Home > Uncategorized > My Parting Shots (Part II)

My Parting Shots (Part II)

January 11, 2015

While Rob Miller bade adieu to Janet Costello Barresi last weekend, I have only started to say my formal goodbyes. With a few things on my mind, I’ll spread my parting shots out over the course of the weekend. Last night, I started with a review of Barresi’s last email to school superintendents. That leaves me with a few things I still want to get off my chest:

  • Barresi’s recent editorials
  • The Oklahoman inadvertently making one of my own points for me
  • Barresi’s hiring spree

I should probably clarify that one of the things I’m calling an editorial is actually self-aggrandizing extended interview at her home-away-from home – the Oklahoman – from two weeks ago. Still, it’s pretty much Janet being Janet.

Then this week, the World (subscription required) and the Oklahoman each published the thoughts of an ousted politician who finished third in her party’s primary. To her credit, she wrote different editorials for each. Since the one she sent to her Tulsa readers is behind a paywall, I’ll just present you with the opening:

From my first day as state superintendent of public instruction, I knew I would be drinking from the fire hose. There is much to learn and do in this job, and the work is hard. But there is nothing more important or rewarding than ensuring each child in our state is truly prepared for college, career and citizenship by the time he or she graduates high school,

This mission sounds so simple, yet it has proven one of the most difficult to accomplish, because everyone has a different idea of the best method to achieve success.

I read the whole article through a news digest, and honestly, there isn’t much you’re missing. I still see no evidence that she’s learned anything. To learn, she would have had to attend class and paid attention. Instead, she spent four years insulting the state’s teachers and copying her work off of Jeb Bush. When she says that “everyone has a different idea of the best method to achieve success,” she shows selective memory. It has always been her way or no way. Those who disagree with her (such as the vast majority of the legislature and voters) are simply pathetic and outrageous.

Two days later, she wrote this for the Oklahoman:

But thanks to the vision of Gov. Mary Fallin and state legislative leaders, Oklahoma embarked several years ago on a package of education reforms. The agenda was ambitious — improve school culture, increase academic rigor, tighten accountability, recognize the importance and usefulness of analyzing data — but critical if our youngest generations are to enjoy economic opportunity and the path to happy, successful lives.

The A-F Report Card for schools gives parents and communities an easily understood snapshot of how schools are doing in subject areas and various barometers of success. The report cards enable struggling schools to consider best practices of peer schools with similar student demographics. The Reading Sufficiency Act puts long-overdue emphasis on ensuring that children can read at an appropriate level instead of sentencing them to academic failure. The Teacher Leader Effectiveness program helps strengthen teachers and professional development. The Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) initiative begun by Gov. Brad Henry makes sure high school graduates understand what they have been taught.

Charting a new course is hard. A number of reforms have been controversial and sparked fiery opposition. Given that what’s at stake is the future of the children — and, by extension, the future of Oklahoma — I’d expect nothing less than a tough fight. But turning back now would be a grave disservice to our students, parents and teachers.

Sadly, nothing she and Governor Fallin have done improved school culture. They have maintained a consistent focus on the ill-fated pursuit of punitive reforms that punish students, teachers, and schools. Teachers are scared to do what they think is right. Principals worry about their report cards. We’ve allowed politicians who know nothing about education to turn teachers’ lounges into data walls. If we really want to improve our letter grades, we have to focus exclusively on what’s measured.

And yes, those reforms go back to Brad Henry. Then again, who co-chaired the ACE taskforce? We’ve created so many loopholes to award diplomas even for students who never achieve a passing score on the state’s End-of-Instruction exams that the students who actually don’t graduate are anomalies – tragic anomalies. The law especially penalizes, predictably, special education students.

Maybe our politicians have (state and federal) have intentionally created a public education system that focuses on the wrong things to build momentum for the vouchers they so desperately crave. If parents turn on the schools – through no fault of the teachers – that’s gravy for the voucher crowd, right?

As for the fiery opposition, I’m just glad to have done my part. Think about it. I have a (mostly) anonymous blog. As much as I want to pretend differently, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in this space opposing Dr. Barresi. While other elected officials and bad writers have had my attention, she has been the root cause of the most damage to public education in our state in the last four years. I have nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter and 2,500 on Facebook. I may have struck a nerve, but she just has made it so dang easy. If I had been retained in third grade emotionally, I might even say, but she started it!

I hope the publishers in this state soon realize that the state’s readers don’t care to continue hearing from a failed politician who was rejected by 80 percent of the voters in her own party. For one paper, I doubt there’s much hope. For those of you who aren’t regular readers of The Lost Ogle, you may have missed a story they wrote in November mocking the Oklahoman for pulling together a focus group of technophobes who love their editorial page. That’s the target audience in central Oklahoma, I guess. That will be my focus of Part III later today.

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  1. January 11, 2015 at 3:08 pm
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