. For the driver, it was two reasons. The first was one I wasn’t surprised to hear, the four distinct seasons, which he loved. Many of the locals have said the same thing.

I was surprised with his second reason. He said he loved the commitment to higher education the city had to offer. Kids from all over the world come to Boston for school, and a large number of them stay and make their homes here. He loved the thought that his city was never growing old and that wouldn’t be happening without the colleges and universities in the area.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lessons from the Horizon Summer Programs

Earlier this evening, NBC News ran a story on the Horizon Summer Programs that are helping public school students address the "summer brain drain". According to the video, the programs help address the achievement gap issues by providing selected students with tuition to attend, individual attention, and a varied curriculum involving swimming and other electives.

In order to attend, public school teachers nominate kids to be considered, and the ones who get accepted have their tuition paid by a private foundation.

It would seem that money, individual attention aka. lower class size, quality time with kids (including schedule) and a well rounded curriculum make a difference in the achievement gap.

These are the same issues public school teachers have been advocating for their schools. Maybe now the "so-called experts" will address those needs for all of our public schools.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

2009 RA Sights & Sounds-OEA's New Leadership Team

OEA's new leadership team: Lori Burris-Mid-Del Schools, Senior NEA Director, Linda Hampton-Pleseant Grove, Vice-President; Alicia Priest, Yukon, Jr. NEA Director, Becky Felts, Tahlequah, President, Lela Odom, Executive Director.

They will make a great team and do an outstanding job.

2009 RA Sights & Sounds-Passing of the Gavel

The passing of the gavel to Becky Felts, OEA President.

2009 RA Sights & Sounds-OEA Skit

Whenever there is a change in leadership, OEA delegates to the RA give tribute to the outgoing officers with testimonials before "throwing them under the bus" in a special skit in remembrance of their time in office. Special recognition to Greer Nichols who played me and Vice-President Elect Linda Hampton, who played my wife Katherine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

2009 RA Sights & Sounds-OEA at the RA

2009 RA Sights & Sounds--Bob Chanin, NEA General Counsel

"During the Bush administration...NEA was audited by the Internal Revenue Service, repeatedly. It was investigated by the Department of Labor. And it was called a "terrorist organization" by the Secretary of Education....Attacks by conservative and right-wing groups will continue unabated....Why, you may ask, is this so? Why are these...bastards picking on NEA and its affiliates. I will tell you why. It is the price we pay for success. NEA has been singled out because they are the most effective unions in the United States.--Bob Chanin, NEA General Counsel addressing the 2009 RA.

2009 RA Sights & Sounds--Anthony Mullen, Teacher of the Year

"America's teachers and education support professionals live in very challenging and stressful times. Incredibly, many of the nation's economic problems are now directed at unions. We have become easy targets for some misguided government officials, economists, and media talking heads who believe it is time for us to give back and to share the pain. Well, teachers and education support professionals have burdened the pain of being underpaid and overworked for too long.

And since we have been given very little, we have nothing to give back. Teachers did not leave their classrooms and abandon children when the best deal in town was to work in the financial services sector. We did not join the legions of people that became wealthy by sitting in front of a computer and selling stocks and managing hedge funds. We did not envy friends and neighbors who prospered during the 1980s and 1990s and bought McMansions and took trips to Bali. No, we stayed with our students because we believe that education and our nation's children are too valuable to be abandoned for a new sports car. So we accepted our meager raises. We worked harder to narrow the achievement gap and did more with less to help our nation prosper. And now, some of the very same people who once asked me how I could live on a teacher's salary, are now asking me what I can do to help the economy. What my union is going to do to help the economy.

And I tell these people two things: One, teachers did not crash the economy. Greed and corruption by people entrusted with our country's financial health collapsed the economy.

And two, unions are helping to recover the economy by protecting the rights of their members. Unions are making sure that what has made our country great, the middle class, will not be sacrificed for the decadence of Wall Street."--Anthony Mullen, 2009 National Teacher of the Year

2009 RA Sights & Sounds--Linda Darling-Hammond, NEA Friend of Education

"We need federal education policies that support educators in doing the challenging work they have committed to do, that supports schools to improve, that supports students in and out of school with adequate health care, with housing, with community supports. You know, when you go to high-achieving nations around the world, they don't have children who are homeless. They don't have children without health care. They have a safety net that enables every child to come to school ready to learn that day and to take advantage of what the school has to offer, as well as well-qualified teachers, counselors, principals and plentiful, high-quality learning materials. We need to meet international standards by treating education and teaching in this country the way they are treated in high-achieving nations around the world."--Linda Darling-Hammond, 2009 NEA Friend of Education

2009 RA Sights & Sounds--Dennis Van Roekel's Keynote Address

"And contrary to what our opponents might say... NEA welcomes a national conversation about how to transform our school system... better ways to measure student learning... to improve the practice of our profession... to attract bright and talented students into teaching... and to confront the problems that plague poor and minority children in struggling schools."--NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's keynote address on July 3.

2009 RA Sights & Sounds--Arne Duncan

"The President and I have both said repeatedly that we are not going to impose reform but rather work with teachers, principals, and unions to find what works."-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

2009 RA Sights & Sounds-OEA Night Out

The 2009 Oklahoma Night Out was a ballgame. We started out in the bright, warm sun, but as soon as it went down, it got cool--mid 60's. Unfortunately for San Diego fans, the Padres' bats were just as cold as they lost 6-1 to Houston.