Sunday, December 15, 2013


Superintendent Barresi certainly enjoys benefits from being the incumbent in a large group of candidates currently running for her position. She has friends on the editorial board at Daily Oklahoman who regularly supports her positions against all comers.

She can also submit opinion pieces and be assured of considerable inches in the prime-time Sunday edition.
She took advantage of those benefits this week and published an opinion piece designed to head off criticism of her beloved A-F school grades that dramatically illustrate that schools of children in poverty do not fare well…that her beloved A-F really carefully measures the economic status of the parents whose kids attend school. Even the headline, “Poverty not an excuse…” attacks the educators by implication.

Her big opening sounds promising:

“Does poverty have a significant impact on a child’s academic performance? Of course.
Are such problems a considerable obstacle for a student to overcome? Absolutely.

Is poverty, then, good enough of a reason to hold these children to low expectations that essentially relegate them to a lesser education?
No way!”
Look at the two first statements. She seems to agree with critics. But, it's that insincere smile to get close enough to shove her shiv between our ribs with the next two sentences. Nicely played. Surprises no one. We knew it was coming and have made plans to deflect the blade

She’s implying that educators regularly and systematically have low expectations for our students.
What ‘relegates’ poor kids to a ‘lesser education?’ She wants us to believe it’s the educators who work in the schools. Could it be the highest percentage of cuts to education in the country? Could it be bigger classrooms, fewer counselors, fewer librarians? What about less money to replace aging computer labs? What about no money for school libraries to buy new titles? How are educators responsible for any of these real outcomes?

Our policy makers in Oklahoma have turned their backs on our children, at the same time blaming the woes of the schools on the dedicated professionals who do the work. Our policy makers spend valuable resources on a testing climate that helps no one but the testing corporations, and has been proven to be detrimental to real intellectual growth in our kids.

Our policy makers have tricked the public into voting for measures that will severely damage schools in the future. Corporate tax cuts and credits also cut available funds to schools. The picture will get bleaker very quickly.

Three statements in Superintendent Barresi’s editorial raised my English-teacher ire…

It would be folly to deny the effects of poverty, but that should not, and cannot, allow for its acceptance. Poverty is a factor, not an excuse.”


“Schools alone can’t break the cycle of poverty, but providing a solid education for children in poverty can be a huge step toward giving them a pathway to a different future.”

And, only because I know she doesn’t mean a word of this statement, I’m adding it:

“It will take a tremendous effort, but Oklahoma educators are more than up to the task.”

One description of the conjunction 'but' is adversative...what a wonderful word. What a true word in this case. That ‘but’ takes away everything in the clause it follows – its purpose is to slap us with the fact she’s right, and we’re wrong… with that one little word, she implies we DO accept poverty…we DO use it as an excuse. We DON’T support breaking the cycle of poverty.

Think of how we use the word ‘but’ – “He’s such a nice boy, but dumb…She’s so sweet, but ugly.” It negates everything…it contrasts, it sets up the real truth in the statement, after a positive beginning. It’s the snark that says, “You didn’t really believe me before, did you?”

So, two statements that are serious slaps at educators, and we’re supposed to believe her last “but” statement at face value, “but Oklahoma educators are more than up to the task?” Ironically, we are, but she doesn’t believe it. This is her pretense to play nice, to show her total support of Oklahoma educators. Educators she hopes will vote for her, right after she gently withdraws the blade between our ribs and pats the bleeding wound. If educators DO vote for her, they deserve this continued abuse. Unfortunately, the rest of us suffer too.

And then there’s: “This is a matter of civil rights.” Many conservative pundits use that phrase, trying to co-opt the civil rights struggle for their own purpose. They want to provide vouchers and charter schools as ways to address inequity.

How about funding schools? Hiring and retaining dedicated career teachers? Assuring library books and working technology in every school?

Yes, equity in education IS a civil rights issue. Here are some ugly facts missing from this fluff-piece: 21,000 children in Oklahoma are homeless.  Also, In Oklahoma, 24% of our children come to us from poor families. According to a very recent study, 85% of variability in school performance is attributable to economic well being of students’ families. Oklahoma schools did not fare any better. The Center for Public Education has combined 19 research studies on class size, and has concluded lowering class size leads to higher achievement, especially in early grades, with an experienced teacher.

No matter how great, teachers cannot combat these realities in the classroom. We need politicians brave enough to do the right thing. If our policy makers were serious about tackling poverty in our schools as the new civil rights issue, let them start here, not on the friendly pages of the DOK

“It would be folly to deny the effects of poverty,” but politicians will continue to ignore and deny in their quest to blame educators.

“It will take a tremendous effort,” but educators will stand alone in this battle.

“Schools alone can’t break the cycle of poverty,” but educators will be charged to do just that, and blamed when we cannot.

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