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Taking One for the Team (Part 2)

November 19, 2013 12 comments

I’m not an expert in whole language. I know just enough about the practice to be dangerous. I probably know more about it than Superintendent Barresi, however. On that note, let’s explore the highlights of part 2 of the District 2 Candidate Meeting. This section includes questions from the audience and responses from both Barresi and one potential challenger, Linda Murphy. As with the first section, I forced myself to sit through the whole thing.

  • 6:20 Barresi claims that the US Department of Education is more scared of us (states) than we are of them. She claims to fight with them frequently and that they don’t know what to do with her. If her idea of fighting includes stepping aside and letting them dictate how our state wrote its waiver to NCLB, I agree. If it includes adopting all of the du jour reforms of the hour in order to apply for (and not receive) Race To The Top funds, I agree. If she’s talking about winning a single battle with the feds that appreciably improves the learning conditions of students or the working conditions of teachers, I must be missing something.
  • 9:05 Barresi states, “If you don’t measure, you don’t care.” It’s one of the things she keeps saying. In part one, she said, “If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t matter.” Somehow, we have become a society that only cares about the things that can be counted. Scratch that, I think I’d rather say it this way: WE CAN’T LET SOCIETY DECIDE IT ONLY CARES ABOUT THINGS THAT CAN BE COUNTED! The qualitative things are important too. Of the things that count, only a few can be measured. (If I stick with this long enough, I’ll have a t-shirt or bumper sticker.)
  • 11:15 She claims that her hands are tied about the textbook committee because of the state constitution, which she doesn’t want to change. I don’t see why not. We vote on silly state questions every couple of years. Sometimes, we even do so in a way that really hurts funding for education (SQ 766, anyone)? If something is outdated in the state constitution, work on it. That’s part of the process.
  • 14:20 She repeats the statement that Limited Knowledge means that students are reading two grade levels behind. It doesn’t. It’s somewhere between one and eight correct responses away from proficient, which in theory is on grade level.
  • 16:15 She responds to a question about the third grade retention law by stating that the intent is for identification of struggling readers to be a process spanning from Kindergarten to grade three. That’s four school years. Between the passage of the legislation in 2011, schools have had two years to prepare.
  • 16:30 This is the statement I teased in the intro: “I’m now finding out … University of Oklahoma believes in Whole Language. So they’re teaching Whole Language.” So we’re having to go back with high school teachers and teach them phonics-based instruction. Don’t even get me started on that.” Well, Dr. Barresi. You started. Let’s discuss.
    Once upon a time, colleges of education around the country debated the best approach to teaching literacy to the youngest students. While some dabbled in Whole Language instruction for a year or two (much like one might have dabbled in speech pathology a year or two), Phonics won the day. The claim is baseless. It is a continuation of her war on academia. She’s engaging in party politics on a Saturday morning seven months before the primary. Anything she can make sound liberal is red meat for her audience. I heard both laughter and anger after posting that comment on Twitter earlier. Mostly anger.
    Plus, I don’t see any mention of Whole Language here or here.
  • 21:30 Barresi responds to a question about liberal teachers by saying, “There will still be liberal teachers after the Common Core, unless the local board acts.” I have to ask: should school boards be actively finding and eliminating the liberals in their midst? Maybe she misspoke. Or I misheard. Nope. I just listened again. I heard correctly.
  • 22:00 and counting…For about a minute, it seems there is coughing coming from around the area of whoever was filming. But the coughing seemed like a word – a word being repeated for a minute. A word actually, that is often spoken in a cough in an attempt to show disbelief. A word actually, that we consider to be synonymous with politics.
  • 22:45 Barresi goes on a rant mocking the deans of the colleges of education at OU and OSU. It finishes with “Can we just teach them how to teach reading and how to teach math?” I have to say, the potential candidate standing next to her has taught more kids to read and do math than Barresi ever will.
  • 23:00 Speaking of Murphy, here she directly challenges Barresi’s complete acceptance of the Common Core and her insults at teachers. The next several minutes are awkward but unremarkable.
  • 36:00 Barresi fields an emotional question from a parent of a stressed out special education student. She responds by digging in on the third grade retention law. Again she blames school districts, claiming that they waited until this year to act. She conveniently forgets two facts. First is that until August, school districts had received no guidance from the SDE about how to take the six good cause exemptions written into the law from statute to action. Once again, here is the process: Statute to Administrative Rule to Guidance for Implementation. For all of the training that school districts have received (or not received, depending on the REAC3H coaches), in assisting third graders, the real trick is knowing how to enact the law. The second fact is that school districts received no RSA funding last year and still wait to receive their notices of funding for this year. Schools continue working with students and waiting endlessly on the SDE.
  • 36:45 Barresi states that districts dumped the Common Core on teachers this year. That’s also not true. Districts large enough to have curriculum specialists have been working to transition the local curriculum to the Common Core since 2010 – before the final version of the standards were written. Then came the SDE and it’s since-abandoned REAC3H Networks and inconsistent REAC3H conferences. In truth, teachers, principals, and other district staff have been taking every opportunity they can to find Common Core resources, with little tangible help from Barresi or her people.
  • 43:00 Murphy takes a shot at John Kraman, the Executive Director of the Student Information system. She states he came to Oklahoma directly from Achieve, Inc., which was the organization most directly responsible for the final draft of the Common Core State Standards. She also goes after state Career Tech Director Bob Sommers – who serves in a dual capacity as Governor Fallin’s Secretary of Education. She mentions that he was previously associated with Carpe Diem, a nationwide for-profit charter school chain. This is also factual. Barresi fervently defends both. It’s probably the tensest exchange of the two videos.
  • 47:00 Murphy points out again – and accurately – that federal money is tied to the reforms that Barresi has implemented since taking office. Barresi again lets it be known that she hates the federal government: “I won’t let this continue. There is no connection of testing dollars with any of the reforms. I won’t let that line of argument go forward.”

Sorry, Barresi. You couldn’t stop it if you tried. You’re too invested now.

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