Worse Than It Sounds
I still remember my Oklahoma History teacher in high school explaining to us the meaning of a political aphorism that now sounds like an anachronism: All politics is local. The idea is that you and I, as citizens, can make the biggest impact by getting involved in the political processes closest to us: city council, mayor, school board. Then county and state government. Finally the federal level.
At no point did any teacher of mine explain that state and local policy should be set by Jeb Bush’s Foundation. This, however, is my main takeaway from yesterday’s thorough investigative work by the Tulsa World.
Do yourself a favor. If you haven’t already, read the article and click through to all the links. You’ll be enlightened.
The World asked the State Department of Education for emails in October related to discussions over the A-F Report Cards. Two months later, they received a fraction of their request. What they received shows contempt for superintendents (continued derisive use of the word “Establishment” to describe career educators). The emails also show a culture beholden to out-of-state influences. At one point, Damon Gardenhire, the former communications director cites the promise of these outside groups as reason for leaving the SDE:
Just keep in mind that the local supts will keep doing this on every reform until choice is introduced into the system. Until then, they will continue to play these kinds of games. Only choice can be the fulcrum to make them truly responsive. A big part of why I took the Walton gig was because I see real promise for bringing positive pressure to bear that will help cause a tipping point with enough (superintendents) that the ugly voices like Keith Ballard will begin to be small and puny.
Gardenhire’s contempt for school superintendents was not unique to him while he worked at the SDE. It was (and remains) the central element of the culture there. The reason that Superintendent Barresi to this day has not had a meaningful conversation with a group of superintendents is that she simply doesn’t care what they think.
The World documentation also includes an email exchange between Governor Fallin’s Secretary of Education, Phyllis Hudecki, and State Senator Clark Jolley, of Edmond. While both show disappointment for the way Barresi has caused some of the political confusion Jolley saves most of his scorn for the school leaders:
As much as we can fault Janet for some of the bumps in the road, on most of these, I frankly believe it is that they figured out they don’t like their grades. They say Janet hasn’t talked to them. That is complete bull. She and her staff have spent hours upon hours trying to answer questions only for the superintendents to allege they were “ramming it through” without even listening Or giving them answers to the questions they posed. I saw the SDE’s responses. They did answer the questions. They just don’t like the answers.”
I wrote about the meeting Barresi had with 51 superintendents in October. That was no discussion. I also posted the responses the SDE gave to superintendents’ questions. Those answers, as I titled my blog post, were evasive at best. What Jolley doesn’t seem to have an explanation for is the fact that the superintendent he most frequently talks to is Edmond’s David Goin. Edmond had great report cards, and Goin thinks the product is flawed and that the SDE was unresponsive. The truth is that no superintendents were satisfied with the process. This isn’t about the final grades at all.
Altogether, the emails the SDE provided to the World, our collective experiences with this process, and the path already travelled through other states point to several realities:
- These people think public schools are failing.
- These people are funded by out-of-state groups.
- These people care little for transparency.
- These people listen to the people who fund them rather than the people they supposedly serve.
- These people will stop at nothing to impose school choice, which is their sanitized way of saying voucher.
- Among the ranks, there is dissent about the competence and political skill of Barresi and the SDE.
- There is no dissent about the ultimate goal, however.
- The governor will remove any board member who does not fall in line like a good little toy soldier.
One last thing: the Oklahoman’s silence on this matter speaks volumes.