Let me climb up on my soapbox to say that it is hard for us to understand everything that goes down in a legislative session. I visited with a young man who just interned for the Missouri Assembly and I think he has a completely different picture of how the process works after seeing it from the inside.. I know many educators and parents who have taken an active roll in visiting with legislators who have a whole new perspective..
Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister has to walk a fine line politically, especially while the legislature is in session. Every word is subject to being taken the wrong way, seemingly by a gazillion different people. Meanwhile, there is sort of an actual job of running a large state agency. And I would imagine there were some who were glad to see her take office and others that actually liked their old boss. And some of them may not be especially cooperative. Hopefully that is not the case, but stranger things have happened.
There is no way that anyone who steps into that job is truly prepared. Joy has shown the ability to navigate a steep learning curve. It is impossible to do a perfect job. But it is possible to do a darned fine job, and that is what she has done.
(In my belief system there was only one perfect person ever, and he was not politically popular.)
We are in a deep hole in this state as far as education goes. (Yes, I know there are other issues, but this is an education blog.) Here is why. We are not paying teachers well. We are not treating them with respect. Many parents and patrons do, but the the political game has been to make it OK to defund schools by tearing down teachers and schools. And it has been too successful. Even some teachers think OTHER teachers must not be doing so well. And in the midst of all this, our young people, who are in fact intelligent and perceptive, are deciding that they would rather do anything than teach. It will take a huge effort to restore the faith of young people that leads them to choose teaching as a career. This is why the hole is so deep and the problem is bigger than some people realize.. Because we know that it is ultimately about teachers. It is ALL about teachers. Even if we get the funding situation managed send vouchers packing and all the rest, we will need to restore the teaching profession to its rightful place in our state and nation.
The fight to discredit teachers and defund schools has been going on for a long time. It is part of a larger effort to “defund the left.” Somehow public education is now considered creeping socialism. And yet each school system is run by an elected local school board. And both the right and the left have sought to take control away from that board. It has taken us too long to understand what was going on. But we know now and there is nothing to be done but to join the battle. The stakes are inconceivably high. Students who have taken advantage of the public education have been to prosper in ways that their parents and grandparents could not have imagined. Our democratic republic depends on a population that can think and engage with life. It depends on good schools. And good schools are powered by good teachers.
There have been a lot of positive steps in this state which have not been taken in others. We have a new curriculum. We have backed out of using tests scores in evaluations. The A-F school grade is still there, but it is dysfunctional since the tests that drive it are gone Yes! We have fewer tests. Some people have actually begun to trust educators and value their opinions. Parents who believe in public schools have organized into Parent Legislative Action Counsels and gotten to know their legislators on a first-name basis. But there is still much to be done. We have come to far to stop now. We have a lot to do and nit picking each other is not going to get it done. Mistakes made in the pursuit of the cause can be educational. Let us learn as we go, be gracious, and move forward.
Lately I have concentrated on asking people one at a time to get involved in races in their area. There are thousands of people in our state who would like to see positive changes in our schools. There are social media groups. The Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education group is twenty-some thousand strong. There is a great education chat on Twitter each Sunday night. If we could each do some and encourage others to do some we could change the world. If we just flip 5-7 OK house seats to pro-ed it would tip this state in another direction, in my humble opinion. And not just regarding education. But each one that we elect makes a difference.
Please note, when I say flip, I do not mean flip parties. There are legislators on both sides of the aisle who have supported schools. And there will be more.
A big part of this process is having a state superintendent who actually believes in public education. Someone who actually encourages teachers and means it. Joy Hofmeister is a welcome combination of competence, poise, and positive energy who has transformed the expectations of her office. I am willing to excuse missteps, not that I feel there are any that need to be discussed. I am not qualified to cast the first stone.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. This may take years. This isn’t some TV show that is going to resolve in an hour. Or one season. There are many that believe our efforts are hopeless. If those who would take public education down a ruinous path can convince enough people that it is indeed a hopeless situation, then they win. I refuse to play their game.
We must win. We must convince, nay, teach people that their vote and voice make a difference. No one can do everything, but we can all do something. We all press on toward the mark. And thank God for those who have stepped up to lead. I shall not list names for fear of leaving someone out. But you all rock! I am honored to be part of this effort with you.
<steps down from soap box>