Public Education Crisis Grows In Oklahoma

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The Oklahoma teacher shortage crisis continues to worsen, and its impact on current students can’t be underestimated or presented in overly hyperbolic language.

State leaders, mostly Republican legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin, have failed to respond appropriately to the emergency by raising teachers’ salaries and enhancing their working conditions. In fact, Fallin and most of her fellow Republican leaders’ intention seems to be to do as much damage to our public schools as possible in order to privatize our basic educational system and turn taxpayer money over to private schools and companies.

Let’s be clear: All current public school students, even in the richest school districts, are affected by this leadership failure. It means fewer teachers and overcrowded classes. It means fewer programs. Overall, it tells the nation Oklahoma leaders care pretty much less if not the least of all about education than most states in the country.

The Oklahoma State Schools Board Association recently released the grim results of a survey of school districts it conducted during the first two weeks of August. The districts represent 80 percent of the state’s public school population. A news release from the organization about the survey first notes that there are about 1,000 teaching vacancies in the state and that 600 teaching positions have been eliminated since last year.

Here are the “highlights” of the survey:

About 75% of school leaders say hiring teachers was more difficult this year compared to last year.

The shortages are widespread, regardless of the district’s size and location and the subject area.

About 60 percent of districts anticipate needing to seek emergency teaching certifications to fill vacancies.

Almost half of districts expect to increase class sizes.

About one-third of school leaders said their schools likely would offer fewer courses this school year.
Special education, elementary, high school science, high school math and middle school math are the most difficult teaching positions to fill.

School leaders are deeply worried that the overall quality of teaching applicants is having a detrimental impact on student achievement.

Many newly hired teachers need extensive support and training, which increases pressure on school leaders who have limited time and resources with which to provide support.

Oklahomans need to know these basic facts as well: (1) The state has cut public education more than any other state since the economic downturn in 2008. (2) It has the lowest per pupil spending average than all of its neighboring states and in the region. (3) It has ranked in the bottom five—sometimes as low as 49th—for average teacher salaries for years.

It’s a no-brainer that Oklahoma’s anti-education mentality, combined with the current Republican dominance of state government, lead to increased social problems, high incarceration rates and low college graduation rates here. These are issues that affect us all in one way or another.

Only a seismic shift in the political milieu here will change things, and, frankly, that seems difficult to imagine. Meanwhile, mediocrity only creates more mediocrity. It’s a cycle that spins out of control for now. Sure, the state has some high-achieving students and schools, but it needs more, along with a renewed commitment to students at risk.

Our state leaders seem intent on starving our schools of needed funding and obsessively pressing a high-stakes testing agenda so they can claim public education is failing here. This way they can try to break teacher unions and turn tax dollars over to private schools or companies. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is a GOP political agenda.

Lankford: Breaker One Nine

Image of James Lankford

In their continuing campaign to positively mold the public image of the conservative extremist U.S. Sen. James Lankford, The Oklahoman editorial board over the weekend noted it was “praiseworthy” he had made public on his government website the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran.

The praise isn’t too much over the top, true, but, it should be mentioned anyone can find the same document in a lot of places, including on the White House site here. Lankford, of course, is against the proposed deal, which I will get to in a minute. The Oklahoman makes the argument, “The more public views are shaped by concrete information, the better.” Again, all true, but the document is widely available. A simple Google search takes anyone to ample places to find it. In fact, it’s now available through a link on Okie Funk. Where’s the praise for Okie Funk, which just published its 1,500th blog since 2004?

I’ve gone through the document, and, of course, I don’t view it like Lankford does. Here’s one of the opening statements: “Iran will modernise the Arak heavy water research reactor to support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotopes production for medical and industrial purposes.” Here’s another one: “Iran will not produce or test natural uranium pellets, fuel pins or fuel assemblies, which are specifically designed for the support of the originally designed Arak reactor . . .” Here’s another one: “For 15 years Iran will not, and does not intend to thereafter, develop, acquire or build facilities capable of separation of plutonium, uranium or neptunium from spent fuel or from fertile targets, other than for production of radio-isotopes for medical and peaceful industrial purposes.”

Obviously, the language here is quite technical. The crux of the agreement is that Iran will NOT develop a nuclear weapon and consequently sanctions against that country will then be ultimately lifted. Under the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency would be allowed access to monitor Iran’s nuclear activity. Here’s a New York Times guide on the agreement.

I find the agreement positive and historic, and a way to establish better relations with an important Middle East country. It’s a much better path than trying to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, as some political leaders would have it. I believe most Americans are growing tired of the human and financial cost of perpetual war. In the end, if Iran DOES violate the agreement it gives the U.S. and its allies more credibility to sanction the country or even attack it. What’s even more important to realize is that all bets are off if the U.S. believes it’s getting threatened by a nuclear attack by Iran or any country.

Lankford, of course, doesn’t view the agreement in this way, and he went on the Senate floor to express his views. The speech, which you can find here, is fairly typical for a conservative hawk. Essentially, the argument is that the agreement doesn’t go far enough to reign in Iran’s nuclear program, and it contains loopholes that allow Iran to escape detection of building a nuclear weapon. It’s not difficult to suspect that Lankford’s main reason for opposition, however, is the general Republican policy to reject anything proposed by President Barack Obama as a political gambit.

But the one statement that really stands out in Lankford’s speech is this sentence:

My concerns are there are loopholes in this agreement big enough to drive a truck through, specifically this truck is the truck that is big enough to drive through.

I’ve tried to wrap my head around the syntax and structure of that sentence, especially beginning at the word “specifically.” Did Lankford have a photograph of a monster truck on a screen behind him as he uttered these words? To me, the phrase “this truck is the truck that is big enough to drive through” means driving through the truck, not the loopholes.

A minor point? Simply an awkward sentence? Perhaps. We can understand Lankford’s meaning in the context of the overall speech. But The Oklahoman editorial board continues to try to place an aura of “the wise sage” around Lankford, even though it has become clear he’s as much an ideologue and panderer as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. Just using a “truck” metaphor alone shows his opposition to the agreement goes beyond his concern for his argument.

He’s concerned about his truck-owning base of voters, too.

Oklahoma Escapes The Heat For Now

Image of wind turbines

As our local television weather forecasters fall all over themselves about the recent unusually cool August weather, more grim news about the overall climate and global warming has emerged.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just recently reported that not only was July the hottest July worldwide since records have been kept starting in 1880 it also was the hottest month ever recorded as well.

The implications, according to writer Eric Holthaus in an article published on Slate, are enormous and extremely bleak. He calls it a “very big deal.” Here are two of his major points:

. . . global temperatures are currently approaching—if not already past—the maximum temperatures commonly observed over the past 11,000 years (i.e., the time period in which humans developed agriculture), and flirting with levels not seen in more than 100,000 years.

But this is the scary part: The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any point since humans first evolved millions of years ago. Since carbon dioxide emissions lead to warming, the fact that emissions are increasing means there’s much more warming yet to come. What’s more, carbon dioxide levels are increasing really quickly.

The immediate cause for the hot temperatures has been attributed to an extremely strong El Niño weather pattern this year, which could result in another record hot year in 2015 and also in 2016, according to Holthaus. The same weather pattern, however, will probably mean a cooler and wetter upcoming winter for Oklahoma. But it’s the large-scare (that's intentional) picture here that’s important. Just because we might experience a couple of major snowstorms in Oklahoma this winter will NOT mitigate the terrifying possibilities of a planet devastated by global warming.

It also won’t matter how many snowballs Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe brings to the Senate floor this coming winter as proof global warming doesn’t exist. Global warming is happening. It’s getting recorded. Its effect on the planet is already visible. It should be clear by now to everyone that Inhofe’s crusade against climate science is incredibly damaging to the world.

Scientists have long noted that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide caused by the burning of fossil fuels accelerate the greenhouse effect, which raises temperatures and leads to rising sea levels as the arctic ice cap melts. Rising sea levels have the very real potential to destroy coastal cities and also create more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and flooding. It can also lead to the type of extended drought now experienced in California, which then leads to massive wildfires.

The important thing for Oklahomans to realize is that just because we’re experiencing moderate or colder weather doesn’t mean we won’t be affected by global warming. Massive population migrations, worldwide economic devastation, and food shortages because of drought in crucial farming areas throughout the world will affect everyone on the planet. We’re all connected.

By all means, Oklahomans should enjoy the cooler temperatures and be glad about our lower air conditioning bills this summer as we contend with our own manmade earthquake crisis, but the planet is still burning up, and our world leaders aren’t doing much to stop it.

The answer is to develop more renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and drastically lower our carbon emissions.

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