Education Reform Candidate Meeting
Over the weekend, the Republican Party held a state superintendent candidate forum in the 2nd District. The incumbent, Janet Barresi attended. So did an undeclared challenger, Linda Murphy. Murphy, some will recall, ran for the position twice in the 1990s, and actually came pretty close to winning in 1994. Joy Hofmeister, the former State Board of Education member who resigned to run against Barresi, did not attend.
At the 4:00 mark Murphy begins her talk. It’s pretty consistent with the things I’ve seen from her over social media in the time I’ve had this blog. She strongly opposes the Common Core and feels the Barresi-led SDE leads with a top-down style, much as did the Garrett administration for 20 years before her. While I encourage you to watch the entire video, I’m not going to comment much on Murphy’s remarks. They were straight-forward and hardly inflammatory.
Barresi, on the other hand, begging at about the 26:30 mark, delivers a bizarre string of insults and inaccuracies that lasts over 30 minutes. I understand the nature of campaigning – especially in a primary. Politicians have to energize the base. They have to deliver the red meat. Here’s one educator’s overview of her remarks, in case you don’t want to sit through the whole thing.
- 31:30 Barresi states that a student scoring Limited Knowledge on the 3rd grade reading test is two grade levels behind. This statement is flawed on a couple of levels. First is that the reading test is not a diagnostic tool intended to determine that piece of information. Second that a student scoring Limited Knowledge may be only one correct response behind a student scoring proficient. If she had said Unsatisfactory, I might have let it go. Still, the test doesn’t measure reading level. It never has.
- 32:00 Barresi claims that 75% of all special education students are incorrectly identified, and that if we would teach them to read, they wouldn’t be in that position. This is patently false. I don’t know where she gets her numbers. She probably makes them up on the spot 80% of the time. This statement is an insult to everybody who has ever served on an IEP team and worked within a program to provide assistance to a student.
- 35:45 Barresi states that under her watch, the social studies content standards were re-written to emphasize American Exceptionalism over pop culture. I’m trying to remember all of the End-of-Instruction questions over the Roaring Twenties, Elvis, and New Coke, but my mind must be struggling this morning. The truth is that she allowed a Texan with an extremist agenda to provide technical assistance during the re-write. Additionally, high school students now only study and test over American History since 1878. Earlier content is covered in fifth and eighth grade. As with all subjects covered in lower grades, our teachers do a good job teaching the material, but the level of critical thinking is a little less sophisticated than it is in high school.
- 35:30 Barresi makes it clear that Oklahoma will eventually develop our own science standards, and that they will not include a discussion of evolution, carbon footprints, or global warming. “It’s not the truth.” Apparently, our efforts to develop critical thinkers will also lead to a generation that doesn’t get a chance to develop as scientists.
- 40:30 Barresi begins to string the education establishment doesn’t want to be transparent and accountable theme throughout the rest of her remarks. This is also false. It’s the central message of her campaign though. She’s betting on the public disliking their own elected school board members, superintendents, and principals more than they dislike her in order to win re-election.
- 41:00 She claims that the A-F scale is simply a conversion of all the information that was in the previous 1500 point API scale. This is also not factual. Yes, both measures had student achievement data, dropout and graduation rates, and attendance as factors. Scores counted differently in the API than they do for A-F, though. And API didn’t count the lowest-performing students three times – a factor that amplifies the effects of poverty.
- By the way, and this is completely a sidebar here, someone posted this great file in a Google Doc, showing district-by-district, the grades with enrollment, poverty, and bilingual figures. Districts are ranked by poverty level, and the document runs 14 pages. The first district, Tushka, received an A-. While they should be congratulated for being a high-poverty, high-achievement school, keep in mind they’re the only A on the first 4 pages. The key statistical terms here are trend and outlier.
- 42:00 This is one of my favorite parts. Even if you don’t want to watch the entire video, you have to see Barresi using air quotes to describe the OU/OSU “researchers” who discredited the A-F Report Cards. Having a state education leader so openly hostile to intellectualism and knowledge is unsettling, to say the least.
- 43:00 Barresi states, “We put out a grade card that counts every student.” That’s true, unless you consider the students whose writing tests were still being re-scored six months later. Or the students not included due to the testing disruption. Or fifth, seventh, and eighth grade social studies.
- 45:45 Barresi says what should really be at the top of all of her campaign literature: “If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.” This is the mindset and practice most antithetical to the reasons all of us entered education in the first place. Sure we want to see student growth. Sure we root for the kids who struggle. We also put in the time with them. And we do countless things you can never measure. No test, no OAM, no VAM, and no third-party survey will ever effectively measure music, art, and the overall affective experience of schooling. Efforts to try are the work of narrow-minded people with an agenda. Everything schools do for kids has value – even the things you can’t measure.
- 46:55 Barresi repeats her red meat line that she’ll “be damned if we’re going to lose another generation of children in this state.” As I have said before, this statement is an affront to all the educators who have devoted their careers to the children she holds up as props.
- 53:50 Barresi states that she sees “chiefs from other states dealing with huge deficits.” Apparently she doesn’t understand that Oklahoma districts are still operating with budgets lower than they had before the recession. Or that cuts to school funding in Oklahoma are the deepest in the nation.
- 55:00 Barresi states that districts are “holding back $770 million” that could be used in the classroom. To date, she has still not documented this. If she has the figures of each district’s June 30, 2013 carryover, she should release them. She also misstates how those funds are used. They don’t go to pay June, July, and August salaries. Those are encumbered before the end of May, typically. Districts maintain a carryover to help them manage the funding gap between the start of the fiscal year (July 1) and the availability of ad valorem funds several months later. For most districts, it takes four or five months for revenues to balance out with expenses. Since districts receive different percentages of their funding from state aid, there is naturally a variance in how much each one holds back.
- 56:30 She claims that the SDE has reduced spending during their tenure. Well so have school districts, and for the exact same reason. Both have received less in appropriations from the legislature. Believe me; if she had more, she’d spend it.
- 57:00 Barresi brags about firing so many people when she started the job that she had to answer phones herself. (I think that may have been the last time a phone was answered at the Hodge Building. I kid.) Yes, she fired people who opposed her politically, and she fired people with decades of experience. She fired staff who had tirelessly helped districts for years and replaced them with, in many cases, people who can’t or won’t answer questions. That isn’t to say that the SDE has no quality employees. I’m just saying they’re in shorter supply than before she started firing people.
- 57:30 Barresi blames Obamacare for funding problems. She claims that insurance premiums are increasing at a record rate. Yes, they’re increasing quite a bit. But it’s not a record. This serves her politically, allowing her to glom onto the most divisive issue in the country right now. It’s smart, from a political perspective. It’s also completely disingenuous.
- 59:00 She states that she would rather fight to put money into her initiatives than into the classroom. She’s thumbing her nose at you, first grade teacher with an increased class size. She’d rather give the money to charter schools and Teach for a minute or two America.
Yes, it’s all campaign bluster. But these are her positions. These statements differ from what she says when she visits your schools and praises your teachers. Remember that the next time she shakes your hand and tells you she appreciates you.