Now that the presidential election is over, I want to get back to talking about education. Fortunately for us, so does Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki.
Oklahoma is a strange state in that we have two statewide leaders in education: an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction and a Secretary of Education appointed by the governor. Janet Barresi is the former; Hudecki is the latter.
Last night, Hudecki met with the Tulsa Area Parent Legislative Action Committee. I would recommend reading both the write up of the meeting in the Tulsa World and from Melissa Abdo’s Twitter Feed. (And let me add again that if you care about education in Oklahoma – especially from the perspective of well-informed parents – you should follow Melissa.)
Hudecki came without prepared remarks. She listened. She took tough questions. She revealed that use of the ACT had been her preference over the EOIs years ago. She agreed that testing has gotten out of control. And she seemed to understand that funding for schools has been outpaced by the reforms and mandates.
More meetings like this need to happen. The Oklahoma City Area needs to have a PLAC form. So should Lawton, Enid, Muskogee, and McAlester. Rural and remote areas of the state need to have parents get involved. As I said yesterday, people tend to love (or at least like) the schools in their communities. For the most part, they hate the testing mandates. They want to see innovation more than reforms that stymie creativity.
I appreciate that Secretary Hudecki took the time to meet with parents and school leaders in Tulsa yesterday. And I feel confident that the governor will hear what she heard.
In August, Florida Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson resigned unexpectedly amid criticisms of that state’s education reforms. Yesterday, Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett lost his bid for re-election. They are a part of the group Chiefs for Change, which – depending on your perspective – either represents leads the reform efforts in nine states.
Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi also belongs to this group. Coincidentally, she touts Florida and Indiana at every turn for their reforms. It turns out people aren’t happy with these reforms.
A lot of the narrative in 2010 was that Barresi won her office in Oklahoma because of the state’s distaste for President Obama. If this is true (and I doubt that it is; she simply ran a better campaign) we should note that Indiana was the first state the networks called for Mitt Romney last night.
Even in a red state, people like their public schools. They like the relationships they cultivate with the people who work there. Teachers – to borrow a phrase – are people, my friend! In Oklahoma – a state in which Obama has never won a county – local communities pass bond issues and continue supporting their local school districts. We hate taxes, but we want great schools.
Oklahoma will have a choice to make in two years. While I stated earlier this week that I’m not going to get into endorsements on this blog, I think we all know I’ll be looking for a better candidate. In district after district around this state, parents and community members are listening to their administrators and coming to an understanding that the SDE’s approach to school reform isn’t improving anything.
In two years, they’ll be looking for a better candidate too.
One of Barresi’s best friends. Her reckoning comes in two years!
Tony Bennett has conceded.
Bennett is the quintessential reformer: pro-charter, pro-voucher, pro-privatization. Anti-union, anti-teacher, surrounded in state education department by 11 TFA staff.
Head of Jeb Bush’s rightwing Chiefs for Change.
Rumor in Florida is that the state board of education wants Tony Bennet as state commissioner to implement the rightwing agenda in that state.
Congratulations to the educators in Indiana! Time to reform and rehabilitate your state’s education system.
Congratulations to Glenda Ritz, a genuine educator!
I started this blog to dispute myths about public education, not to endorse candidates for public office. During the last six months, I have followed (and been followed by) several incumbents and their challengers on Twitter. There have been engaging and sometimes contentious exchanges. While I’m not going to say specifically that readers of this blog need to support one person over another, I will give a few guiding principles that inform my decision-making.
Finance – If a candidate still thinks that education has too much money, I’d have to question that person’s commitment to helping children. Public schools in Oklahoma have been bled dry over the last few years. They’ve endured cuts to vital programs while enrolling more students. In most cases, teachers’ raises during this time have not kept pace with inflation. School districts have paid close attention to their annual carryover to make sure they can pay salaries and buy textbooks when the next year begins … and they’ve been attacked for it. Support the candidate who understands that quality public education takes money.
Accountability – If a candidate has a double-standard about public and private school accountability, I’d avoid that person too. Public schools have to maintain open records related to revenues and expenditures. Private schools don’t. Public schools have to endure test upon test upon test. Private schools don’t. Public schools have to follow state and federal guidelines. Private schools don’t. Some candidates for public office insist that private schools outperform public schools. There’s simply no evidence to support this. Given the push coming for the Parent Trigger and expanded Voucher options, the people who maintain these inconsistencies should not be trusted with the oversight of public education.
Consolidation – If a candidate thinks that there should be an arbitrary limit on how small a district can be before wanting it closed, that person has paid no attention to research on school size. The recent legislative study showing potential cost savings failed to mention that studies in other states found no savings from consolidation unless attendance centers were closed. In rural Oklahoma, this is often simply not possible. While some districts struggle to operate financially or offer a comprehensive curriculum and should consider consolidation accordingly, they should not be subjected to mandates that will weaken communities with no tangible benefit.
One more thing – I’m against four of the state questions (758, 759, 765, and 766). The other two (762 and 764) make sense to me. If you want a good synopsis of these questions, go to the Oklahoma Policy Institute website. You should also subscribe and have their blog sent to your inbox daily.
Education is but one issue. There are many others. Make informed decisions. Then wake up Wednesday and be proud of your city, your school, your state, and your country.