All In for #oklaed
I’ve mentioned to a couple of readers lately that with this countdown, I’m about to hit a wall. Every day, I am not only writing a new post that I hope is shared beyond the 2,000+ Twitter followers and 2,000+ Facebook friends of the blog; I am also remembering things that don’t even make the Top 20, which will probably lead to me writing more.
Lately, the reality of how close this primary is has begun to sink in. The campaign ads are getting meaner. The debates are more frequent. We’re a little more than a week away, and I honestly have no idea what the poll numbers are. All I do know is that the incumbent in the state superintendent’s race can fund her own campaign (reportedly dropping $1 million for a late media push), one challenger (Hofmeister) is running a grass roots campaign based upon small donors, and the third Republican in the primary (Kelly) has made one notable appearance in which he confused the RSA with the Common Core.
Among the Democrats, I really can’t tell who will emerge from the group of four. My guess is that none will hit 50% outright and that two will head into an August run-off. I just can’t guess which two it will be.
Here are some numbers worth noting. In 2010, there were 250,247 votes cast in the Democratic primary and 231,863 votes cast in the Republican primary in the state superintendent race. I expect those numbers to flip. More precisely, I expect both parties to see increases, but the Republican increases to outpace those of the Democrats by far. Further supporting this belief, I give you this, from the Enid News and Eagle.
An analysis by the Enid News & Eagle pins the number of educators who became Republicans over the past year at 1,253. But who are they?
They mostly come from small, rural school districts. More than half of them work in districts with fewer than 200 state certified educators.
These schools are spread throughout the state and don’t seem to fit a geographical pattern. Sentinel, Central and Frederick Public Schools had roughly a third of their teacher corps change parties.
Stringtown, a district of 19 certified educators near McAlester in the state’s southeast quadrant, saw more than half convert before the June 24 primary.
The analysis could only confidently identify 229 converts from the 10 school districts with the most employees, each with more than a thousand educators.
The state’s largest public school employer, Oklahoma City, had just 14 who switched, according to the analysis.
Enid, already a heavily Republican city, saw only a 1.2-percent conversion rate.
The review isn’t perfect, though. While voter registration data provided by the State Election Board includes information like birth dates and addresses, the education department’s list of certified teachers only provides first and last names along with school district where they work.
Because neither list shares a unique identifier, the results had to be calculated based on names. That effort showed 7,301 Oklahomans who were Democrat or independent switched to the Republican Party. Then that list was compared to the database of more than 50,000 teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators who are on file with the state.
Finally, out came a number: 1,253, which is 17.2 percent of all converts.
That is impressive research. I agree that it has limitations as far as accuracy goes, but it’s still pretty telling. The Eagle also talked with a couple of educators to find out why. Enid teacher Matt Holtzen explained his switch:
We’re the ones on the front lines. We’re the ones who see the impacts of the decisions made by our elected officials. Teachers are the first to respond to any problems they see coming down the pike.
Elk City Superintendent Buddy Wood added this:
The morale in public education, in Elk City, is as low as I’ve ever seen it. Ever. In 34 years.
That alone is sufficient reason to replace Barresi. The Oklahoman, to no one’s surprise, feels that teacher frustration is precisely why we should re-elect the state superintendent in spite of the problems of her administration.
Barresi’s office has made mistakes. The rollout of her A-F grading system for the state’s schools, which puzzled superintendents across Oklahoma, should have been handled better. Releasing the names of students who were appealing the results of state-mandated graduation tests was a gaffe. Problems with the companies that administer end-of-year tests have been troublesome.
Spolier alert! They’re dipping into my top five before I even reveal it! And these are the people on her team. For good measure, they added this:
Barresi’s management style has left her open to criticism, but this shouldn’t be a personality contest. Playing nice and getting along well with others aren’t the only measures on the report card for state school superintendents. Barresi’s overarching goals are ones Oklahomans should support, regardless of party affiliation. She wants to improve education for all students. She wants to increase rigor so those students are well prepared to succeed in high school and college or in their careers.
Her pursuit of significant reform has naturally drawn protest, particularly from the education establishment. Yet Oklahoma doesn’t need more of the status quo, more of the same policies and practices that helped give the nation’s secretary of education plenty of fodder to ridicule this state.
Criticism of her management style goes beyond personality. She alienates the people she needs to have on board with her reforms. Her management style has made it impossible for her to achieve her overarching goals. Even the people who agree with those goals think so – with few exceptions.
Sometimes, I wake up in a cold sweat wondering what the future would look like with another four years of Barresi in office. For one thing, some of us have been quite outspoken – especially bloggers like Rob Miller and me. In fact, I picture something like this happening to us if she gets another term.
The last two years have seen Barresi face not only opposition from the Education Establishment, but repudiation from her own party. In 2012, the legislature made it clear that they did not approve of how the SDE was spending the Activities Budget. In 2013, they re-wrote the rules for the A-F Report Cards, making comparisons from 2012 irrelevant. This year, they pulled a 2012 with the SDE’s Activities Budget again, included parents in the third-grade retention decisions, and repealed the Common Core, which Barresi had been pushing ever since taking office.
Still, she’s pumping money in for a late surge. Joy Hofmeister can’t counter that out of her own pocket, and while donations keep coming in, it’s going to take more than money. If Barresi is going to spend $1 million down the stretch (how much is enough, Janet?), then we need one million stories, shares, and likes. We need Twitter and Facebook lighting the way. With reports of low voter turnout among educators in 2010 serving as a reminder of how we got here, we have to do everything in our power to ensure we don’t have a re-run. Even with half the legislators in her own party openly opposing her, Barresi could still win.
Why do we fight so hard? Because every time Barresi opens her mouth, she insults the people working with Oklahoma’s children.
Because Oklahoma’s children continue coming to school, we must continue fighting to make school a better place. I believe in reform. I believe in school improvement. I also believe we all deserve a leader who is competent, understanding, and sincere.
Janet Barresi has pushed all her chips to the center of the table. It’s time we do too. It can’t just be the regulars who blog and tweet, either. We all have too much to lose.