The Wise and All-Knowing Yoda Barresi

In case you missed it, Channel 4 News in Oklahoma City ran an interesting story today about the Peckham School District near Newkirk, Oklahoma. The tagline of the story and online article (HERE) was that this district has gone from an “A+” reward school in 2012 to an “F” school in only two years.

The obvious question is what happened? How could this former “exemplary” school descend to the basement of mediocrity in a mere 24 months, particularly if the majority of school staff are the same as they were two years ago?

And, which A-F system is accurate—the 2012 version giving them an A+ or this year’s which labeled them a failure? Or could it that neither one of them is worth the paper they are printed on.

Peckham Superintendent, Gary Young, says this perceived decline in his school’s achievement is due to the fact his district accepts a larger number of special needs transfers than other districts. According to Young, 30% of their students have severe cognitive disabilities, nearly double the state average.

As a result, Young sent a letter to the State Board of Education asking for a waiver or special consideration because of their special needs population. Of course, this request for leniency was denied—just as Tipton Public School’s request to have students from a nearby juvenile detention center excluded from their graduation rate was summarily dismissed by the board yesterday.

Let’s be real. Our state can’t risk watering down the A-F system and diminish its “stellar” credibility. Furthermore, as board member Amy Ford said during yesterday’s meeting, “the students have to be counted someplace.”

To translate: “We have to blame somebody.”

You will want to take a minute to watch the video from the above story. If nothing else, you must watch the short segment of State Superintendent Barresi from 1:00 to 1:08. In her typical condescending tone, Janet delivers a not-so-subtle indictment of the Peckham school district by stating, “We’ll take the opportunity to go and get one on one with them and show how they can definitely improve the education of those kids.”

Definitely improve, huh? How swell.

Dr. Barresi did not even take the time to recognize the noble intent of Peckham’s superintendent to accept these high-needs students requesting a transfer. Rather, the unmistakable message communicated in Janet’s carefully crafted words is that the school doesn’t know what they are doing, but, fortunately the experts at the state department do.  They will sit them down and show them how they’re screwing up so they can do a better job.

You see, in Janet and her fellow reformer’s minds, any time students fail to meet standards it must be the fault of lazy, uncaring, and unskilled teachers and/or mediocre and overpaid administrators. It cannot possibly be poverty, special needs, or English language deficiencies. Thus, the state  just needs to harangue and humiliate us until we get our act in gear.

This is the narrative that Barresi has been well-trained to follow…to the point she no longer attempts to hide her disdain for public school educators. She tossed out this gem at yesterday’s state board meeting:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”>

Memorable comment today: Barresi said @CCOSA generally picks supt/principal of the year who follow party line & march to mediocrity #oklaed

— OSSBA (@OSSBAoklahoma) September 17, 2014

With one off-handed swipe, Barresi was able not only able to disparage all current and past Oklahoma administrators of the year, but also the professional organization that represents thousands of dedicated school leaders across our state. We love you too, Janet!

In her bestselling book, Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch writes:

The corporate reform movement has a well-honed message: We are the reformers. We have solutions. The public schools are failing. The public schools are in decline. The public schools don’t work. The public schools are obsolete and broken. We want to innovate. We know how to fix schools. We know how to close the achievement gap. Great teachers close the achievement gap. Teachers’ unions are greedy and don’t care about children. People who draw attention to poverty are just making excuses for bad teachers and failing public schools. Those who don’t agree with our strategies are defenders of the status quo. They have no solutions. We have solutions. We know what works. Testing works. Accountability works. Privately managed charter schools work. Closing schools with low test scores works. Paying bonuses to teachers to get higher scores works. Online instruction works. Replacing teachers with online instruction not only works but cuts costs while providing profits to edu-entrepreneurs who will spur further innovation.

For a brief moment, let me give Dr. Barresi the benefit of the doubt. Okay, I know–I cannot believe I typed those words either. But, play along with me. Maybe Janet does have the “secret sauce” for school success.

Let’s submit to the notion that Janet is as wise and noble as Yoda. She is OUR YODA! Thus, as the most intelligent and powerful Jedi educator to ever grace our state, maybe we should finally take the time to bask in her brilliance and succumb to her incredible acumen. What do we have to lose?


So, Dr. Yoda Barresi, I have an offer for you. I suggest that you spend your remaining 115 days in office on the road helping all of us figure out what the hell we’re doing. As you said, many of us are just marching to mediocrity and stinking the place up. We are lost sheep and we NEED you to show us the way home!

So, after you finish educating the apparently clueless teachers and administrators in Peckham, please bring your road show to my school. We have several dozen students who recently immigrated from Myanmar (Burma) who could use your help. These students have lived most of their childhood in refugee camps or hiding in jungles to flee their country’s civil war. Many are unable to read or write in their native language due to lack of formal education, yet we are supposed to have them reading and doing math on grade level in one year. Honestly, we have no idea what we are doing. We would love to have you come and spread some of your magical pixie dust on them.  This would be so easy for you.

While you’re in the neighborhood, perhaps you could share some of your sagacity with my colleagues at the nearby elementary school. In particular, maybe you could spend a few minutes with a child named John. Because of behavior issues resulting from fetal alcohol syndrome, John is with his third foster family this year. He has never known his dad and his mom was incarcerated for drug possession last year. The good news is that his mom’s boyfriend no longer gets to punch him in the face when he misbehaves. In his ten years on earth,  John has never experienced a safe and secure home.

Despite our best efforts, John refuses to pass his state tests. We have tried raising the standards and making his tests more difficult, but oddly he still struggles. We have embarrassed him by telling him he is a failure and falling behind his international competitors, but John remains unfazed. He is obviously just lazy and using his life experiences as a crutch to under-perform.  I’m sure you can get him turned around with a few encouraging words.

We also have a few students with special needs who would benefit from your wise counsel. In particular, we have several with severe handicaps and IQs around 60. Some of these students are non-verbal and suffering from significant physical handicaps and intellectual disabilities.

I have heard you say that many of these students are wrongly classified as special needs solely because of reading deficiencies. Maybe you are right. As you say, perhaps these students don’t need IEPs–they just need higher expectations and more demands. Further, I know you would agree that we don’t need student support and special education programs– we need more testing. As you and your reformy friends say, we don’t need consideration for the individual child’s needs– we just need to demand that the child get up to speed, learn things, and most of all TAKE THE DAMN TESTS. Because then, and only then, will we be able to make all student disabilities simply disappear. So, would you have a little time to show my teachers how to get these kids to read on grade level and make their disabilities go away? This would be a big help.

Dr. Barresi, just think how much good you could do in your last four months. After you finish with our district, you could spend your time seeking out other bastions of mediocrity, “get one to one with them” and transform them all with your magic touch. We would no longer have to worry about Arne Duncan’s waiver or NCLB sanctions because 100% of our students would score proficient on all state tests. Oklahoma could become the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere. We could accelerate past just having students “college-and career ready” to having all students “Ivy-league-ready.”

Janet, the teachers and students of Oklahoma just need to be subjected to a little more ridicule, disparagement, and fear. You are so much better at this than anyone else I know–well, except maybe Jeb, Chris Christie, or Michelle Rhee. Plus, it has worked so well for you so far. Keep up the good work.

As for me, I suppose I’ll just continue my march to mediocrity. Maybe we will cross paths sometime.

Oh, in case I forget to say it later, good luck in your next career. Perhaps once you have fixed public education, you can become an envoy to the Middle East. I am certain your skills in diplomacy and consensus-building could come in handy there as well.

Pinching Pennies!A-F = Rank, Sort, and Punish
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