I had an interesting conversation with an Oklahoma school board member the other night. The member was extremely upset that the board had been berated by the local union’s president for being “asleep at the wheel.”
At one point, the board member exclaimed, “Do you know how much money I receive for the work I do for this board? Zero!”
It took me aback. After a second, I asked him, “Do you know how much money I receive for being a professional educator? $34,000.”
His response was so insulting, I couldn’t believe my ears:
“Yes, but that was your choice. You knew that teachers don’t make a lot of money.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond at the time. What I would like to have said is that I did not make the choice to be paid a lower wage than other professionals; but rather, people like him, people who are powerful and wealthy, people who make 6 figures at their day job and are not taxed at the same rate as the majority of other Oklahomans, they’re the ones who made the choice to defund education.
I did tell him that it isn’t the case that teachers make less than other professionals in countries like South Korea.
He responded, “if you’re going to leave the country, you should go to Finland, the teachers there work in a wonderful system!”
I grinned like a Cheshire cat and said, “Yes, and they are very, very unionized.”
I’m starting this blog as an outgrowth of some of the work I do in Oklahoma. We’ll see what comes from it! Below are the public comments I gave during the Oklahoma City Public Schools’ board meeting last night, June 6th, 2016 about the current charter expansion proposal:
I’d like to acknowledge a problem that has been troubling me regarding the portrayal some Board members have made about the opponents of charter expansion. Again and again members of the board have said things like, “we’d love to see this much participation on a regular basis, not just when charter schools are being proposed.” I understand the sentiment behind this statement, but I can not help but hear the dual, implicit message that we, the people, have somehow shown up too late to receive a seat at the table. During board discussions, charter opponents have been characterized as “emotional” and even as unknowledgeable about the role of charter schools in American education. This has been especially frustrating for me, because many of us have cited academic research, government data, and historical context to support our position. KIPP does indeed have great reading and math scores. However, when KIPP has been asked to give context for its success, the organization has fudged on the facts.
During the KIPP presentation at the May 16th board meeting, Mr. Tracy McDaniel argued that expanding school choice fulfills social justice outcomes. When he cited Jonathan Kozol’s monolithic text, Savage Inequalities, my jaw hit the floor. I am familiar with Kozol’s work and was shocked because in Savage Inequalities Kozol argues against school choice as well as well as against charters’ corporate sponsors, noting that:
“The same political figures who extol the role of business have made certain that these poor black people would have no real choice. Cutting back the role of government and then suggesting that the poor can turn to businessmen who lobbied for such cuts is cynical indeed. But many black principals in urban schools know very well that they have no alternative; so they learn to swallow their pride, subdue their recognition and their dignity, and frame their language carefully to win the backing of potential ‘business partners.’ At length, they are even willing to adjust their schools and their curricula to serve the corporate will…A new generation of black urban school officials has been groomed to settle for a better version of unequal segregated education” (Kozol 81-82).
If we as a district wish to effect change, we must act boldly, not pander to the philosophies of The Walton and Inasmuch Foundations to receive funds that traditional public schools would have been entitled to under sensible tax policy. There is too much at risk when you create a dual system for public education that the UCLA Civil Rights Project has found to exacerbate inequality and racial isolation. All students deserve an equitable education that is funded and held accountable by the public.