On Instilling Humanity

An email exchange between Bartlesville Representative, Travis Dunlap, and one of his constituents has a few people riled up.  It began as an email from a citizen concerned about the effect Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s), or Vouchers, as it were, would have on an already financially crippled public education system in our state. In the exchange, Dunlap refers to public schools as “Atheist-based”, a description he goes on to admit was a poor choice of words. Dunlap told a Bartlesville newspaper, the Examiner-Enterprise (see link above),

 

“I, in no way, wanted to insult teachers or people who are in the schools, or comment, really, on anything that the schools were doing,” Dunlap said Thursday. “It was merely an acknowledgement of what our society and culture has decided would be the basis for schools, which a more useful term would have been secular.

 

Dunlap goes on to say,

 

“(Atheism) doesn’t instill a value for humankind, it doesn’t instill a value for relationships and love. This is just not covered in schools, just like atheism,”

 

Insert disgruntled emoji here.

 

During my junior year of high school, I was fortunate enough to have the social studies teacher who headed up our Christmas outreach, “Moore for Christmas”, which benefited families in need in our community. We spent the month of December in the library sorting through canned goods donations, and going door to door in the halls to collect change for purchasing hams and turkeys. It was a far better lesson in civics than we could have learned from our textbook.

 

But we don’t instill a value for humankind in public schools.

 

As an educator who teaches her students for multiple years, my office has become a safe place for many students during difficult times. They have shared their stories. “My parents are divorcing.” “My boyfriend broke my heart.” “My grandma died last week.” “I feel invisible.” “I’m overwhelmed.” They have wept. And I have listened. And occasionally offered a hug, or a kind word. For some students, it might have been the first in a long while.

 

But we don’t instill a value for humankind in public schools.

 

My school is revving up for “SWAG Week”, a multi-faceted school-wide philanthropic effort that will raise money for a specific cause. This “week”, primarily organized by students, will actually last several and takes months of preparation throughout the year. This year, the recipient of the fruits of SWAG week is a single-parent family with four children, one of whom was recently diagnosed with cancer. A colleague of mine once told me a similar effort at his school raises around $300,000 each year. From student efforts. Kids.

 

But we don’t instill a value for humankind in public schools.

 

A few weeks ago, a story made the rounds about a first-grader donating all the money he had to his school. Our state won’t properly fund education, so we’re relying on our citizens, even our youngest, to pick up the slack?

 

But we don’t teach humanity in public schools.

 

When my boosters needed money to help send me to a conference in Kansas City with my students, it was two of my former pupils who were the first to step up and pledge funds. “Somebody did it for us, and now it’s time for us to return the favor,” they said.

 

But we don’t instill a value for humankind in public schools.

 

Here’s a picture of the student body at Southmoore High School giving Special Olympics students a standing ovation at a pep rally:

File Feb 27, 10 59 19 AM

 

But we don’t instill a value for humankind in public schools.

 

I find it especially hypocritical that Rep. Dunlap makes these serious accusations while a member of a legislature that has cut to the bone Medicaid, public schools, and DHS, services that help the poorest of Oklahomans, many of whom are children. I’m a cradle Methodist and a pastor’s wife, and the last time I checked Jesus was pretty adamant about that whole “caring for the poor and needy” thing. Perhaps Rep. Dunlap needs to tend to the log in his own eye.

A Voucher by Any Other Name…

Public education advocates in Oklahoma are currently engaged in a battle that may ultimately decide the fate of our schools. Last week, HB2949, a bill concerning “Education Savings Accounts” (or “vouchers” as it were) passed (albeit BARELY) out of committee. Despite stacking the committee with the authors of the bill, it took the Speaker of the House and the Speaker Pro Tempore to nudge the bill over the threshold. Had it been left solely to the education committee, it would NOT have advanced.

 

It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts concerning this issue. I’ve wanted to post about this legislation all week. But there are so many things wrong with the idea of vouchers, I had a hard time determining which tack to take. What follows is an abridged version of my rather lengthy diatribe against vouchers. I chose just three of the many reasons why vouchers are bad for education, and consequently, bad for Oklahoma’s children:

It’s not MY money. I have three young children. In three years, they will all be school-age. If the per-pupil expenditure holds steady, Oklahoma will be allocating about 25K per year for their education. My husband and I did NOT pay 25K in taxes of any kind. Our property taxes last year were around $1900. Of that amount, around 60% goes to common education. Even if you combine federal and state income tax, sales tax, and property tax, our share wasn’t $25,000. That means other people’s tax contributions are making up the difference. Just like our taxes were before we had children. And like my parents’ taxes are now. It seems odd that republicans would choose to support a measure in which an individual gets to decide the fate of other people’s tax dollars. It behooves us all to support an educated populace because it correlates to a lower rate of incarceration and those dependent on government subsidies.

3If you want to win the war on poverty, education plays a huge role. If you want to End School As-we-know-it, starve public education of much needed funding and support.

There’s no clearcut plan for accountability.  Public schools must operate transparently. They are subject to testing mandates at the local, state, and federal level, and to report those test scores so they can be used as an evaluation tool. Public Schools educate all children. They must provide accommodations for students with documented physical and/or learning disabilities. Public Schools must operate with fiscal transparency. This means anybody can request the financial records of a particular district and see how the money is being spent. Private schools are not required to do any of these things. In fact, when the author of HB2949 was asked about accountability, his answers were vague at best:

 

Since when do Republicans (or anybody, for that matter) Encourage Spending without Accountability?

 

The numbers don’t add up. Proponents of voucher bills like to perpetuate the false rhetoric that public schools will benefit from vouchers because a small portion of the per-pupil expenditure will remain with his/her home public school district. This kind of logic simply doesn’t work. I teach in a high school with around 1100 students. Most teachers’ student load is around 120-150 students/day. That means you’d have to see that kind of exodus from our school due to vouchers in order to eliminate even ONE teaching position.   And that’s only if all of those 120-150 kids ar in the same grade. File Feb 21, 11 01 17 AMWe still have to keep the lights on and the heat and air going in the same building. We  have to pay custodians to sweep the same halls and clean the same bathrooms, whether 1000 or 1100 students are using them. In other words, our overhead costs don’t decrease because a few students take their money and leave. Our overhead remains virtually the same, except now we have less money to cover those costs. It’s a sneaky way to cut funding from schools if your endgame is to Eradicate [public] Schools in America.  They’re already running on fumes thanks to the steepest cuts to education in the nation over the last 8 years.  Money diverted from public education to private schools might just be the nail in the coffin.

 

#publicschoolswork

I’m not a performer. It’s not a path that particularly interested me, even throughout my training as a musician. I always wanted to be a teacher. I like directing. I enjoy bringing big projects to fruition and seeing my students steal the show. I like music and love people. That doesn’t mean I can’t perform on occasion when asked.

(You don’t know how uncomfortable it make me to post this.)

When people ask me, “where’d you learn to sing like that?”, my response is something along the lines of, “from the excellent teachers in my entirely public school education.”

Public schools work, folks. I’m living, breathing proof.

I’m the fourth of five children, all public school educated. My four siblings and I were among the top of our high school graduating classes. My brother was among 12 valedictorians in a class of nearly 1,000! Two of us were selected to the district gifted program for elementary students, which required testing in the top 3% nationally on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in the third grade. In my first attempt during my junior year of high school, I tied my brother’s composite ACT score of 30. In my next two attempts, I scored 31, including a perfect score in the reading section. This was enough for a full academic scholarship to SWOSU, where I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In fact, all five of us earned college scholarships, and all five of us have bachelor’s degrees. Three of us hold master’s degrees. Among us are: academic all-staters, basketball all-stater, soccer all-stater, vocal music all-stater, National Honor Society members, honor graduates and valedictorians, Masonic award-winners, FBLA officers, STUCO officers, Science Fair winners, and I could go on, but you get the point.

Public schools work.

My father was public school educated. The son of a teacher and coach, my father grew up valuing education and work ethic. My grandfather and all three of his sisters held master’s degrees.   This was quite the feat for anybody in the 1930’s, and certainly an uncommon accomplishment for women.

Public schools work.

My mother started school in a two-room school-house (one step up from a one-room school-house). There was no kindergarten then, so 1st-12th grades was enough to prepare her for college. She earned her teaching degree at K-State, a public university, where she became the first college graduate in her family.

Public schools work.

Yes, having invested parents who valued education and supported school efforts certainly helped. Having remarkable teachers helped, too. And I was not raised in wealthy schools. My elementary was among the lowest socio-economic status schools in the district at the time. My junior high was also the lowest, and in a building falling in on itself while we failed two bond issues in a row. The students of that school held most of the leadership positions in the high school because of the skills and confidence instilled within us by the amazing faculty.

Public schools work.

Public schools work when you fund them properly. Public schools work when you create a culture of respect and encouragement for teachers. Public schools work when you attract and keep the ones called to the profession with competitive pay and positive work places. Public schools work when you trust educators to do what’s best for kids. Public schools work when you encourage parents and community members to engage in education. Public schools work when you provide extra help and resources to places where parent and community involvement is a void. Public schools work when you hold those within them to reasonable expectations using equitable and useful evaluation tools.

Those who want to dismantle public schools will seek to remove those things.

Starve schools of necessary funding. Villainize district officials. Degrade teachers. Pit administrators against teachers. Bury teacher autonomy with overly strict and unreasonable standards. Take away as much instructional time as possible using mandates and testing. Hold teachers accountable for variables beyond their control in a child’s education. Ignore the role of poverty in student achievement. Then, pass the buck to somebody else (greedy teachers, union politics, number of school districts, revenue failure brought about by poor budget planning…).

Why would anybody want to dismantle public education?

That’s the billion dollar question, folks. Unfortunately, I think there is an answer: because creating the false rhetoric that public schools are failing opens the door for a corporate takeover of education.

I don’t believe that education should be run like a business. Education is people. Education is children. And I don’t believe people and children are business. Do you?

15th & 49th

Something has been gnawing at me for months, and I can’t keep silent any longer. A few nights ago, a friend posted this graphic on Facebook, which I shared.

File Jan 31, 9 00 36 PM

 

I’ve actually known this for about a year. Oklahoma legislators’ base salary is $38,500. Just for comparison, I’ll tell you my base salary is $36,076.62. That’s with 9 years of experience AND a master’s degree. In addition, Oklahoma legislators who live more than 50 miles from Oklahoma City receive a $160/day per diem during session.

 

Here are a few other comparisons:

 

Senators must be at least 25 years old and representatives must be at least 21 years old. Both must be residents in the district they represent for at least six months prior to their election. Educators must hold a college degree, preferably in education. They must pass a minimum of three examinations (OGET, OSAT, and OPTE) to be certified. Some disciplines, like high school math and science, require multiple OSAT’s so candidates will be qualified to teach all the courses that fall into that discipline.

 

Oklahoma legislators begin the legislative session on the first Monday in February, and end on the last Friday in May. This year, that’s 117 days INCLUDING weekends. Without weekends, it’s 83 days. As a teacher, my contract is for 180 days each year.

A teacher with a master’s degree will work 14 years before his/her pay equals that of our legislators.  A teacher with a bachelor’s will need to put in 17 years.

 

I want to make it clear that I do not find fault with any profession being compensated with a competitive and appropriate wage. I do, however, find it a hard pill to swallow that our legislators are content to accept their paycheck that places them 15th in the nation for state legislator compensation, while failing to raise teacher pay above 49th in the nation. I find it an especially hard pill to swallow while listening to justifications for low teacher pay like: 1.) Teachers only work 9 months out of the year 2.) The cost of living in Oklahoma is lower than other states   3.) Teacher pay should be tied to performance (have you checked out our state budget issues? Do legislators want their pay tied to performance?)

 

[This is where I wrote something particularly snarky about hypocrisy, but I took it out. Draw your own conclusions.]

 

Our legislators didn’t set their own pay, so I can’t blame them for taking home a reasonable wage for their work. I can and do blame them for failing to find a way to fund teacher salaries that keep us competitive with our neighboring states. Enough excuses. Fund education. Pay teachers…

 

Or I invite any legislator to justify why you deserve to bring home a higher salary than I do.