On Again, Off Again...What's a Teacher to Do?

On Again, Off Again…What’s a Teacher to Do? For the Common Good - June 1, 2014

State Representative David Perryman

In the aftermath of silent movies, vaudeville provided a ready source of talent for the silver screen.  Slapstick duos such as Laurel and Hardy or groups like the Marx Brothers capitalized on this new technological medium of entertainment.

Some were better than others. One team that performed together for several years, but never rose to the fame of Abbot and Costello or Lewis and Martin was Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey.  The Wheeler and Woolsey characters predated Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” by decades, but the comedy was the same.

In 1937 Wheeler and Woolsey starred in a movie named, “On Again, Off Again.” The screenplay was written around two characters who truly had a love-hate relationship but incorporated the drama of corporate takeovers, pharmaceutical manufacturing and greed.  While that summary doesn’t sound like light entertainment, slapstick comedy adds humor to the most dire circumstances.

Basically the storyline is that the two main characters are partners in a pill manufacturing company.  Their constant fusses and feuds keeps the employees stirred up and in confusion.  After years of bickering, the two decide to settle the problem by calling their attorney who suggests that the issues should be resolved by a wrestling match with the loser agreeing to be the winner’s valet for one year.

All the while, the two partners do not realize that their company is dangerously close to a hostile takeover by two crooks who are trying to take advantage of the company’s instability.  The on again, off again civility of Wheeler and Woolsey fortunately resolves in the nick of time to keep the company together.

Right now, there are issues at the Capitol that need closure.  While public schools have or are finishing the spring term and preparing for summer break, teachers across the state are concerned about what they need to be teaching next fall. Quite frankly, it is not fair for education to be in limbo.

Two pieces of legislation are key to instruction next term.  One bill is HB 2625 which is commonly referred to as the Third Grade Reading Sufficiency Bill.  The other is HB 3399 which is the Bill that contains a provision repealing Common Core educational standards.

Through a tumultuous set of circumstances, HB 2625 requiring 3rd Graders to be retained if they fail a reading test was only adopted three years ago. The third grade testing standard was based on a Florida law and promoted by Oklahoma’s governor and state superintendent.  In truth, all 3rd graders need to be literate so that they can make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” However, 2014 being the first year that 3rd graders would actually be retained under the bill, much tension arose.

Voters became vocal and the legislature fretted. On again, off again became the mantra. The real basis for the objection was not the standard, but the fact that a single test was the sole determining factor and that there was no latitude for teacher or parental involvement in whether a child would be retained.

With funding to Oklahoma schools being at the bottom nationally and the inflexible standard, parents, teachers and business and community leaders spoke up. Demand was made that either Oklahoma properly fund Pre-K through 3rd grade reading centers with proper student teacher ratios and remediation or allow teacher and parental input.  After all, the success of the program in Florida could be based on the fact that its program contained funding at 5 times the funding that Oklahoma was willing to spend.

Of course the funding was not provided so the legislature left the standard in place but allowed parents and teachers to have input on the retention of students.  Subsequently, the Governor vetoed the measure and returned the inflexibility.  Finally, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto restoring the role that teachers and parents may play.

The other education bill that is on again, off again is HB 3399 and is a legislative attempt to return to the PASS skills curriculum that was adopted several years ago  but has been replaced by Common Core and the Oklahoma Standards which is our state’s version of Common Core.  Right now, the Bill is laying on the Governor’s desk awaiting a signature.

Common Core and the Oklahoma standards were promoted by the Governor and the current state superintendent of public schools.  Therefore, there is much speculation over whether the Governor will attempt to retain Common Core by not allowing HB 3399 to become law.

Civics lesson: During the legislative session, a bill becomes law five days after it is forwarded to the Governor UNLESS the Governor vetoes it.  After the legislative session, a bill does not become law UNLESS the Governor signs it within fifteen days.

Teachers across the state are waiting with baited breath…Will the Governor sign HB 3399 or let it die through the process of what is known as a “pocket veto.”

Regardless, Oklahoma teachers and administrators just want to know what to teach in August when they return to the classroom.  Most teachers do not care so long as they have time to prepare.  They like the rest of us want this issue resolved.  The Governor has until June 7 to sign the bill.  On again, off again is no way for our children to be educated.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative.  If there is anything that I can do to assist you, call me at 405-557-7401 or email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.