Double, Double Toil and Trouble
Our State Superindentist is at it again. Janet Barresi seems determined to wreak as much havoc as possible before she leaves office. Under less than transparent circumstances, she hired Larry Birney, a career law enforcement official, to be assistant state superintendent of accreditation. To add to the recent ludicrousness, she tried to offer a testing contract to McGraw Hill---the company responsible for the last two years’ testing debacles. Thankfully, McGraw turned down the contract, but they shouldn’t have been considered for it in the first place. Macbeth's "toil and trouble" is an apt description of what public education is enduring these days.
We took care of the ‘Barresi problem' at the polls in June, but the challenge facing us now is how to deal with the chaos left behind by her and other politicians like Jason Nelson, whose legacy has done long-lasting damage to our public schools. There is no doubt their leadership has put us in the midst of this turmoil, but there are, at least, lessons to be learned from it.
Lesson number one – Oklahoma educators, not politicians, must lead public education. It is glaringly obvious that politicians with no education expertise have had their chance, and they have failed our schools and students miserably. They have repealed our standards and left our schools in limbo with no clear path of where to go next. They have forced our students to take more and more tests, and yet they haven’t found a competent testing company to administer them. They continue to utilize an A-F grading system that tells us our schools are failing, despite all evidence that those grades are tragically flawed and utterly useless. They have made enormous cuts to school funding which have resulted in out-of-control class sizes where teachers can’t meet their students’ basic needs. The list goes on and on, but one thing is clear---this madness must stop.
Lesson number two – Educators are the experts on today’s classrooms. Students are their highest priority – after all, they choose to spend their professional lives helping each student achieve his or her potential. Educators understand that each child is unique – learning in different ways and at different speeds. Furthermore, educators know the appropriate role of assessments. Teachers want accountability, but they understand the role of assessments should be to improve instruction and learning. Tests are but one tool in their teaching toolbox. They are not, and should never be, a means by which we label and punish.
Lesson number three – All Oklahomans need to say loudly and clearly that our children and their education should be our state’s top priority. And as our top priority, education must be adequately funded. It is not okay for Oklahoma to be 49th in the nation in what we spend to educate our children or what we pay our educators. Our children deserve better.
Now is the time to put a stop to this “witch’s brew” and make some genuine improvements to our great public schools. Oklahoma's educators are our experts, and if we give them the opportunity to lead the way, we can do it!
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