Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It Takes A Village...To Stop Common Core

Because ROPE has worked for so many years chipping away at the issue of Common Core, our email boxes and Facebook pages have been flooded over the last couple of days with many sweet messages congratulating us on the passage of HB3399 - the strongest bill in the nation passed against Common Core to date.  While I know all of us at ROPE (Lynn and Julia and I) really appreciate the acknowledgements and kudos, I keep reminding people the fight isn't over until Governor Fallin signs the bill, passing on links to the letter-writing campaign and the GOP petition aimed at cajoling her signature.

I also try to continue to remind people that, while we might have lain the groundwork, there is no possible way we could have continued this mission or gotten as far as we have this year - first and foremost without God and prayer - but also the countless emails, phone calls, Tweets, Facebook posts and Capitol visits made by the THOUSANDS of Oklahomans concerned about Common Core and its effects upon the children of Oklahoma.  We would be nowhere if not for you!  For that, every single person who has sent even a single email can take some sort of ownership in whatever victory we are handed.

Though grassroots have been all-important, many Oklahoma legislators have carried the Common Core ball at one time or another.  One of the legislators ROPE appreciates most is Representative Sally Kern.  From nearly the first moment we came to her in late 2010 with what little research we had developed on Common Core by that time, she was on board to stop it.  She had been in many of the meetings during which SB2033 - the bill that began many of the education 'reforms' today including Common Core - had been hashed out.  She'd already done quite a bit of research on her own and was not in favor of Oklahoma even taking a Race to the Top grant, let alone adopting standards written outside the state.

Though none of us were really sure how to attack the problem, Representative Kern wrote the first bill to stop Common Core in 2011 (HB1714).  This bill simply took the phrase "Common Core State Standards" out of law, yet the bill failed to get a hearing in either the House Education committee and died.  That October, however, Kern was back with an Interim Study where she had us - and Lindsay Burke of Heritage Foundation - present our information alongside Dr. Barresi.  I think we can call that Baptism By Fire!

In 2012, since HB1714 wasn't given a hearing, Representative Kern reinstated the bill.  Again it wasn't given a hearing at the Committee level and the bill died.

Representative Gus Blackwell wrote HB1907 in 2013 to create a task force to study the cost of Common Core.  That made it through Committee (Gus went around the troublesome Common Education Committee that had stopped 1714 and had it heard in his Rules Committee), but Speaker T.W. Shannon kept it off the floor because the Governor had said she wouldn't sign any task force bills that year.  Instead, Blackwell was offered an Interim Study even more comprehensive than Kern's.  We didn't wait for that, however.  Immediately, Gus authored HJR1011; a joint resolution against Common Core and undaunted we held a successful Common Core is NOT Ok rally and press conference (Lynn dreamed up the slogan just in time for the event!) in the Senate hallway in late March.

Though we were unable to get ANY bill, including Blackwell's HJR heard that year, over the course of four days in October, Blackwell (and Representative Dan Fisher - Vice Chair of the Rules Committee) led a veritable parade of parents, teachers, administrators and numerous out-of-state experts who testified against Common Core - data collection, cost, math standards, English/LA standards, developmental inappropriateness. We even brought in Jaime Gass from the Pioneer Institute and Dr. Everett Piper from Wesleyan University for a quick rally at the capitol prior to the start of the Interim Study to gear everyone up.

Then, of course, this year there were no less than SEVEN bills authored in the legislature against Common Core.  After much political wrangling and positioning, Representative Jason Nelson got HB3399 out toward the end, and, after much more political wrangling, the bill finished the session as the toughest CC bill in the nation.  I have yet to record all the inside baseball on that process, but I'm sure after my head stops spinning I'll find the time.

In the meantime we absolutely have to thank Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman for including us early on in the process, Representative Jason Nelson for his countless thousand hours of study and meetings about and on the bill to make it the very best it could be, Senator Josh Brecheen for having the gumption to bring a Common Core bill directly to the floor because the issue wasn't getting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee - and for his tireless defense of and work on the bill, Senate Pro Temp Brian Bingman for including us in meeting after meeting on the Senate side to help work through the process, Senator Anthony Sykes for his legal expertise on rules, and of course (though there are many others to be singled out as well) Representatives Gus Blackwell and Sally Kern for their continued desire and commitment to make Common Core a dead issue in Oklahoma.

Now, as we wait to hear whether or not Governor Fallin will sign HB3399, the amount of time and effort we've actually put into this fight comes back.  Yes, I've briefly described each previous session's bills, but what I haven't described is all that has gone on in the background - all the meetings and phone calls and research and emailing and lobbying and event planning and logistics and long-range planning and volunteer wrangling.  Then there's the traveling.  I promise, as I've traveled all over this state the last four years - from Grove to Woodward, from Skiatook to Durant - educating people on Common Core, I've put thousands and thousands of miles on my Expedition, spent thousands in gas and worn my family out.  We've set up tables at festivals, GOP rallys and conferences - all without pay - taking any gas money participants would throw our way.  We've attended the Education Policy Conference in St. Louis every year for four years at our own expense - and other conferences besides.

A thousand times for a thousand different reasons (speaking engagement, lobbying, meeting, etc.) I've dumped my poor kids off on my mom Phyllis Morrow, my mother-in-law Martha, my friend Nancy Blalock, my sister-in-law Catherine Wagner, or my friend Tammy Case and I so appreciate their understanding and constant support.  I thank Kelly McCurry, Dawn Shelton, Bobbie Wallace and all the other instructors at our Classical Conversations home school campus for their understanding and support when I've done nothing some days but ignore my own kids while I talk or text on my phone from 9am to 3pm. I've stayed up past 2 and 3 in the morning countless times (including tonight!) writing emails or papers or press releases just to have to get up at the crack of dawn and start household and farm chores that also include educating 3 kids who stay home with me all day, all the while trying to find the time to fold the 5 loads of clothes from the dryer.  I guarantee without the good graces and support of my husband, there would have been no ROPE in the first place, let alone after all these years!  Truly, I have been blessed with an unbelievably precious husband.

One of the best things about this journey has been the hundreds and hundreds of truly wonderful people I've met over the years.  People that just couldn't possibly be nicer individuals.  People that just want their government to leave them alone and quit 'helping' them raise their kids and grandkids - people like Cyndi and John McArtor with Get America Back in Grove, Jerry and Shirley Waddle of the Konawa Tea Party, Tonya Nix and her crew of PTO moms in Canton, Andie Hutchinson near Ceiling, Thompson and Gina Spier from Okemah, Gary and Celia Lanham from Osage County Republicans and Cheryl Carman and the merry band of Republican women in Miami (to name a few) - all have become like extended family and I love them dearly!

Fortunately, over this year there has been a huge influx of education activists!  Though I hate things are going so poorly for so many kids that so many moms are up in arms, it has been great to meet so many of them and watch them activate their friends and neighbors to also get involved.  Moms like Joy Collins of Bartians for Academic Freedom, Kim Wheeler of Sapulpa Against Common Core, Kristal Picolet of Owasso Against Common Core, Jama Harris of Oolagah Against Common Core, Melissa Harcrow and Dr. Barbara McClanahan of Tri-County Parent Action Committee, teacher Jaime Minter and moms Angela Little and Melissa Wilkins of Oklahoma Parents and Educators For Public Education - and so many more I've forgotten to mention - but it's been such a blessing to have them out there fighting for Oklahoma's kids.

Longtime Oklahoma education stalwarts Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE) and former Oklahoma State Superintendent candidate (and unconfirmed Secretary of Education under Governor Frank Keating), Linda Murphy, also jumped into the fray; POE providing an extraordinarily helpful survey of their teacher membership showing only a very few supported Common Core - Murphy providing historical research showing Common Core's roots in Outcome Based Education.

Though I truly believe God called me to this journey, there have been plenty of bumps along the way - Board members that have moved on, loss of friendships for reasons unknown, my apparent ability to rub the wrong way those that could have been better allies, the inevitable 'circling of the firing squad' I've seen happen over and over again to Conservatives as they try to activate toward a cause (this is the most harmful because the collateral damage from infighting ruins more than just the person or persons at which the guns are aimed - it can ultimately destroy the cause.  I've seen it happen and this, in my opinion, is why Conservatives lose so many political battles.).  I guess it matters not in the end so long as we end up helping kids and parents, but I'm only human and that part sucks.  I mean really, politics is a dirty, confusing, frustrating enough steer to wrestle all on its own, why anyone would want to make it harder or more unpalatable, I just don't understand...

Troubles are often offset by joys and it has been a joy to have met moms (and dads) fighting Common Core all across America through the Truth in American Education (TAE) network we were asked to join in 2011 - Heidi Huber in Ohio, Kristen George in Kansas, Gretchen Logue in Missouri, Yvonne Gasperino in New York, Alisa Ellis in Utah and Christy Hooley in Wyoming, Emmett McGroarty of American Principals Project and James Wilson and Shane Vander Hart of TAE to name a few.

It's also been a blast to have been flown out to be on the Glenn Beck show with Dana Loesch, talked with Wild Billl McKubby from WBYZ-FM in GA, Pat Campbell at KFAQ in Tulsa, Reid Mullins now at KZLS 1640 and get to know people like Kyle Olson of EAG News, Joy Pullman of Heartland Institute and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Ze'ev Wurman and other amazingly smart people who have more brain in their pinkies than I have in my whole brain case.

As I wrap up at 2:20am, I need to say that no matter how far ROPE has gotten in years past, I am absolutely positive the synergy created by the working relationships formed this year after years and years of relationship building are what it took to get the job done.  This year, we not only had all our old friends backing us up - like Ronda Vouillemont-Smith of the Tulsa 912 Project, Carma Neta Morris and Karen Yates of the OKC912Project, Bunny Chambers of the Oklahoma Eagle Forum, Tracey Montgomery with ParentalRights.org - but National Republican Committee Woman, Carolyn McLarty (who wrote the RNC resolution against Common Core signed by every Committee Man and Woman from across the nation) and Holly Gerard, GOP royalty and campaign manager extraordinaire!  Joy Collins has taken over much of our calendar, event and meme-generating chores (and got her picture taken with Mary Fallin in a Stop Common Core t-shirt!) and Don Krumme of Stop Common Core in Oklahoma is doing a FABULOUS job of spreading news and action alerts far and wide across Facebook (as well as generating the most hilarious memes!).  We are also helped by one who wants to remain the "player to be named later", but without whose organizational (bordering on the obsessive/micromanagement style, lol) skills we would have been all off doing our own thing and not working TOGETHER, which is really what it is taking to finish the job.

In fact, though we've worked hard in the past, I felt this year we worked CONSTANTLY.  I mean, just when I thought I could take a break, I'd get a phone call or text to do this or that or get on a conference call so everyone could be on the same page.  Between helping coordinate capitol rallys and visits and researching/writing, I swear this seemed the hardest year of them all.  But again, all of it will be worth it when Governor Fallin signs the bill.

True story.  When I was in college, I had a microbiology professor - an old bench scientist that looked like Grizzly Adams - and I just loved him to death.  One day we were talking about a terrible grade I'd made on an Cell Physiology test and he said, "Jenni, you're never going to be a rocket scientist, but you are tenacious as anyone I've ever met.  Sometimes that's all it takes."

Even if Governor Fallin signs HB3399, the fight is not over.  We will have to stay diligent - and isn't that really our jobs as citizens anyway - to stay active and involved in the political process at a constant level - to protect ourselves from a government that won't protect us themselves?  I've seen people post comments about what a long fight it's been to stop Common Core to this point yet I'm pretty sure they mean since February of this year.  Tenacity is necessity in guarding one's liberties - like the Apostle Paul said in Hebrews 12:1, "Wherefore seeing we are also compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us..."  No matter what happens, "Never, never, never give up," Winston Churchill.  Our kids will ALWAYS be worth fighting for and we'll always have to be ready to defend them.