Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NO TEACHING FOR YOU! Dr. Barresi and 3rd Grade Retention


I should have put State Superintendent Janet Barresi's face on the Soup Nazi (Seinfeld).  I can just hear her saying, "NO TEACHING FOR YOU!"

Here is her statement on the third grade reading retention act:
Superintendent Barresi comments on bill to weaken third-grade reading law
OKLAHOMA CITY (March 28, 2014) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi made the following remarks concerning House Bill 2625. Slated for a vote Monday in the state Senate Education Committee, the measure would repeal automatic retention of students who score Unsatisfactory on the third-grade reading test and who don’t meet a good-cause exemption.“To deny children the opportunity to learn how how to read is to deny them an opportunity for success. Reading is the most fundamental aspect of an education. It is unconscionable that anyone would think it’s too much to ask that a school teach a child to read.
“Extensive research shows that moving children forward in school without the ability to read proficiently sets them on a course of falling further and further behind. It condemns them to frustration and failure. But there are also severe consequences for the students who are able to read proficiently, as fourth- and fifth-grade teachers must increasingly spend their time in remediation with the struggling readers.
“The Reading Sufficiency Act has been in existence for 17 years to identify and provide intensive remediation for struggling readers as early as kindergarten. And yet after 17 years and more than $80 million in funding, the percentage of Oklahoma students reading below grade level has remained flat. We cannot allow this to continue. We cannot continue sabotaging the promise of future generations.
“I urge Senate Education Committee members to continue to support high standards by ensuring that our children can read. I would ask that they let the RSA work. There already are good-cause exemptions to address an array of special circumstances. Predictions of catastrophe are simply incorrect. When the State of Oklahoma mandated end-of-instruction exams as a condition for high school graduation, critics made similar predictions that the sky would fall. Instead, Oklahoma’s young people rose to the occasion, with the passage rate at 99 percent.  
“The good news is that RSA already is working. It is igniting attention and innovation in reading instruction. We see school districts in Tulsa, Bartlesville, Putnam City and elsewhere making impressive gains in reducing the numbers of children with reading difficulties. It would be a mistake to start weakening the law just as it begins to show glimmers of its anticipated positive impact.”
No, Dr. Barresi, despite your continued use of Webster-sized, emotionally-charged, finger-pointing words (unconscionable), NO ONE I KNOW WANTS KIDS NOT TO READ.  I mean, NO ONE.  I've never met a person who has said, "Oh, throw kids out in a forest, they'll figure out reading for themselves", or "Shoot, kids don't need to read to get a job."  Obviously, you're thinking of people on some other planet here.

Several things about this statement make me just insane:

  1. So the RSA has been around for 17 years and it wasn't going to work until we made the whole thing punitive?  So it's the kids who aren't wanting to read but get passed onto fourth grade?  NO!  I've been a teacher, I know how it works.  You tell the kid they aren't going to pass ______ (fill in the blank - reading, this class, this test...) if they don't do ______.  You then tell the parents and the principal this.  You then don't pass the kid.  You then get called into the carpet in the principals office where he/she says, "The parents are really upset about little Johnny not passing this ______.  I need you to just let him go on."  You say, "Yes sir/ma'am", because you know' they're going to be passed and you move on with your day knowing that at least YOU followed the rules.  So, who's fault is it that kids aren't reading by fourth grade?  I was watching Star Trek again this weekend and I'm always struck by Spock's (in this case Kirk's) line, "The needs of the many out way the needs of the one".  Interestingly, that's how government is SUPPOSED to work.  We just don't work it that way, we punish EVERYONE for the one or two teachers/principals/administrators allowing kids to move to the next grade to save a little grief.  What a giant load.
  2. Dr. Barresi urges Senators to support high standards.  What?  I am beginning to think there is nothing more important in the world of education than Accountability.  I mean, who cares about the kids' well being or what the parents want - it's "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead" at our department of Education.  Then, to follow up this statement, she tells us about the "good cause exemptions" that make this bill well worth its salt.  What?  The good cause exemptions are all things teachers and parents were most probably doing anyway to make sure kids are reading appropriately, yet when you put the oneness for a child's passage to the next (elementary!) grade on ONE single test, the teacher has little time create portfolios of student work  in order to make sure they are available if they flunk the ONE test because she/he is too busy trying to beat them to death with reading curricula.  So why the necessity for RSA testing?  Because it's in the NCLB Waiver.  Yes, third grade reading retention is part of the assurances given to the federal government under 1B - "Transition To College and Career Ready Standards".  In effect, we have to have RSA in order to keep with the Common Core State Standards Initiative which is required by our NCLB Waiver.  Again, what a giant load.  Who do we owe for an excellent educational experience - parents/students or the federal government?
  3. How in the world could you possibly determine RSA was working?  How?  This program has really only started this year and there have been no results from testing.  How in the world can you say that, although the program has been in existence for 17 years, we are suddenly seeing progress because of a test in the first year?  That has to be the silliest thing I've ever heard of from an organization that told OSU and OU researchers they didn't know what they were talking about when they condemned the Department's A-F grading scale.
In closing, we MUST allow teachers, principals - and most of all parents - to determine the course of students through public education - not our current superintendent!  I have no idea when the Oklahoma Department of Education became the Politburo, but it needs to stop.  The OSDE needs to let teachers teach and parents parent and stay out of the way.