Oklahoma Legislators can KISS my…principles

This was recently published in the Tulsa World.

The acronym, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), promotes the principle that often the simple answer is the best.   We overcomplicate obvious answers, and as a result, the original process is slowed to a halt.  We lose sight of what is important.  Oklahoma’s legislators have clearly forgotten this principle when considering education.

In 2011, while teaching at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington, a nationally top-ranked public high school, I wrote an open letter to key legislators and government officials inviting them to visit my classroom to hear from the students.  Two men did.  They spent a few hours with my classes and with my fellow teachers.

When asked why the school was so successful, the students most often replied that it was because teachers cared about them as individuals.  One gentleman asked a small group of teachers if it would help to hire someone to grade papers.  Every teacher said, “No.”  The teachers explained that grading papers told what the students grasped and what needed further explanation.  Grading gives the teacher the data necessary for student growth. These teachers care about their students’ lives and education. KISS.

This week I heard about an Oklahoma chemistry teacher with approximately 40 students per class with no supplies for experiments.  Another teacher complained that she did not even have a class set of books and was told to let the students take a picture of the pages with their phones so they could do the work.  An algebra teacher had a class of 60 students in a room built for no more than 30.  The students were sitting on the floor.  Classroom management became difficult. The funding is not there to help these students. KISS.

A high ranking Oklahoma district administrator told me that the district is hiring teachers whom at one point they would never have interviewed.  The Oklahoma teacher shortage is forcing districts to hire teachers who will need heavy guidance to find success in the classroom. As a mentor, I saw this daily. Many of the teachers I mentored moved to nearby states.  Why would a top teacher stay in a state which consistently ranks near the bottom nationally in teacher pay and per pupil expenditures?  KISS.

I have lobbied and written letters and voted my conscience over the years.   What I have discovered is that education is not a priority; rather, they want new businesses to move to Oklahoma.  I suspect that if you talked to Chambers of Commerce across our state, they would tell you that most businesses want to move to a state where the education systems are respected and given financial support.  Why would you want to move families to a state ranked so low?  KISS.

In spite of all the negatives, Oklahoma teachers walk into the classrooms and spend their energies doing the very best they can with that they have.  They get the KISS principle.  They have to…all they have are the simplicities.

Oklahoma government officials and legislators, don’t tell me that the funding isn’t there.  It is if it is a priority.  This is a state of creative minds.  Let them help.  Listen to people like OU’s President David Boren.  It’s a penny.  KISS.

Most of all, visit classrooms across the state.  Listen to the students and the teachers.  Walk away with your gut in a knot from the lack of teachers, supplies, and technology.  Go back and KISS.