I am amazed how out-of-touch many of our state leaders in Oklahoma appear to be when it comes to the needs of 21st century learners in our public schools.

According to school officials (from various districts) with whom I visited this evening, the Oklahoma legislature is poised to pass a bill which would ELIMINATE three of the five days currently allotted statewide for teacher professional development.

Can you imagine it? State legislators telling school administrators and teachers you need LESS professional development in the 21st century than they had each year in the 20th century?! I am having to self-censor myself in this post, so I do not sound disrespectful or unreasonably sarcastic. Lots of words I am NOT writing in this post are coming to mind.

This is the WRONG course for public schools in Oklahoma. Our teachers need MORE opportunities for professional development during the regular academic school year, NOT less. How do our Oklahoma legislators propose helping teachers and students cultivate learning environments which strongly support the development of 21st century skills? As far as I know, no one at the legislature is talking about 21st century skills. Apparently, many of our state leaders are satisfied with 19th century schools and would be pleased to see 19th century paradigms of teaching and instruction carried forward well into the 21st century. How ridiculous!

Why on earth are our school districts in Oklahoma NOT overflowing with money and funding? Oklahoma is a major oil and gas producing state. Oil and gas tax revenues bring millions of dollars into state coffers apparently. Where is all this money going? Certainly not to schools. What about our state lottery, voted in by legislators on the hollow promise that “we’re doing this for the kids” and the lottery will SUPPLEMENT but NOT SUPPLANT current funding levels for education?

Apparently, the politicians who sold Oklahoma voters that bill of goods LIED. How could we have HIGH levels of state revenue from oil and gas taxes, record levels of income from both the state lottery as well as tax revenue from the BOOMING Oklahoma gambling and casino industry, and have FEWER DOLLARS than ever to support education? That formula doesn’t add up.

I’m an Oklahoma voter, and I am NOT happy with the decisions our legislators are making. Support our schools, people! Provide the educational support our teachers, administrators, and learners of all ages need! Our state ranks 49th in teacher salaries. What is up with that? Are we proud of that? Why are we not changing that reality? WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP FOR EDUCATION IN THIS STATE?! I know we have multiple leaders at the SCHOOL DISTRICT level with vision for 21st century learning, I just spent several hours with many of them this evening. Superintendents from districts including Howe, Crescent, Yukon, Lowrey, and others…. These superintendents “get it” and are working to move their school districts and learners rapidly into the 21st century. But what about our state legislature? Why are our elected officials on the verge voting to EXTEND the instructional year by removing three of the five professional development days from the official school calendar?

It comes down to one word. LEADERSHIP. Good leadership matters. Bad leadership shows. I’m disgusted with our LACK of informed leadership in the state of Oklahoma when it comes to education in general, and 21st century skills specifically. We have some FANTASTIC leaders and staff members in our state department of education. I’ve worked with many of them in the past two years, on projects like the Oklahoma World War II Stories Project and Celebrate Oklahoma Voices. We DO have educators and educational leaders in our state who have a vision for constructive school reform and digital literacy.

The problem is, none of those people are members of the current Oklahoma legislature.

Saying we need to reduce the number of professional development days for teachers in 2008 is like telling a person who has just lost a quart of blood after an automobile accident that they don’t need a blood transfusion.

blood transfusion

Can you picture an EMT telling that to a car accident victim? “I’m sorry sir, I know you’ve lost a great deal of blood, and I know blood is a fundamental requirement for life, but our state legislature has ruled that people who lose blood don’t get to have any transfusions anymore. Good luck, hopefully your body will be able to independently produce all the blood you need to replace what you’ve lost.”

I think I’m going to be ill. Maybe it’s time to get on the phone tomorrow and call my state legislators. If you are an Oklahoma resident, maybe it’s time you called yours.

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6 Responses to Oklahoma on the verge of further eroding teacher professional development opportunities

  1. Jim Walker says:

    The Governor Patrick of Massachusetts is trying to get 3 casinos in the state to help fund high ed. It is just another way to tax the lower and middle class while the wealthy get more and can send their children to well funded local or private school. Ask the state legislators if want a nurse or doctor with a 18th century education taking care of them. Would they get in a plane with a pilot who only had 1 hour of flight training? Without teachers who have 21 century skills the mechanic who repairs your breaks will not be able to read the manual. I work in a vocational school and the standard are very high. Without constant professional development the voc teachers can not keep their jobs. Where are the business leaders in Oklahoma to put pressure on the state to supply them with well trained workers?

  2. Pat says:

    So many legislators are so out of touch with the classroom. A few years ago they were worried that students were learning enough and they thought about adding more teacher days with no increase in pay. They thought this would make the kids do better on the tests. I have invited legislators to my classroom to teach a lesson and that has really helped. One state senator asked my opinion about autism and I had him come teach a lesson about his job in the senate to my class which includes autistic students. He had a whole different view than his colleagues did and passed a bill in favor of families with children with autism. We need to get more legislators into the classroom.

  3. Dan Schmit says:

    Well said Wes! It is surprising to me that legislators would trade and turn on professional capacity for teachers. It definitely shows a need to educate your elected officials on just how dramatically the technical and pedagogical landscape has changed in recent years AND how much work it will take to move educators into a space where they can truly leverage those changes to improve the student learning experience. Lawyers don’t spend all their time in the courtroom. Surgeons don’t spend all their time in the operating room. Professionals need professional development time.

  4. All I can say is WOW. It really makes you wonder how that conversation went down when somesome first said this was a good idea. How could any elected official say – yes, teachers in our state need LESS time to improve.

    I don’t know how many of you read the cover story a couple of weeks ago in Time magazine about teachers but the stat mentioned in that story that I’ve thought about a lot lately is that in a study by the National Center for Education Statistics asked teachers who left the profession why they left the number one answer with 60% was “lack of time to prepare”. I thought it was interesting that “poor salary” was 4th on the list of reasons why teachers left. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1713174,00.html

  5. “Lawyers don’t spend all their time in the courtroom. Surgeons don’t spend all their time in the operating room. Professionals need professional development time.”

    Right on, Dan! This is an awesome example. In some of our districts here in Wisconsin our teachers have next to nothing when it comes to planning time, let alone time for sustained and ongoing professional development. We need to create a culture that gives teachers time away from their class to do “R & D” (eg-professional development). I could be wrong about this, but I’m under the impression that many schools in China allow their teachers several periods a day where they can engage in professional development.

    At the school I’m at now, we are actually trying to figure out ways to add more days annually for our teachers to engage in professional development. We’ll probably end up adding a day to our calendar for PD which isn’t nearly enough, but at least it is a step in the right direction.

    What is happening in OK is a bad precedent for all teachers in the US. I’m glad you’re doing your part, Wesley, to raise awareness about what is happening there.

    Matt

  6. Susan Hurst says:

    Our “esteemed” legislators and our “pro-education” governor passed and signed $700 million dollars in tax cuts. Now our state is facing a budget shortfall. We extend corporate “welfare” in the form of incentives and tax breaks to the oil and gas industry in the state while ignoring the real welfare of the citzens of this state.

    The legislators know that by dropping 3 Prof. Development days, they are getting 3 more days of instruction (which will have very little, if any effect on student learning, much less test scores)for free because those days are already paid days for teachers. This is because they don’t want to pay us for more days and in the present economy can’t even give us our promised pay raise.

    I am a native born Oklahoman, a public school teacher for 30 years and love this state, but I am totally ashamed and sickened by cavalier attitude and lack of compassion of our state lawmakers. So this is what “compassionate conservatism” looks like. Seems like our legislators could use a big vocabulary lesson.

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