Archives for the month of: May, 2018

Melissa Smith is a teacher at US Grant High School in Oklahoma City and a member of the AFT. She writes here about the effect of dramatic budget cuts on her school.

Unless you are in a school every day, you might not see the results of underfunding education. That is because we open our doors no matter what, and my colleagues and I will do everything we can to make sure our students get the education they deserve. But just because the consequences are invisible doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Isn’t that the definition of privilege? Thinking something isn’t a problem simply because it might not be a problem for you?

You have probably heard about the recent teacher walkout in Oklahoma. While some of that was about teacher salaries, it was more about the conditions in our schools – conditions that resulted from years of underfunding education.

The Oklahoma City public schools district is the largest in the state, serving about 46,000 students. Because of relentless decreases in funding from the Oklahoma legislature, our district has had to cut almost $40m in the past two years. This has resulted in our fine arts budgets being slashed by 50%, our library media budgets being completely eliminated and district officials being forced to end the school year days early.

Our school system also has 58 classrooms that are “split-level”. This means a teacher is required to teach two different curricula to two different grade levels at the same time in the same classroom. And our teachers do this without the help of a teaching assistant…

Our classes are extremely overcrowded, with 30 and 40 students per class. Some of us don’t even have enough desks for our students to sit in. Coach Aaron McVay, one of our PE teachers, has had classes of more than 80 students. How much learning happens in a class of 80?

Some teachers don’t even have classrooms. They keep their belongings, textbooks and supplies on carts and push them from classroom to classroom, hour to hour. I have been a traveling teacher. Like some of our fellow union members who are adjunct college professors and hold “office hours” in their cars and nurses who travel from school to school, fingers crossed, hoping no one at a school across town will suffer a health crisis, it is almost impossible to be an effective educator while carting your work around…

The cut that hurt most was losing our two maintenance workers, Gerald and Joe, whose positions were eliminated when our district was forced to cut the first $30m in 2017. Gerald and Joe kept our building running. Without them, nothing seems to work. Last August, we had days without air conditioning. It was common for my classroom to reach 90 degrees by 9am. In fact, Cristina Moershel taught her class outside because it was cooler there than in her classroom. Outside. In August. In Oklahoma. She used a dry erase marker on the window to teach calculus while her students sat on the ground.

Our current history textbook is so old that the Oklahoma City bombing only gets a couple of pages in the epilogue
Now, think about how much these problems would be exacerbated if some of this year’s proposed cuts to federal funding were to go through.

Cuts would make it impossible to retain qualified teachers instead of losing them at the rate of almost 400 per month. If there are cuts to federal programs for low-income students or students with disabilities, what else will my school have to sacrifice to provide the services they need? How will these cuts help students graduate and take on the world?

I had planned to write a post about the excellent article in the New Yorker about the Oklahoma teachers’ strike, but discovered this morning that Jan Resseger, one of my favorite bloggers, beat me to the punch. The article by Rivera Galchen clearly connects the red state anti-tax policies and the underfunding of schools.

She writes:

Watching teachers walk out this spring has startled America in these discouraging times, but nowhere was it as moving as in Oklahoma. The teachers walked out, and, grateful that teachers had figured out a way to expose desperate conditions in the schools, school superintendents and school boards—the management—shut down school for two weeks and walked with their teachers in gratitude. At the statehouse itself the protestors walked into a brick wall. More than just demonstrating what is missing from their classrooms, they showed what decent concern for our children would require of us as citizens and what—across too many of our states—one-party, anti-tax state legislators and governors are quite satisfied to deny.

Rivka Galchen profiles the Oklahoma walkout in this week’s New Yorker magazine. Galchen, who accompanied and learned to know many teachers, reflects on her own experience of the strike and on the lives of teachers she came to know.

Even before the strike when they worried about a possible walkout, members of the legislature proposed a modest raise. But teachers, desperate about the conditions for children in their schools, refused to cancel the walkout. Galchen writes: “Teachers in Oklahoma are paid less than those in West Virginia, which spends forty percent more per pupil than Oklahoma does… In response to the threat of a walkout, the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature offered teachers a pay raise of around six thousand dollars a year. It funded the raise with an assortment of tax bills, most of which disproportionately affect the poor—a cigarette tax, a diesel tax, an Amazon sales tax, an expansion of ball and dice gambling, and a five-dollar-per-room hotel-motel tax. The Republicans touted the move as historic, and it was: the legislature hadn’t passed a tax increase since 1990.”

Galchen carefully defines the constraints placed on the state by years of anti-tax governments: “Oklahoma has essentially been under single-party rule for about a decade. The state legislature is eighty percent Republican, and in the most recent midterm elections the Democrats didn’t field a candidate in nearly half the races. Governor Fallin is in her eighth year, and during her tenure nearly all state agencies have seen cuts of between ten and thirty percent, even as the population that those agencies serve has increased. A capital-gains tax break was configured in such a way that two-thirds of the benefit went to the eight hundred wealthiest families in the state. An income-tax reduction similarly benefited primarily the wealthy. The tax on fracked oil was slashed, and when it was nudged back up—it remains the lowest in the nation—the energy billionaire and political kingmaker Harold Hamm, whose estimated net worth is quadruple the budget that the legislature allocates to the state, stood in the gallery of the capitol, letting the lawmakers know that he was watching. Reversing tax cuts is never easy, but it’s almost impossible in Oklahoma. In 1992, a law was passed requiring that any bill to raise taxes receive the assent of the governor and three-quarters of the legislature.”

A new federal evaluation of the DC voucher program finds that students who used vouchers lost ground in math.

Watch as school choice advocates change the goal posts. Test scores don’t matter.

In the photo, Betsy DeVos appears delighted.

Here is the study:

Click to access 20184010.pdf

Early news reports indicate that the Trump-DeVos Commission on School Safety is leaning towards “social-emotional” learning as the best antidote to gun violence, combined with a heavy emphasis on religious training in religious schools. We will see.

Meanwhile, here is a 20-Second video from North Texas that demonstrates excellent social-emotional learning at no cost. Student-centered, interactive, constructive, human to human.

Some sensible Ohio legislators recognize that the A-F letter grades for schools (invented by Jeb Bush to accelerate privatization) measures nothing more than the wealth or poverty of the district. They would like to revise the simplistic letter grade to a “data dashboard,” reflecting the manic love of all things data.

But John Kasich stands in the way. While pretending to be a moderate Republican for the National media, he is still a right winger at heart.

Andrew Brenner is chairman of the House Education Committee in Ohio. He has a knack for making provocative and unfair statements. A few years ago, he said that public schools were “socialism.” He also regularly blocks people on Twitter if they disagree with his extremism. His critics have started their own Facebook page.

Denis Smith has written a genial open letter to Andrew Brenner. He thinks Andrew should revere the First Amendment even more than the Second Amendment, because it comes first.

He should listen to his constituents. He might learn that he is out of synch with their views.

Remember that thousands of teachers from across North Carolina took a personal day to assemble at the State Capitol on May 16 to protest the underfunding of public education?

Maybe you forgot, but you are not alone if you did. The North Carolina General Assembly passed a budget without hearings that is a dagger in the heart of public schools.

It contains plenty of goodies for charter schools and cybercharters.

But it expresses contempt for public schools and their teachers. The extremists now in charge of the General Assembly won’t be content until they have privatized every school in the state.

NBCT teacher Stuart Egan explains the budget here.

Governor Eric Greitens has resigned, after acknowledging an extramarital affair.

I have followed Governor Greitens because of his determination to increase the number of charter schools in Missouri. He packed the state school board with allies, who proceeded to fire the nonpartisan State Commissioner. Greitens had lined up his choice, a charter advocate. But he never bothered to have the State Senate confirm his appointees, and they had no authority to make decisions so for the foreseeable future, Missouri has no Governor and no State Board of Education. They did not have the legal authority to fire the State Commissioner but they did anyway.

Politico reports:

JUDGE DEALS SETBACK TO DEVOS’ HANDLING OF STUDENT FRAUD CLAIMS: The Trump administration’s sweeping efforts to overhaul Obama-era higher education policies drew their first judicial rebuke on Friday evening when a federal judge in California temporarily blocked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ new approach to processing student loan fraud claims.

— A federal judge in San Francisco blocked DeVos from carrying out her policy of granting only partial loan forgiveness to some defrauded for-profit college students. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim ruled that the Trump administration’s new “tiered relief” process for those student fraud claims violates a federal privacy law meant to protect how government agencies collect and use individuals’ personal information. Read the full story here.

— The court ruled that the Education Department violated the Privacy Act by improperly using borrowers’ federal earnings data from the Social Security Administration to calculate the amount of loan forgiveness for each student. That policy, unveiled by DeVos in December, was aimed at providing defrauded borrowers with debt relief that’s commensurate with how much they suffered. The Trump administration said it was a fairer approach that would protect taxpayers against “runaway costs” of forgiving large amounts of federal student loans.

— “This is an important ruling for former Corinthian Colleges students,” said Toby Merrill, the director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which brought the lawsuit along with Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal advocacy group. “It clearly states that the Department of Education must immediately stop using its lawless partial denial rule.”

— The preliminary injunction issued Friday blocks DeVos from carrying out the partial loan forgiveness policy “as it currently exists.” But the 38-page ruling makes clear that the Trump administration could come up with a different process that provides partial loan forgiveness for defrauded students. Judge Kim wrote that “there is no question that the [Education] Secretary has the power to determine the amount of relief a borrower can obtain” so long as that process for doing so is lawful. She also rejected the former students’ claims that DeVos’ partial loan forgiveness policy was “arbitrary and capricious” or that it violated their due process rights.

— What’s next: The judge ruled that the Education Department’s violation of the Privacy Act warranted an immediate order blocking the policy. But she said she didn’t have enough information to decide whether to go a step further and order the department to provide full loan forgiveness to the former Corinthian students. She set a hearing on that issue for June 4.


How does a parent react when he sends his beloved little one to school in small town America, where everyone knows their neighbors, and gets a text message that the schools are in lockdown? How does the parent write about it when he is a novelist who writes novels for adolescents?

Rob Kent tells the story of the lockdown in Noblesville, Indiana.

“I ran all the way home.

“I got online to read the news.

“God didn’t let my baby be murdered today. Or there is no God and I got lucky. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Indiana in me, but I needed God to be real today and today She was.

“When I read the news, I saw the shooter had already been apprehended. And it was the middle school, not the elementary school that had been attacked. So my baby was probably okay… probably.

“It’s Little Ninja’s first full year of school. And he loves it. His teacher is truly one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. Hands down, Mrs. Sarah Dodson is a better person than I am. She has infinite patience and limitless love for her students. Every parent-teacher conference we’ve had, she’s expressed love for my son and for her job and if it were up to me who Noblesville, Indiana built our next statue of, it would be her. My son has some special needs that have worried me a whole lot, and Little Ninja has made so much progress under her tutelage. I tagged along on a field trip on a rainy October day to a pumpkin patch and I personally witnessed Mrs. Dodson muddy and exhausted, but still filled with enthusiasm for her students. When I think of the great teachers of the world, I will always think of Mrs. Dodson.

“Today, I saw Mrs. Dodson cry. Who would do that to so wonderful a woman? Who would make her hurt? What unjust, cruel, uncaring God would look down from Her heaven and allow that to happen?

“I won’t pretend to remember everything that happened this morning. It’s all a blur of panic, but I remember thinking, please, Lord, make that son of b**ch Marco Rubio hurt. Let Ayn Rand sycophant Paul Ryan feel this pain (and please, let hell be real so there’s a place for him to burn in after this life). Twist Mitch McConnell’s turtle guts with the evil he’s allowed to befall the people he was supposed to be watching out for. These are bad men, Lord, and enemies of the American people who sold their souls to the NRA and let innocent children be murdered so they could collect campaign contributions. They are worms crawling bare-bellied in the dirt and beneath my contempt.

“I know this. Every American who reads the news knows this.

“And you go straight to hell, Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who came to Noblesville to offer your empty thoughts and prayers when we know you accepted $2,896,732 in contributions from the NRA. You give up every cent of blood money you’ve taken and dedicate the rest of your life to making this right and maybe we Hoosiers can forgive you. Until then, go f**k yourself.

“I thought of all this today, and of the political tweets I’ve sent and the occasional FB posts I’ve made, but all that makes no difference when there’s a shooter in your community. I haven’t attended any political protests recently (I can’t get a sitter for Black Panther, let alone a protest march).

“All that political rhetoric, all that wasted energy raging about what crooked officials are doing hundreds of miles from here in Washington means exactly f**k all when it’s your child’s school that’s on lock down from a shooter and you get that call in the middle of your morning when you’re supposed to be focused on writing a lovely children’s story and imagining a better world…

“Mrs. Dodson called me as I was watching for Little Ninja’s school bus to tell me the bus wasn’t coming. If I’d stayed home today, if the bus had brought Little Ninja to me as usual, this incident might’ve just been another school shooting on the news. I would’ve still been terrified, but one step removed. Instead, I had to go to the school in person….

“I’m crying as I type this, because I never thought I’d see something like that in little old Noblesville, Indiana. Because that nasty, awful stuff only happens on TV. It doesn’t happen here where I live. That little girl knew she wasn’t safe, hadn’t ever been safe, not really, and I don’t know how she’ll ever feel safe in school again. And her mother couldn’t maintain. Of course, she couldn’t. I couldn’t either. I doubt I’ll ever forget today, but I know that little girl and her mother won’t forget it…

“Esteemed Reader, I’m wrung out. It’s been a long day and my heart has been broken. The school I send my one and only child to everyday was threatened and I can’t ever put Little Ninja on a bus again without wondering if I’m sending a lamb to the slaughter. I doubt any Hoosier parent here in my town will ever take that for granted again.

“What I do know is that we can’t live like this. Don’t kid yourself that this can’t happen where you live. That’s what I thought. America is a land of violence and violence will find you, even in the quiet town of Noblesville, Indiana. Even where you live…

“Esteemed Reader, your children aren’t safe either. Not in the United States.

“And that’s where I should leave it. I don’t know how we fix this. I’m not that smart. We can write to our senators, but I don’t have $2,896,732 to offer them unless y’all buy a whole lot more of my books, and politicians don’t give a sh*t about average people. We know this. They think they’re better than us and they’re wrong, but I’ve seen the members of my fellow populace, and I get it.”

I apologize for abbreviating Mr. Kent’s fine prose, but you are more likely to read his post if I leave out the best parts.

The bottom line is that Senator Todd Young sent “thoughts and prayers” to Noblesville. But he took $2,896,732 from the NRA so the folks in Indiana know the NRA bought him. It’s up to parents to vote him out.