Friday, December 9, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Oklahoma Superintendents

Frequently, when we go to the Capitol to 'lobby' (I put that in quotes since we receive NO compensation from ANYONE to do anything at the Capitol), legislators will ask, "What does the Superintendent think about this?" or, "What do teachers/administrators think about this?".

Here's the rub. VERY few teachers and/or administrators who don't view the world through the rose colored glasses of the party line, want to speak out. It's dangerous for their economic health to do so - teachers get fired, administrators get replaced - it's just the way of the world.

Consequently, we have to say something like, "Well, we've heard that teachers/administrators don't like this...", but we can NEVER really produce evidence to back up our claims.

Out in Bois City, however, is a Superintendent who has the gumption to stand up against the 'reformers' and say what needs to be said. Dr. Ira Harris sent this letter to his Representative, Gus Blackwell (another man full of gumption!) and then gave us permission to re-post.

Please take the time to read this and understand that Dr. Harris isn't the ONLY administrator out there with the same feelings! We simply need to spread that word. Once a few intrepid nay-sayers stand out in front to take the initial ammunition rounds, others will line up behind!

Honorable Gus Blackwell,

I would first draw your attention to page 13 of the attachment under the paragraph titled High-Quality Digital Learning where it is written, “Oklahoma is working toward fully embracing the ‘Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning’ unveiled by the bipartisan Digital Learning Council…” but where there is no mention as to how detrimental the ‘Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning’ will be to local school districts nor of the agenda of former governors Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Bob Wise (D-W.VA) who founded the Digital Learning Council and their focus of funding private for gain enterprises with public education monies.

Under the recent SDE Board of Education passage of emergency rule of 210:15-34-1 that was subsequently rescinded on the 17th of November so,

the Board and State Department of Education personnel will draft new rules through the permanent rule making process. Using the routine rule making process, SDE will collaborate with multiple stakeholders — including CCOSA, OSSBA, other educational organizations, legislators, school district leaders and educators across the state”.
This rescinding is due in part to the flood of concerns to the Governor and legislators such as yourself. However local school districts are not without concern because the notice of action to rescind also states,

The new permanent rules will provide clarification and definitions of supplemental online courses and educational appropriateness as well as guidance and answers to questions regarding local board control, staffing decisions and funding. Because today's action by the board does not delay the requirements of SB 280, SDE will distribute a guidance package to school districts — including the redraft of proposed rules, fact sheets and frequently asked questions.”

The direction of going toward the elements outlined in Digital Learning Now as cited in the attached document seems to be a move away from public education and local control.

Additionally, it appears that our state’s educational leadership is about placing the agendas of Florida, the Bushes, for profit companies, and advocates of public tax dollars funding private schools into the laps of Oklahomans.

In analogous appearance, it seems that an asp is being placed in our laps when we are being led to believe by SDE leadership we are getting a puppy that will grow into a guide dog. When will the hidden agenda of Superintendent Barresi and others be brought to light? When will local control be returned to the communities?

I cannot and will not argue that all school districts in Oklahoma are at their level best, but I strongly believe that our parents and communities are not as ignorant as the SDE purports them to be. Dr. Barresi is on video record before the Oklahoma House Interim Committee on Common Core State Standards that people are not entitled to their own facts. However, throughout her application for waiver from NCLB and many of her other statements are significant statements of facts without supporting data.

For example before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce she states, “Most Oklahomans recognize we’re in crisis in education in our state.” How are and why are we who disagree with the way in which we’re being led not entitled to make statements in disagreement and yet our state leadership can state what so ever they desire? The voice of the populace being heard is one of the greatest fundamentals of our democracy. Because someone is elected by a 4% majority should not make for a policy of absolutism under a cloak of deception.

As taxpayers, as members of a society of separation of church and state, as men and women who are concerned for our children and their future, we must pause and consider the rhetoric and actions of Dr. Barresi and the SDE. Upon taking the necessary reflections, we must begin to take appropriate actions. Actions that are not the agenda of a few but an agenda of the people, for the people, of Oklahoma.

In closing, I ask you to carefully consider another of Dr. Barresi’s statements before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce of April 7, 2011. “And let’s consider the simple reform of tuition tax credits." Federal law offers parents in low-performing schools the opportunity to transfer to another public school. This isn’t true choice. Oklahoma’s reforms will offer parents an array of more choices rather than only the option of transferring from one public school to another.”

Let us strive for openness with two-way communication in providing the greatest opportunities for our children. Let us seek a path toward high achievement where we walk arm-in-arm toward our goals, not being dragged along by the collar and leash of private rules and hidden agendas or prodded by the rod of legislative intimidation.


Dr. Ira Harris, Superintendent

Boise City Public Schools