An Appalling Lack of Respect

I love fellow blogger Claudia Swisher’s honest and heartfelt perspective on issues.

She proudly proclaims her status as a fourth generation teacher and eloquently expresses her deep affection for her family and former students. Her blog is beautifully adorned with pictures of previous generations of family members who also found their life’s purpose as educators.

Her post today is a must read. In her column, Claudia shares her personal reasons why she will be attending the March 31st Rally for Education at the Oklahoma State Capital. I know that her words will resonate with you just as they did with me.

In her opening paragraph, Claudia states: “…the pushback from pundits and politicians has begun. Already the march has been portrayed as crassly stealing instruction time from our kids, as a grab for more money. Already they are trying to portray the ‘union’ involvement as discrediting us all.”

Sadly, Claudia is spot on.

Claudia was likely responding in part to comments made by Representatives Jason Murphey and Mike Turner in today’s article for The Daily Oklahoman. The headline sums it up well: Planned education rally angers lawmakers—two state lawmakers are chastising Oklahoma school districts that are planning to give teachers and students a day off so they can lobby for more education funding at the state Capitol.

“It’s indefensible for government entities to use government resources to lobby government for more taxpayer money for more government,” Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said in a news release. “It’s also extremely inappropriate for government entities to pressure their employees to take time away from their important duties to lobby for money for that entity.”

State Rep. Mike Turner, R-Oklahoma City, agreed.

“This sort of behavior should not be tolerated by our schools or any other state agency participating in this gross abuse of your hard-earned money,” Turner said.

This is a standard tactic of politicians who are trying to avoid accountability for the effects of their poor policy making. As we are all painfully aware, Oklahoma is number one in the country for the percentage of cuts to public education since 2009. The 2014 Oklahoma budget is the largest budget in state history while the common education appropriation is $124 million less than 2009, despite adding nearly 35,000 students. The common education share of the state budget has dropped from 36.1% to 33.8% since 2008. And 33.8% represents common education’s smallest share of the state budget since before 1991.

These politicians like to have it both ways. Behind the microphone, they are effusive with praise for dedicated and hard-working teachers and seem earnest about how we need to do more to support our schools.

Regrettably, most of the time it is hollow rhetoric. When pressed on their policies, their tune quickly changes.

Remember Superintendent Barresi’s lovely “I’ll be damned” speech from November when she blamed Oklahoma’s educators for losing a generation of children? This was followed by her refusal to meet with Oklahoma Education Association members in January, while labeling them as “liberal union bosses.”

Yesterday, she once again displayed her appalling lack of respect for teachers during an interview with Tulsa’s Channel 8 news reporter Kim Jackson.

When asked about the reasons for Tulsa Public Schools high number of schools receiving D’s and F’s on last year’s A-F report card, she said:

“They [TPS] have been failing for decades. When you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, that is a sign of insanity. For years and years, kids in poverty and kids in chronically low performing schools were hidden. Now we’ve shown the light on it. These teachers should not feel stressed. They should feel supported.”

No, Dr. Barresi, you have it backwards. These teachers are stressed (we all are) and clearly do NOT feel supported by an out-of-touch State Superintendent who constantly blames them for the poor performance of their students, while simultaneously dismissing the obvious effects of poverty, broken homes, abuse and neglect, poor parenting, high mobility, and crime-infested neighborhoods. Not to mention the lack of adequate funding from our state legislature.

These types of comments from our state education leader demonstrate an ignorance of reality and are a tremendous insult to the hundreds of dedicated teachers in TPS. Does Dr. Barresi honestly believe that labeling these schools with D’s and F’s, based on what researchers have shown to be an inaccurate and arbitrary grading system, is going to have the effect of positively motivating these educators to do a better job?

I doubt calling them insane failures will help either.

And how can she say that Dr. Ballard and TPS “are doing the same thing over and over again?” The Tulsa Model that is being used by nearly 500 school districts across the state as the qualitative component of the state Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Model was designed and implemented by administrators and teachers in Tulsa before she took office.

Has Dr. Barresi heard about Project Schoolhouse or visited any of the successful community schools or magnet programs in Tulsa? Despite the tremendous challenges faced by TPS, the administrators and teachers are not sitting on their butts and waiting for things to happen. They are working hard to secure outside grants; develop effective alternative programs for at-risk students; restructure administrative functions; improve student access to technology; implement best practice professional development; lower class sizes; remove ineffective teachers and principals; and provide food, clothing and medical care to thousands of students every day.

Dr. Ballard could have walked away into retirement a few years ago, yet he is committed to seeing his initiatives through until a quality succession plan is in place.  Instead of expressing her gratitude for Dr. Ballard’s commitment and steadfast leadership, Dr. Barresi slanders his efforts on one of our local news stations. Appalling!

Superintendent’s Barresi’s comments about educators remind me of another politician who is also overtly hostile to educators—Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

Remember this picture of Governor Christie shouting down a teacher who dared to ask the simple question: “Why do you portray our schools as failure factories?”

Christie’s angry response: “Because they are!” He said: I am tired of you people. What do you want?” Based on her smile, his wife obviously thought it was funny as well.

I will answer this question for both Governor Christie and Superintendent Barresi.

Let’s start with a little damn respect. Quick talking about us in disparaging terms and diminishing the tremendous good that educators do for the children of our communities. These are our kids too, and they mean a lot more to us than just a test score.

Why would you expect us to buy into anything you are advocating when all you do is tell us how terrible we are?

How about fighting FOR us instead of against us?

And, instead of sending millions of dollars to out-of-state testing companies and wasting money developing more quantitative measures to tell us how bad we are, why not spend some of that money to help struggling students who are unable to pass the ridiculous high stakes tests?

In place of lobbying for more vouchers, charters, and parent “choice” that siphon money from the state budget, how about pushing for investment in the public schools we already have?

How about ordering a systematic review of the hundreds of unnecessary state mandates and reporting requirements to which schools are subjected and give us back  a little local control and autonomy?

We actually have quite a few ideas on how to improve our schools, but are so busy chasing our tails with all of these reforms that we don’t have time.

And yes, Dr. Barresi, I will also be at the Capital on March 31st with Claudia Swisher and thousands of other educators, parents, and students from around the state. We will be making some noise!

Will you be there, Dr. Barresi? If so, feel free to come up to me and do your best Chris Christie impersonation, stick your finger in my face and tell me how tired you are of people like me.

I will be easy to find.

I will be the tall guy holding the sign, “ANYBODY but Janet for State Superintendent.” I’ll see you there.

How Much is a Heap?Don’t Feel Stressed, Feel Supported!
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