Saturday, May 30, 2015

On A Personal Note....


From 2008 until 2014, I spent huge chunks of time reading, studying, writing, lobbying and posting to social media about issues surrounding government - particularly public education and Common Core. 

Last year, as readers of this blog well remember, Oklahoma legislators were persuaded to STOP Common Core. Following this seeming victory, a large group of educationally-associated organizations (whom you might have thought would have the students/parents best interest in mind) spent tens of thousands of dollars to convince the Governor to veto the bill. Fortunately, the Governor signed the bill, only to have several members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education sue to reinstate Common Core based upon an incorrect interpretation of the Oklahoma Constitution. After the bill was found to be Constitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the next challenge became how to stop individual schools from using Common Core anyway


As it turned out, there was no real enforcement mechanism in the original law to stop Common Core in Oklahoma (HB3399), as I have subsequently found is the case with many, many laws written by Oklahoma legislators. This meant that the only way to make schools comply became a convoluted process of involving one's district attorney and the local school board - a labored task the vast majority of disgruntled individuals chose not to pursue. As far as ROPE is aware to date, no district attorney filed charges against any school district in Oklahoma for utilizing Common Core though state law prevented them from doing so. So much for state law being the final word on Common Core. 

Though all of us involved in the stop Common Core fight in Oklahoma knew there was much more to the process of stopping Common Core (and the persistent federal overreach into public education) than passing a single law, it became almost immediately clear how far we still had to go. By October, I had written a blog detailing Seven Reasons Why Common Core Repeal In Oklahoma Isn't. Every day there seemed something new on the horizon to thwart our efforts. It became very discouraging to have worked so hard to seemingly accomplish so much only to find a very small dent had been made in the task of restoring local control of education and putting parents back in charge of their children's educations.

During the years we fought Common Core, I often became discouraged. I would complain bitterly when our efforts seemed futile and all of us threatened to quit more than once, but something always drove my personal efforts forward. As a Christian, I believe that impetus was God. I literally felt compelled to continue the fight no matter how discouraged I/we became and I firmly believe I was right because shortly after our 'win', I began feeling pulled away from ROPE and my work there.

Unlike most of my middle-aged counterparts, my husband David and I not only have a 32-year-old married daughter, but 3 kids (13, almost 13 and 10) still at home who are home-educated. Over the last three years I've not only homeschooled the kids while working ROPE issues, I've added poultry farming and working our homestead's very large garden to the schedule. Unfortunately, it got to the point where something had to give. Also unfortunately, this was most often my time with the kids; dropping them off at Mimi's or various friends homes while I traveled to the Capitol or across the state making presentations. Obviously, this was neither an optimal nor a tenable situation.

Last fall, Lynn (Habluetzel, ROPE's Vice-President) and I made the decision that I would sit back this year while she and our friend Ralph Crawford (now running for State Representative!) took over the lobbying efforts at the Capitol. I would still continue to write and research as I could, but for the most part, I would concentrate on home matters. 

Since that time, I've been astonished at how busy I've been. I've tried valiantly to set aside time for reading, research and writing, but it's been harder and harder as the months go by. In fact, it makes me feel a bit guilty in retrospect. If I've been THIS busy with home matters since November, how much was my family getting shortchanged by my constant physical and mental absences (yes, I was home, but saying, "Just a minute, Sam" 12 times because I 'needed' to finish a blog didn't count as actual mom availability)? 

Now able to look back over several months of 'absence', I can make a number of observations with surety:

  • It took HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS to research and piece together information before writing anything of substance about policies, laws or initiatives; I'd wake up scouring my email, Facebook posts and education journals for information and go to bed late into the night writing about what I'd read. It didn't take long to realize that the public education establishment and Federal government are BOMBARDING the public with more and more and more programming, laws, initiatives and policies so hard and so fast that NO ONE CAN KEEP UP. I'm certain it's meant to be this way because it's easy for government to do anything they want when no one can keep watch. This was part of the reason we'd be disheartened so often - we simply COULDN'T KEEP UP with every law and every initiative and every program being churned out by the government and the state education establishment.
  • Public Education (in any state) has so much concurrent jurisdiction that there is no way for any school to rise above the reporting required for so many different policies, procedures; regulations and laws. The education of children has long since past being the real reason public schools operate. Now, public schools exist to be arms of the state, recording data on children in order to justify yet another expensive program to cure every ill only destined to fail because the real issue stifling public education and sucking away parental rights and local control - concurrent jurisdiction - was never even considered in the equation. 
  • The federal government has ZERO Constitutional authority in state education, yet elected officials and State Department of Education employees either have no clue what the Constitution says, have no backbone to stand against their edicts and/or don't care about the Constitution because they just want whatever money comes with "fill-in-the-blank" program in order to make it sound as though they have the right to force kids to take tests and tell parents they're in charge of their child's education.
  • IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO YOU VOTE FOR, THE STATUS QUO WILL ALWAYS BE THE STATUS QUO. This was a tough one for me and I didn't figure this out until just last year. It doesn't matter for whom you vote, the bureaucracy/staff set up by the predecessor of the office will, many times, still be in place, virtually ensuring the change for which you voted will never come. Here it's important to remember that, many, MANY employees of the state are brought in by department heads or appointed by elected officials. Regular voting taxpayers have absolutely no say in their hiring, yet these people persist in their jobs carrying forward the ideals and programs of elected officials past. Oklahoma's State Longitudinal Database is run by such an individual though our new superintendent is well aware of our concerns.
  • It matters not how much you study, how many other researchers or individuals agree, or how much other work has proven you right, statists will always believe they know better than 'the people' how best to run their lives and govern in that direction. If you have the unmitigated gall to object to that philosophy, you'll be called a "tin foil hat", marginalized, ridiculed and/or ignored. The only way to affect real change is to bring hundreds of people to the Capitol with you dressed in big ugly green shirts and even then the results are iffy.
  • Parents, for the most part, seem to care less what is happening to their kids. Parents have jobs, they have lives, they are single mothers and dads just scraping by - whatever the reason - by and large, parents let their schools get away with murder without uttering even the slightest whimper. When you try and bring their attention to all the bad stuff happening in public education today, it's NOT IN MY SCHOOL, it's always somewhere else. Even if they do get it and try to do something about it, the layers and layers of bureaucracy tie them up to the point that many finally either just throw up their hands and pull their kids out or give up and take it. 
  • Without a large majority of parents willing to educate themselves on the state and central government Constitutions, their parental rights and options outside of public school, NOTHING WILL CHANGE. One or two people can't 'fix it' for everyone else. It takes a long sustained effort by many to create real change in the system and if people aren't interested in affecting their government, NOTHING WILL BE EFFECTED. 
Those were just a few of the things I've learned about public education. These are some things I've learned about life:
  • You can't turn back time - the time I have with my kids can't be 'refunded' at an ATM - and who wants to leave middle schoolers without CONSTANT supervision anyway?
  • My kids will only be receptive to my leadership for a short amount of time and then I've lost the ability to affect their lives in truly meaningful ways. 
  • I didn't realize how much time I actually devoted to ROPE until I started devoting more time to the kids, house and farm. Looking back, I have no idea (other than the hand of God) how I was actually able to keep my home, or farm, or ANYTHING together while working simultaneously.
  • You can't 'fix it' for everyone else. There need to be MANY others willing to put in just as much time on a coordinated effort in order to create real change in the system.
And so, there you have it. Sadly, I am fully and completely convinced that our system of public education - in fact our whole system of bloated anti-Constitutional government - will finally, eventually, collapse under its own weight and I'm simply unwilling to sacrifice anymore huge chunks of my family's life to propping up these failed systems. Does that mean I'll quit writing, researching and activism? No, but I'll do what I can fit around my family's schedule now - as should you - but until more people wake up to what's going on, I've got turkeys that need feeding and kids that need learning, first.

Monday, May 11, 2015

ACT A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing?


Though ROPE wants to see an end to the practice of EOI's altogether, unfortunately (and as usual it appears, sadly) ROPE does NOT agree with the Oklahoma Public School Education Establishment (aka #OKlaEd). Recently, Jason James, a member of the #OKlaEd community posted a blog singing the praises of the ACT - for a second time.

I'm not going to cover all the different reasons why we disagree - five are written on the meme and we've written/published four separate blogs detailing our reasoning and outlining the research undergirding those reasons (1. 2. 3. 4) - so there's simply no point to bang our shoe.

Beyond our studied, researched reasons, however, lies another, less quantifiable concern about ACT.

Most everyone who reads this blog or knows anything about ROPE has read about the organizations that attempted to override the will of the taxpaying public and cement Common Core State Standards here in Oklahoma last year. Of those, we've written exclusively (and often) about Stand For Children, the Chamber of Commerce (national, state and city), and CCOSA to name a few (to find these, just search the blog using those key words).  Just recently, these groups - and other pro-CC organizations - have joined together as a coalition (as they did against CC) to push for the adoption of the ACT.


This flyer was sent out to both legislators and individuals very recently. For the most part, the groups listed on the flyer pushed to keep Common Core in Oklahoma law. The groups listed are PRIVATE organizations sustained by PRIVATE donations and dues that lobby for public policy in some capacity, utilizing these resources.  

Here's the rub; though these groups may use their collective voice and money to lobby the legislature, our government is "By the PEOPLE, of the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE". I fact, if our elected officials were to respond solely to the 'collective voice', we'd not be a Representative Republic, we'd be a socialist republic instead. This is absolutely true, yet I've heard the disdain echoed in the voices of coalition members following last year's Common Core defeat as they wondered aloud why the legislature 'listened' to 'the people' instead of their 'group/s'.

If I sound frustrated here, it's because I am. So often, organizations and groups with considerably more money than individual tax paying citizens for whom the government is to work, drive public policy for that reason alone. This is maddening because especially in public education today, these groups don't represent PARENTS, STUDENTS or TAXPAYERS, but 'systems' designed to perpetuate themselves at all cost to taxpayers and parents whether it works for them or not. Here's the crazy thing - these groups aren't independent entities at all. Half the groups represented on this flyer are made up of members from the other groups! In fact, there's so much political incest among these groups that their gene pool is more like a puddle. Get this:

  • Oklahoma School Boards Association (OSSBA); membership consists of state school board members and superintendents
  • Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators (CCOSA); comprised of 5 separate associations (Oklahoma Association of School Administrators, Oklahoma Association of Secondary School Principals, Oklahoma Association of Elementary School Principals, Oklahoma Middle Level Educators Association, Oklahoma Directors of Special Services), supported by Renaissance Learning, Scholastic and CTB/McGraw Hill, to name a few. Ryan Owens is listed as the Executive Director.
  • United Suburban Schools Association (USSA), run by superintendents for independent school districts with more than 3000 students. (Shawn Hime listed as legislative Assistant - Ryan Owens listed as Executive Director) Supported in part by Renaissance Learning.
  • Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition (OBEC); Executive Board includes Kaiser, all three Chambers, and Inasmuch
  • Oklahoma PTA; a blog I wrote about PTA
  • Oklahoma Education Association (OEA); has their own coalition comprised of most of the members listed on the flyer
  • Stand For Children; Government Affairs Director Gwendolyn Caldwell has worked for the Oklahoma State Chamber previously, Great numbers of issues have surfaced with stand from misrepresenting signatures on a petition to funneling dark money into political campaigns. In fact, the Oklahoma GOP voted for a resolution condemning Stand for Children due to their poor business practices.

Shocking really, when you put it all out there for everyone to see. These organizations are formed in order to advance public policy, period - to make laws that benefit their organizations. In order to advance public policy, they form coalitions with one another to make themselves look bigger in number than they are. This technique works well initially because when you look at them individually, it looks as though there are a lot of different entities. Only when you research them do you find out they're the same people/organizations creating new coalitions under different names, the magic dissipates.

So why do we consider it important to really study those organizations supporting ACT? Because when you look below the surface, you find them to be essentially the same groups that pushed Common Core; groups that organize together in order to influence public policy in a way that benefits them - not necessarily the public. Public education is NOT for the perpetuation of jobs, it's for educating children in a way that will allow them to grow and develop and become mature adults that can excel in any vocation they choose - not jobs picked for them by the Labor Department or businesses looking to fill vacancies. 

ACT is not the panacea described by the OKlaEd community. Putting anything into law without any real study as to consequences (like Common Core), is a set up for failure. Let's wait for Oklahoma's new educational standards to be developed before we move on. It only makes sense.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Parents: Stop Conforming!


Last year I wrote a blog about why I choose to homeschool. It was picked up by a national homeschool group and has now been seen by thousands of people across the country. Why? Because of my outstanding ability to create readable prose? No, not particularly. The theme struck a cord. 

Parents who are plugged into the lives of their kids are getting fed up. They're fed up of dropping their kids off at school in the morning and picking them up in the evening only to find they're not being taught what they should, they way they should, or as much as they should. 

Like most parents, once our oldest son came home from the hospital, I bought into the whole routine; public preK through 12th grade, then off to college. We bought a house in the best neighborhood we could so as to get the best public school we could (of course, we also bought into the notion that better neighborhoods had better performing schools), I'd drop the kids off at school at 8:30 am, pick them up at 3:00 pm and go about arranging my day during the hours they were there. 

Honestly, I spent hours and hours on the computer writing about the problems with public education for ROPE during the time my kids were in public school. In fact, I'm not sure how long it would have been - if ever - before I brought my kids home for school if my oldest son hadn't asked me in no uncertain terms to homeschool him!

In the end, it wasn't just my son's query that ended our time in state run education. My frustrations over a number of situations mounted and included
  • a very unsuccessful attempt to get our principal to adopt Saxon math over Common Core math, 
  • interacting with other parents through PTA and finding their concerns were not necessarily for the education of their children, but endless fundraising efforts for a gymnasium and more computers that made it appear they were getting a better education, and 
  • a horrible, unproductive and frustrating first grade Common Core Math year with my youngest son, 
I realized public education and I didn't have the same notion about what was educationally best for my kids and I pulled the last two out to school at home with their brother. 

My grandfather was born on the family farm at the turn of the last century in a clapboard house without electricity or running water. He died at 98, having witnessed a technology arc that spanned from the oil lamp to the internet. Once, Americans were people of great autonomy whose hard work generated accomplishments the kind of which my grandfather could never have dreamed. Such vast accomplishments were they in fact, that they themselves created a double-edged societal sword. From the turn of the last century forward, little by little, technology made life easier, healthier and safer. Little by little, Americans embraced that ease. The easier life became, the harder - and more unpopular - autonomy became, because it was hard work. Little by little, Americans gave more and more of their autonomy - their authority - to their government to accomplish certain functions on their behalf so they didn't have to spend the personal energy to do it for themselves. Little by little, the government took on more and more authority until it began, like Skynet, to create its own functions. 

Enter the federal government and the Department of Education. 

Please understand, I woke up to the abuses of my government before I ever began to scrutinize public schools, and once I did, I realized I'd been completely blind to what the Constitution said and how our Republican form of government should work. Consequently, I'm going to stop and explain these facts as simply as I can with bullet points in order to have a base upon which to finish the discussion:
  • the Founders of this country prized the concept of INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY among any other
  • they created our government to be a Constitutional Republic (NOT a Democracy) - Constitutional relating to the supreme law of the country, the Constitution, and Republic (as in Rome) because the full power of the country was vested in the PEOPLE who chose (voted for) fellow citizens to represent them in government in order to PROTECT INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY. 
  • the American Republic is a 3 branch system where citizen legislators craft law to PROTECT THE INDIVIDUAL LIBERTIES of the citizens they represent (legislative branch), the executive branch (president) ENFORCES these laws and the judicial branch (Supreme and lower courts) determine the Constitutionality of the laws made by the legislative branch.
  • the central government was to be very small and only be responsible for the enumerated powers - states were responsible for the rest - consequently, in the Constitutional Republic, the STATES had EVERY OTHER POWER unto themselves.
So, who has the power? THE INDIVIDUAL. Outside of that where does the power reside? THE STATE. Beyond that, where is the power for only those functions given it by the Constitution? THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. 

The federal Department of Education is a non-Constitutional entity created by Jimmy Carter in 1979. Until that date, states - as they should have been - solely controlled the education of their citizens (though federal education mandates existed prior, there were very few). Today, the IRS takes money from the pockets of state citizens and sends it to Washington, D.C. where a chunk is used to fund the DOE. Once the DOE has the money of citizens in its income column, it then sends money (funding) back out to the states IF the states agree to do certain things to get it. 

Where did the money go? THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Who gets the money back (with strings)? THE STATE. To whom is the supposed benefit of this circuit? THE INDIVIDUAL. Is this not completely backward to the way the process should work in actuality?

For years now, ROPE has received emails such as the one below:
Dear Jenni,I'm writing to ask you a question about opting out my son from EOI this year. He is a freshman & should be taking Algebra I & Biology EOI. I know by opting him out he won't get a diploma from the school but wanted to ask you if after his 4yrs we can get his transcript for college. I'm waiting for a call from his High School about this but wanted to see if you had more insight on the matter.Thank you very much,
Why? Because more parents than ever are waking up to find that, while a portion of their income goes to pay for their children to be educated in public schools, these same schools have usurped their parental authority in favor of bureaucratic regulations that benefit the schools more than the individual student and they want it stopped. 

Yes, the state has the power to enact laws applying to public school through the legislature, however much of today's state laws are written to further federal law written to provide an unconstitutional DOE more power, further diminishing the autonomy of the parent. This is what Common Core was all about. I've written about this for years.

Today I posted on the ROPE Facebook page about the awful CDC questionnaire handed out to students in middle and high school without consent of parents that no child should be taking without specific parental consent. In addition, I wrote a blog last year about other issues surrounding the privacy of children in public schools that included this survey as well as information on a number of websites and programs being used in public schools about which parents should be aware. Yes, it can be hard to find out exactly what is happening in the classrom, but that is your charge as a parent in order to best guide your child. YOU - and by extension YOUR CHILD - are THE individual/s for whom the government works - including government education - works.

Fortunately, there are parents awaking to this situation who are also taking steps to reclaim the education of their children. As an example, there are vast testing 'opt out' movements all across the nation as parents become aware of how their children will be forevermore educationally pigeonholed by test results and how the tests themselves can accumulate personal data about students that is not secure. Home schooling is also on the rise in Oklahoma and across the country because of federally mandated testing and data collection to which schools, districts and the state continue to bow over their responsibilities to the individual.

Please, take the time necessary to be as informed and aware as possible about everything happening at your child's school. Don't be afraid to question and do so when you feel you need. Government was intended to be "of the people, by the people, for the people", not "of the state, by the state, for the state". Every Oklahoman who owns property pays for the education of Oklahoma children in state schools and every parent with a child in a state run school has the obligation and right to not only use the system, but question it as well.

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Caveats #1: I realize that not every parent can or desires to stay home. I also know there are parents who feel there is no choice but for both parents to work. Yes, sometimes this is necessity, but sometimes just lifestyle downsizing can create enough 'income' for one parent to stay home if that goal is desired. I urge parents to review their work situation and be creative about finding ways to be home with your kids if at all possible.

Caveat #2: There are MANY GREAT teachers out there. Teachers are getting the screws put to them as badly as parents. Please do not hear me say that teachers are creating the problems found in public schools today. Yes, there are some bad teachers, but there are many, many great ones too! We just need teachers like Nikki Jones of Tulsa Public Schools, willing to stand for the needs of her students OVER the desires of the education establishment.