Wednesday, February 26, 2014

KFOR Interview...Pink, But NOT Pretty

Yesterday we got an alert on Facebook that OKC news channel KFOR was going to be interviewing Superintendent Janet Barresi, and she would be taking questions generated on the website…that message was shared over 100 time and we all jumped at the chance…220 questions were posed, including whether or not other candidates for State Superintendent would have the same opportunity to share their views. KFOR told us this was not a campaign appearance (yeah, right!), but only a Q&A with a state policy maker.  I occasionally returned to the page to browse through the questions, and they were good questions…informed, pointed. Smart.

I had previously written a blog including several questions teachers wished the mainstream media would ask her. I linked that to KFOR’s page…just to be helpful.

Yeah, right. It was another fluff piece with the Superintendent using her ‘concerned’ voice, wearing a lovely pink sweater or jacket that reminds too many of us of Professor Umbridge from the Potter films. Her advisors need to remind her: “Never wear pink!!” Too evocative.

So, the interview. I did recognize questions…they were not necessarily softball…but not hard-hitting journalism, either. The interview focused on the Third Grade Flunk Law.

A great new blogger gave her response here…I recommend reading this too.

First, to me, the most breath-taking answer…Superintendent Barresi stated, categorically, that, “really at the end of 3rd grade you stop reading, learning to read, and in 4th grade you read to learn. “ That bromide is often repeated, but never with the bald statement that students STOP LEARNING TO READ before they are nine years old.  I’m 68, and I’m still learning to read. I’m a reading specialist and I’m still learning.

I understand the ‘learn to read, read to learn’ statement…I have seen kids struggle with all the discrete elements of beginning to read…phonetic awareness, context, vocabulary, among them. Once students become more confident with these elements, they, indeed, do begin to use reading as a tool for information, not just an exercise in and of itself. There is a shift, and it is right at the 3rd-4th grade level, where textbooks become an important part of a child’s day. BUT no child stops learning to read after 3rd grade. NONE. Sorry I’m yelling…I will try to calm down.

Isn’t learning to comprehend more and more complex material learning to read? Isn’t gaining command over more and more technical vocabulary learning to read? Isn’t extracting fact from opinion learning to read?
Barresi’s arrogant statement, delivered in that pink jacket, with that big smile, in that sincere voice, is wrong. And the interviewer never challenged her at all. Just on to the next one, and on to the next inane answer.

Barresi appealed to parents by telling us her children struggled with learning…but it was just a campaign line.
She had three suggestions for schools : ”giving different modalities…longer opportunities…and summer academies.” I, as a reading teacher, am most interested in ‘giving different modalities.” What does that mean?? We all probably (research is beginning to refute this concept) have different strengths when we approach our learning…brain dominance is one, and sensory modalities is another. We are, perhaps, born with these strengths, and filter our learning experiences through them. A teacher does not ‘give different modalities’ to a student. A teacher probably offers opportunities for visual, auditory, and active learners within lessons. That’s good practice. We don’t GIVE them modalities – they come to us with modalities, and we must design lessons to reach them all. What a bizarre thing to say…’give them modalities.’

She also suggest ‘longer time.’ I assume she means longer time in third grade…even though child development, as she’s seen with her own children, is NOT a standardized timetable. Her kids got longer time differently than your kids will get longer time. Because some kids are more equal than others.

Frankly, these suggestions highlight how very out of touch she is with schools and teachers and learners. That was her entire list of suggestions for teaching and learning. Insulting.

She told us children will not be retained on one test on one day. Oh, really? They will have ‘multiple times to be successful.’ Oh, really? The only example she could give were the ‘good causes’ to challenge retention. No specifics, just on to the next question she twisted to her own purposes.

Then, I end with the other mind-blowing utterance through that smile, with that voice, in that pink jacket. All that anxiety kids are feeling over the test? Oh, that’s the fault of teachers. It comes from adults. And, ‘frankly…does kids no good.’ All the adults must ‘express confidence’ and not stress out the kids. What color is the sky in her world? Kids know what’s at stake; they know the adults in their lives what the best and it’s our job to help them reach their best performance. But the high stakes consequences are our fault, somehow.

I knew I would be offended, but I did not realize how offended. As a reading specialist, I wish she would stop talking abot reading instruction.

Oh, and what was she holding in her hand?? Was it a Sarah-Palin-answers-on/on-my hand kind of device?
KFOR gave the Superintendent a free campaign ad, at the cost of our kids’ future.

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