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20 Reasons to Pick a New State Superintendent

June 1, 2014

With the primary elections coming up in a little over three weeks, I have been thinking about the best way to remind people how important the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is. Yesterday, I re-posted my earlier piece on the seven candidates who have filed for the position. Since then, more than 2,000 people have read it. More importantly, quite a few have clicked through to the webpages of the candidates.

If he were in the race, friend-of-the-blog Rob Miller would be in eighth place in this very unscientific straw poll.

I also wrote a short reminder that we all need to be turning up our efforts at raising awareness for whichever candidate we favor. That post generated the following comment from a reader, though one who is obviously not a huge fan:

I’m not voting for Janet Barresi either. But not because you repeated “Koch Brothers,” “Jeb Bush,” and “Foundation” as some sort of shibboleth. As far as I’m concerned, Janet Barresi is no more or less dishonest and one-sided than your own attacks on her have been.

I’m still curious. Where was the outrage when Sandy Garrett had us at #49, seemingly content to remain there forever? Was that OK, as in “Oklahoma values,” because she didn’t rock the boat, didn’t challenge the largely self-serving public education establishment?

As a person who takes constructive feedback seriously, I felt I had to respond.

If your point is that my use of those terms is just as much an attempt to evoke a predictable response from my core readers as it is when Barresi says “liberal” and “education establishment,” I suppose I’m guilty as charged. Yes, I too use loaded language. As for your claims that I have been “dishonest” on this blog, I’d love for you to point out specifically where that has been true. If you think I’m “one-sided” because I don’t criticize Sandy Garrett, please keep in mind that I started this blog a little over a year after she left office. I have been critical of many Oklahoma politicians – not just Barresi. When SG was state superintendent, I often pointed in my professional dealings to things with which I disagreed – just never to this extent.

I have also been critical of President Obama and Secretary Duncan, but on a more limited scale since I tend to focus on the Oklahoma education issues.

Most importantly, though, thank you for reading, and I’m glad to hear you won’t be voting for Barresi.

Surely we can all think back to a time prior to 2010 when we scratched our heads and wondered why Garrett and the SDE were doing things in a particular way. She led a major state agency for 20 years. We questioned many things. We also got answers. We had regular meetings with top SDE staff that included opportunities for meaningful stakeholder input. It was a very different time.

I began this blog in 2012 with a commitment to discussing the present state of public education in Oklahoma and how our elected officials’ decisions impact the future. When appropriate, I also discuss the past. That is why for the next three weeks, I’m going to be counting down the top 20 reasons to vote June 24 – for anybody other than Barresi.

The list is a work in progress, but I have a pretty good idea of what my top three will be. I have also received input from stakeholders, but unlike with reason #20 below, I’m interested in what you think. In any case, I am pretty certain that I will leave out a few of your favorite memories. I may do one a day, but if I know me, I’ll skip a day or two, and then double up somewhere down the line.  Let’s get this started!

Reason #20 –Oklahoma’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver

About the time that Barresi took office, those crazy feds were developing a process by which states could request flexibility from the original requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (the title given to Congress’s 2001 re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Oklahoma, along with the other states that constitute the Chiefs for Change (C4C) group, relied heavily on Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in writing their waiver requests. By the time SDE staff met with educators that October, Oklahoma’s request had largely been written.

Fortunately, we have some historical accounting for how that process went. The non-profit group In the Public Interest compiled a database of conversations between state officials and representatives of FEE. One of my favorites includes a discussion, a few months later, between the SDE’s Kerri White and FEE’s Mary Laura Bragg.

[16 Oct 2011]

Mary Laura,

Thank you for a great conference this past week in San Francisco. The meeting helped provide a nice overview of the reforms that C4C are advocating for across the nation.

Superintendent Barresi asked that I contact you to get a better understanding of how C4C and the Foundation can assist Oklahoma as we are working on our ESEA Flexibility Request. We understand that there will be a lot of work over the next few weeks in determining identification definitions, interventions, and timelines, as well as actually doing the calculations in order to create our list of Reward, Priority, and Focus schools before November 14. Is the Foundation planning to provide general policy assistance to C4C states, or is there also help available in writing, editing, and revising the Request?

We will be meeting with LEA representatives all day Tuesday to construct the basic outline of our request based on the principles for which C4C are advocating. We are looking forward to their input and guidance and to put it in the context of the work of the Foundation.

Thank you so much for your assistance.

We also have record of the invitation Ms. White sent to those nominated to serve on the working groups (from a reader – some people save everything).

[6 Oct 2011]

Congratulations!  You have been nominated and selected to serve on one of three ESEA Flexibility Working Groups.  Please see the attached list to verify which working group you have been selected to participate in.  We will need you to participate in two meetings.

The first meeting will be held via webinar (so you can participate from your own computer) on Monday, October 10 at 10:00 a.m.  In order to register for this webinar, please go to http://oksdetraining.webex.com; click on the “Upcoming” tab; and click on “Register” next to “ESEA Flexibility” on October 10.  You will receive an email confirmation with instructions for how to sign-in to the session.  This meeting should last less than one hour.

The second meeting will be in Oklahoma City at the State Department of Education on Tuesday, October 18 from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.  You will receive more details about this meeting soon.

I am attaching two documents from USDE’s Flexibility Website that should be beneficial for your review prior to Monday’s webinar.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Thanks,

Kerri

Congratulations, indeed! As anyone who was there will tell you, very little was on the table for discussion. The major decisions had already been made. Suggestions that were unanimous by the working group were not even considered. Those running the meeting were very direct about this.

Another favorite is this one, which is a general playbook of all the reforms favored by C4C, FEE, as well as Arne Duncan and the USDE. It includes everything that our state has adopted since 2011: A-F Report Cards; tying teacher evaluation to test scores; college and career readiness standards; and third grade retention. In case it is unclear to anyone why Barresi’s entanglements with these groups bother me so much, it’s because she has tied every action of the SDE to what Jeb Bush wants. Oklahomans who occasionally appear in her working groups are usually there only to fulfill a nominal requirement for stakeholder input. It is never meaningful.

Barresi and her top officials at the SDE established this pattern early in their tenure there. It has continued with every major decision. And it is one of the top 20 reasons that I will be voting for someone else June 24.

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  1. June 1, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    I can’t wait to read the next 19! This was is spot on. The feds looked at the national recession the same way Arne Duncan looked at Hurricane Katrina: “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” To them, the economic downturn was a political opportunity. By dangling billions of dollars in front of cash-starved states, they were able to lure us into the trap of federal control. I sense we are starting to wrestle free, but it won’t be easy.

    Like

    • June 1, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks! I look forward to writing them…sort of. It’s a little depressing.

      Like

  2. June 2, 2014 at 12:28 am

    Authentic Democratic organizations welcome transparent input from a representative group of people who are impacted by the organization. Corporations are not democratic organizations. Their mission is to increase profits. When our State Board of Education and our State Department of Education uses the methods you describe in this article that are in opposite of Democratic methods, then our entire public school system shifts away from being fundamental institutions of democracy towards institutions to facilitate corporate influence and corporate profits. Failure to engage and empower educators to be a legitimate contributor in the development of Oklahoma’s curriculum, undermines our democratic way of life.

    Like

  3. June 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

    My favorite part of the above correspondence from the SDE is the sentence “Please see the attached list to verify which working group you have been selected to participate in.” AWESOME that someone is telling teachers what to do/teach and they don’t even know how to structure the sentence so there’s no preposition on the end of the sentence.

    Like

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