In Support of Accountability

Whenever things don’t go their way, the modus operandi of school deformers like Janet Barresi is to fall back on the same tired rhetoric portraying school administrators and teachers as union hacks, liberals, “protectors of the status quo,” and anti-accountability.

Therefore, after Tuesday’s humiliating third place finish in the Republican primary for State Superintendent, it was not at all surprising that Janet regurgitated her standard blather to explain her loss to the press.

Here is an excerpt from a recent Associated Press story:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former dentist who has served as Oklahoma’s superintendent of schools for the past 3½ years said Wednesday that unionized teachers and the long-entrenched school administrators were to blame for her embarrassingly poor re-election bid and complained that no school district in the state has pushed children to reach their academic potential.

“From day one the education establishment and the (teachers) union told me they were going to get me out of office. Obviously, they were successful,” Janet Barresi said following Tuesday’s GOP primary in which she finished third in 71 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. “They don’t like people knowing how they are performing. They don’t like accountability.”

Did you notice how easily Dr. Barresi deflected blame to others for her loss without uttering one word about her own accountability? Oh no, instead Janet would like to believe that this result was wholly connected to a statewide administrator and union-led conspiracy to oust her from office “from day one.” Why? According to Barresi, it is because we don’t care if our kids are successful and we simply want to avoid accountability.

For Janet, this tactic might be expedient, yet is is also quite delusional. For the thousands of dedicated and hardworking educators across our state, her comments are insulting and disingenuous.

I did a rather extensive post (“The Smokescreen of Accountability“) of the topic of accountability last September. In particular, I discussed to whom I was and WAS NOT accountable.

As a middle school principal, I am accountable every day:

  • To my school board and district leaders to manage resources to ensure students and staff are safe and have what they need to effectively promote teaching and learning.
  • To our patrons and parents to provide their children with an educational environment that supports each child in reaching his or her potential. This involves hiring and maintaining the most qualified educators as well as providing high quality curriculum and instruction, a safe learning environment, and a well-rounded experience addressing the academic, social, physical, and emotional needs of young adolescents.
  • To my teachers and staff to ensure they are provided with high-quality professional development, effective coaching and defined autonomy in a caring, professional, and collaborative culture marked by high levels of trust and mutual respect.
  • To students to ensure school rules and policies are consistently enforced to support a positive learning environment. This also means providing them with rigorous and relevant learning experiences that will prepare them for high school, college and life – including opportunities to pursue learning in subjects they choose: arts, music, languages, technology, drama, and athletics. Most of all, my teachers and I are committed to ensuring every child is loved, valued, and respected.
  • Finally, as a professional, I am ultimately accountable to myself. As with most of my peers, I am intrinsically motivated to do my best job each and every day, to pursue mastery, and to fulfill my purpose as an educator to improve the lives of the children who walk our halls.

It is equally important to define to whom I am NOT accountable:

  • National testing companies like Pearson and CTB/McGraw-Hill that peddle their wares to make billions of dollars on the backs of states and school districts.
  • People like Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, the Broad Foundation, the Wal-Mart Foundation, ALEC, Arne Duncan, and many others who seek the destruction of public education in order to implement “for profit” schools, corporate charters, and private school vouchers.
  • Those who ignore the realities of poverty, broken homes, abuse and neglect, high mobility, divorce, special needs and language deficiencies, and instead blindly insist that all students are capable of identical outcomes.
  • Those who believe higher standards, more testing, and less funding for schools is a prescription for curing the achievement gap in America.
  • Corporate CEOs who believe schools can be run like businesses. We are not making widgets; we’re developing unique, non-standardized human beings!

The difference between Dr. Barresi and most of us is that she is loyal to ideas and programs while we are committed to people.

Dr. Barresi believes that the prescription for struggling students and schools is more accountability through rigorous standards, high-stakes testing, A-F grading systems, teacher and leader evaluations tied to student test scores, competition through charters and vouchers, and fear.

I and others argue that the focus on improving schools should be on enhancing the capacity of teachers and school leaders; increasing incentives to be able to recruit and retain high quality teachers; instilling a love of learning in children and fostering the development of critical thinkers and problem solvers rather than good test takers; and creating a culture of inclusiveness, empathy, compassion, trust and collaboration.

This is where Janet Barresi failed. She neglected the importance of people. Instead of listening, she lectured. Instead of collaborating, she connived. Instead of advocating for teachers and principals, she alienated. Instead of encouraging, she demeaned. Instead of building consensus, she created discord. Instead of leading, Janet bossed. Finally, instead of accepting accountability, Janet cast blame on others.

As much as she might try, Dr. Barresi cannot avoid responsibility for the results of the election of Tuesday. This loss belongs to her and her alone. She made her own bed upon a foundation of poorly conceived reforms and covered it with sheets of negativity and false pride. It is time for Janet to accept accountability.

In this spirit, I happen to agree that we need more accountability. We need to hold our governor, state school board members, legislators, and other like-minded state leaders accountable for failing our children by forcing through agendas laced with standardization and testing disguised as school reform.

Janet Barresi is not the only state leader who needs to be held accountable for failing to support our public schools and advocate for students. Oklahoma needs to remember this in November.

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