Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Carter: Career teachers are scant in the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame

There was an uproar - a tempest in a teapot, really - the other week over new State Superintendent Ryan Walters removing portraits in a hallway at the State Department of Education building placed in recognition of a non-governmental organization's "hall of fame". Instead of using government space to laud this one group's favorite people, he wanted to use the space to honor and recognize the parents and children that the Oklahoma State Department of Education is supposed to be working for. 

Read below for some excellent context to the kerfluffle:

by Ray Carter | February 24, 2023

When reviewing the more than 100 individuals inducted into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame since 1985, Ruth Genevieve Hudson stands out—because Hudson, inducted in 1994, is one of the very few career classroom teachers to make the cut.

While Hudson spent 45 years primarily teaching music at Sand Springs, Tulsa, and Blackwell Public Schools, as well as in the state of Kansas, her lengthy classroom service is in stark contrast to many of the other people honored in the educators’ hall.

Instead, the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame is filled with the names of politicians, union leaders, lobbyists, consultants, and individuals who worked in college settings rather than in the K-12 school system.

The hall is also filled largely with men, even though the overwhelming majority of classroom teachers are women.

“To me, it wasn’t showing respect for the classroom teachers,” said Teresa Turner, who taught school for 26 years in rural Oklahoma before retiring. “It was just showing more respect for administrators and others instead of the ones that are in the daily grind doing the work with the children.”

According to the organization’s website, the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame was created “to recognize and to honor those professionals who have exemplified a commitment to quality education while demonstrating exceptional abilities in realizing the ideals of leadership, service, and research through their contribution to Oklahoma education.”

But the biographies of those honored during the hall’s 38 years of existence suggest that if you want to become a “hall of fame” educator, you need to exit the classroom and the associated daily interactions with children as soon as possible.

In fact, many of the hall’s inductees spent much of their career far away from the classroom, earning salaries that were several multiples greater than that of the classroom teacher.

Of the 109 people inducted into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame from its creation in 1985 to 2022, only 10 individuals appear to have spent their entire career teaching children in a classroom, based on biographical information posted on the hall of fame’s website.

The fact that less than 10 percent of the people in the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame are career classroom teachers contradicts popular perception and undermines political narratives surrounding the hall’s place in state education circles.

“When you hear the title, ‘Educators Hall of Fame,’ you expect those to be the teachers of the year,” said state Rep. Sherrie Conley, a Newcastle Republican who is a former teacher. “But that’s not who was in that hall. That hall was bureaucrats.”

The Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame has gained renewed attention in recent weeks after new State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters chose to remove portraits of Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame inductees from display at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

The “Oklahomans for Public Education” Twitter account decried that action, declaring Walters “has dismantled the Educators Hall of Fame ‘Wall of Honor’ from the State Department of Education.”

In response, one Twitter user proclaimed Walters “openly hates teachers” while another stated that Walters “doesn’t care about teachers.” (Walters is a former public-school teacher who was an Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalist.)

Walters subsequently told a local TV station that the hall of fame was filled with “bureaucrats and union leaders” who are not the focus of his administration. Instead, he tweeted that he would be “putting parents and kids on those walls to highlight those our state truly serves.”

During the February meeting of the State Board of Education, Walters further addressed the issue, referencing the “fake outrage” over removal of the portraits.

“That should have been done a long time ago,” Walters said. “The emphasis of this building of education is about putting parents in the driver’s seat of their kids’ education, putting kids at the center of everything that we do.”

Want to Become a ‘Hall of Fame’ Educator? Become an Administrator, Union Leader, or Lobbyist (Preferably Male)

A review of the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame honorees shows Walters is correct that a disproportionate share of inductees are union leaders, and a disproportionate share are lobbyists or school administrators.

At least 58 of the 109 inductees worked as administrators in K-12 schools, based on their biographical information, meaning administrators comprise 53 percent of “hall of fame” educators, a far greater share than inductees who were career classroom teachers.

In fact, there are nearly as many union leaders in the hall of fame as there are career classroom teachers, even though the pool of teachers in Oklahoma far outnumbers union presidents.

The union leaders in the hall include Weldon K. Davis, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA); Kate Frank, president of the OEA; Michael Barlow, who served as executive director of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers as well as a director of governmental affairs (lobbyist) for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration; Kyle Dahlem, president of the OEA; Tommy G. Fulton, president of the OEA; Raymond Knight, president of the OEA; Farris Willingham, a lobbyist and president of the OEA; and Juanita Kidd, president of the OEA and director of the National Education Association.

The OEA has had 98 individuals serve as the union’s state president since the group’s founding. Seven are in the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame, or about one of every 14 OEA presidents.

In contrast, the 10 career classroom teachers honored in the hall would represent just 0.02 percent of the 42,551 teachers who worked in Oklahoma public schools in the 2021-2022 school year alone, and an even more infinitesimal share of all teachers who have served in Oklahoma classrooms since statehood.

The hall has also honored male inductees at much higher rate than women, even though the teacher workforce is overwhelmingly female.

According to a 2020 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 76 percent of teachers nationwide are women, and the rate is even higher in Oklahoma. In 2019, Oklahoma Watch reported that nearly eight in 10 certified public-school teachers in Oklahoma are female.

Yet 74 of the 109 Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame inductees—or 68 percent—are men. In fact, there have been numerous years in which no woman was inducted into the hall. Not one woman was inducted in 2022, 2018, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2001, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1993, and 1987.

Several of those honored in the hall are openly identified as lobbyists, while many others served as leaders in lobbyist organizations.

That group includes Joseph Siano, associate executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA); Pamela Deering, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA); David Pennington, executive director of the United Suburban Schools Association; Randall Raburn, executive director of CCOSA; Jo Pettigrew, assistant executive director and legislative director of OSSBA; William R. White, executive director of CCOSA; Steven Crawford, executive director of CCOSA; Keith Ballard, executive director of OSSBA; Perry Willis, executive director for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools; Paul D. Hurst, president of the United Suburban Schools Association; Bob Mooneyham, executive director of OSSBA; and Marvin Stokes, who is bluntly identified as a “lobbyist.”

Want to Become a ‘Hall of Fame’ Educator? Be a Politician

The Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame has also been used to bolster the resume of some state politicians while they were still in office.

During State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister’s tenure, Oklahoma student outcomes dropped significantly on state tests, national tests and the ACT college-prep test. During Hofmeister’s tenure, Oklahoma’s scores on National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) fourth-grade reading tests plunged from a 2015 ranking of 29th out of 50 states (and the District of Columbia) to 46th in 2022.

That record was good enough for Hofmeister to be declared a “hall of fame” educator in 2021, her seventh year in office.

Hofmeister was not the only politician to walk down an Oklahoma State Department of Education hallway adorned with her picture as part of the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame display while she was still in office.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett was inducted into the hall in 2000, ten years before she left that position.

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Oliver Hodge is also in the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame.

Want to Become a ‘Hall of Fame’ Educator? Target Parents with Harassment Lawsuits

Walters has said pictures of families and children should be displayed rather than the portraits of Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame inductees because children should be his agency’s focus.

In contrast, at least one individual honored in the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame was heavily involved in an effort targeting the parents of children with special needs with a lawsuit. Critics said the lawsuit was designed to financially devastate those families—and it appears the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed.

In 2011, as superintendent of Jenks, Kirby Lehman joined the superintendent of the Union school district to sue the parents of children with special needs whose children had received state scholarships to attend private schools through the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.

Then-state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, called Lehman’s actions “vindictive and extremely out of line.”

“It essentially tells parents: ‘Beware, school administrators will sue you if you dare seek a better education for your special-needs child,’” Nelson said. “Seeing such a reckless lawsuit filed at the behest of two superintendents whose salaries total nearly half a million public dollars a year should send cold chills down the spine of every parent in the state.”

Lehman’s lawsuit was tossed out of court by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and the justices pointedly rebuked Lehman and others involved in bringing the lawsuit, declaring that “the parents are clearly not the proper parties against whom to assert these constitutional challenges.”

Lehman then joined a group that included two other individuals in the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame—Pennington and Raburn—to challenge the LNH program a second time, although they did not sue parents in that go-round. That lawsuit ended with a unanimous ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court declaring the LNH program was constitutional.

Lehman was inducted into the hall of fame in 2018—after having led the legal attack on families of children with special needs.

Walters: Agency’s Focus Will Remain on Families, Students

At the State Board of Education’s February meeting, Walters did not focus on the perceived questionable legitimacy of the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame, but instead spoke of the need for the agency to remain centered on the students and parents.

“Everything that we do in this building will be about parents and kids, so that will be the center of our decision-making,” Walters said. “We will see that all over the building with pictures of our wonderful parents and kids as a reminder for our staff of what our mission is about. It’s about kids.”

Article authored by Ray Carter of the Center for Independent Journalism. Re-published by permission.


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