Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Future of Public Education

Public Education in Oklahoma has endured a great deal over the past four years. Barresi’s adversarial style was hallmark during her tumultuous tenure. Barresi fully bought into the “schools are failing” mantra permeating from the “only thing that matters are test scores” reform crowd.  Any educational idea other than those ideas given to her by the corporate organizations of ALEC or FEE was met with vitriol. But let’s face it; Barresi was able to make hay out of a situation that began long before she was elected in 2010. Remember, it was the FEDERAL legislation of No Child Left Behind of 2001 which brought about accountability measures based on standardized tests.  NCLB required states to test students every year in reading and math and report those results to stakeholders.  Oklahoma jumped on the testing band wagon in 2005 with the passing of ACE legislation. ACE was Oklahoma’s initial response to the “school improvement” craze by requiring students to take “college coursework” and to pass “graduation” tests in order to earn a HS diploma.  Unfortunately, ACE was the beginning of the legislative onslaught not the end.  Legislation such as TLE, RSA, CCSS repeal, or any of the 72 total educational bills signed into law has become the norm not the exception.

This never ending bevy of legislation is a plague on both political parties.  NCLB was the brain child of a Republican president, but ACE legislation was passed during a time when the Democrats held the Governor’s office and the State Senate. Moreover, the Republican party held just a slim majority in the House of Representatives that year, so ACE legislation was essentially a bipartisan effort.  History has shown that politicians have a tendency to change their philosophy based on the next election.  For example, in 2005 the Democrats were fully complicit in passing legislation requiring our students to take tests to demonstrate proficiency in order to earn a HS diploma.  In 2014, the Democrats are using the platform of too much testing to be relevant in both the Governor’s race and the State Superintendent’s race.  This is a huge accomplishment in a state that boosts a current Republican stronghold on all statewide elected offices.  

The political climate at the capitol must be taken into consideration as public education moves forward.  There is a Republican supermajority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The Governor is a well funded incumbent who, if she wins re-election, will not be a strong advocate for public education.  The Speaker of the House of Representatives is 1 of 6 House members who voted against the RSA veto override, the 10 year educational funding increase bill, and who has refused to meet with every educational organization in the state.  There is a vicious rumor running around my capitol contacts saying Speaker Hickman has promised Rep. Jason Nelson both the Floor Leader position and the Educational committee chair as repayment for helping Hickman win the Speakership.   

So how are we to effectively maneuver in the current political climate? For starters, educators have to stop being the “anti” establishment and start offering up solutions to educational problems.  This is possible if we start LEADING the educational conversations instead of always reacting to them.  The OSSBA and CCOSA have already started this transition with their Visioning project. The Visioning project is a collaborative effort produced by educational stakeholders who’ve taken an honest assessment of our education system and have established a course of action for true school improvement.  You can get more information about the Visioning Project here.

The most important thing educators can do is have a leader who can effectively communicate to the lawmakers the credible information they need to make good decision regarding education policy.  We need a leader who will be included in every discussion regarding Oklahoma’s educational policy.  This is why it is essential we elect Joy Hofmeister as our next State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  As the Republican in the field, she will be included in the conversations regarding Oklahoma’s education policy.  As I have pointed out earlier, accountability is a Federal law evident in annual Math and Reading testing for students in 3rd through 11th grade. Our next State Superintendent can’t change that, but they can work with the legislators and governor to create a testing system and accountability system that is fair, accurate, reliable, credible, and meaningful - but only if our next State Superintendent is included in the conversation.  Joy Hofmeister is the only candidate who will be invited into the Republican caucus on education.  I know Dr. John Cox.  He is a good man.  He is a fine educator.  If the situation at the capitol were different, then he would have my full faith and support.  However, I am a realist.  Dr. Cox would be treated as a leper at the capitol.  Our Republican supermajority legislators would seek their educational information from sources like Jeb Bush and his FEE organization or from ALEC and not our State Superintendent.  All the gains educators have made with issues like the local control of 3rd grade retention, national standards, or educational funding would be lost.  The anti public education reform group would gain a major strong hold in education policy because the only source of information would be coming from national sources.  And if all that didn’t matter, it still wouldn’t matter.  Joy Hofmeister wants to include educators in the conversation to improve Oklahoma education.  Joy has already demonstrated her advocacy for schools, students, and teachers when she took on Barresi and the "public schools are failing" crowd while on the State Board of Education.  Joy led the fight against the flawed A-F accountability system and voted against it while on the board of education.  She has advocated for more teacher autonomy and a better climate for our teachers and students.  She wants to lead Oklahomans in the pursuit of educational excellence.  She wants to LEAD us to our vision, and that is worthy of our vote.

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