Yesterday’s showdown in the State House of Representatives over HB2625 and the widely circulated negative response from State Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi said much about where her loyalties lie, where the attacks originate, and what should be done next by teachers who teach, know, and love their students.
House Bill 2625 Passes
The current law gives extraordinary weight to a test given on one day at the end of the third grade and determines whether each student is retained or promoted to the fourth grade. Forget everything else that the student has achieved during the year.
The HB2625 was authored by Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, and is described in today’s report by The Oklahoman:
“Henke’s bill, as amended by the state Senate, would create a two-year window during which students who score unsatisfactory on the test could still be promoted if they can obtain the unanimous recommendation from a team consisting of the student’s parents or guardians, the student’s reading teacher for the past year, a reading teacher at the next grade level, the school principal and a certified reading specialist.”
It passed yesterday and is on Gov. Fallin’s desk waiting here action. She has until the day before the last day of this legislative session to sign it.
Barresi on the Attack
The latest of a long string of attacks was on May 9th when Supt. Barresi released scores and numbers of pass/fails to the media before local districts had the chance to talk to students and parents. Some superintendents were still waiting on the phone or the SDE website for scores when the media started calling about their scores. It revealed a zeal to openly attack public schools and shame those districts who did not do well, no matter what the social circumstances of their students. This account of the negative treatment of Crutcho Schools by KFOR in Oklahoma City because of that SDE PR stunt is only one example of the damage done by an outfit very focused on harming public schools.
Who sent Janet Barresi to the helm of the Oklahoma State Department of Education? It wasn’t the teachers. Several legislators have said that it is widely known among them that only around 30% of Oklahoma teachers voted in the last elections and others before that. More on that below.
Instead, Barresi was swept into office by a tide of anti-government, vote-against-Obama sentiment that was heavily funded by corporate interests and coordinated by ALEC and other national groups determined to take over state capitols across the nation for a small minority of the wealthiest people in America.
Who Owns Barresi?
The biggest turnout was from those voters who were mad about two things: having that black president in the first place, and that he was running again. They made sure to turn out the vote against him and just about everything and everyone who they suspected of not hating President Obama. The results showed an even more red state than in the 2008 elections. It had down-ticket impact on every other race in the election, including Barresi’s.
She will always be owned by the corporate interests that sent her to the SDE in the first place. That is a simple truth. The phone calls that she is sure to answer are from coordinators at Governor Fallin’s office, ALEC, and right-wing think tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The rest of us will have to leave a message. They may get back to us this term. Or maybe not.
What are those interests? As I pointed out in a previous post, massive amounts of money have been thrown into the state by private charter school corporations who want to replace public schools with private corporate schools controlled by millionaires in other states.
Also, right-wing political interests that have little to do directly with education, funded by oil and gas corporations, and out of state shadow donors, want an anti-teachers-union superintendent who will vigorously oppose one of the last several effective unions still standing in the state. What better attack vector can there be than controlling the State Superintendent of Schools? It was a very brilliant and darkly evil strategy that did not consider the children of Oklahoma in the least. It was and still is all about the political win for right-wing domination of Oklahoma government.
So the question is this: Do we want a State Supt. of Schools who is influenced by donors who live out of state and, for the most part, are not even known or identified? Or do we want a superintendent who is selected through a wide, democratic process of primaries and elections and supported by Oklahomans who operate in the open and are openly identified?
Teachers and others committed to a truly public education for all of Oklahoma’s children, and controlled by known Oklahoma interests, will need to get out and campaign for the candidates that they believe will best meet that goal. But it means being involved in the political process.
You don’t like politics, teachers? I know. Most of us don’t. We just want to teach. But, the argument that I made in this post still stands. It’s not an option whether you are involved in politics if you care about the children of Oklahoma. You must get out and vote. You must be engaged at some level.
How do you plan on engaging in this process in this election year? There are only five months until election day. Time to get busy.
The ass-kicking that Democrats got in the 2010 mid-term elections was a direct result of not enough people on the left getting out the vote. Whole segments of people who voted for the Democrats and President Obama in 2008 simply stayed home 2 years later handing the House of Representatives over to the Republicans and seriously weakening the Senate. The result was the most obstructionist, unproductive, hateful, bull-shitty Congress in U.S. history.
So, it’s time for us right now to be very clear about what is at stake if we don’t get out the vote this year: The Republicans could win control of the Senate and keep control of the House.
If Republicans can do that, here is what they are planning:
Typically, those of us on the left get caught up in arguments and denials about such warnings arguing that surely no one would carry out such radical, destructive plans. That argument assumes a certain level of reason on the right that they just have not shown in a long time.
When was the last time that Republicans have NOT done the most destructive thing that many of us thought they would never do? About 20 years ago.
Since I live in the reddest of red states, I hear progressives here say variations of this: “Yeah, I lost my vote in that last election. My candidate lost.”
True? I don’t believe that. Every vote that is cast makes a point, in some way or another, and is “lost” only if it is never cast in the first place.
Your vote is significant on many levels, and should be guarded and exercised as often as possible. Here’s why:
Back in the day when everything was analog and statistics were done with huge stacks of paper by guys in white shirts/black ties using slide rules, that may have been the case. Sorting out who voted and why was a Herculean task. Not any more.
Today, campaigns have an amazing array of evaluative tools due to the digitizing of polls, surveys, voting records, etc. I still remember hearing in the late 1980s how marketers who set up mailing campaigns could tell what kind of toothpaste I used, and how to target me. Now if that was the case in the 1980s, imagine the tools now.
No, your vote is never “lost” to campaigns and candidates who pay extremely close attention to various statistical cuts in voting during an election, even if the candidate that you wanted to win does not. Even a candidate who loses, but turns in a larger opposition vote than the last election has an effect on the winner.
Case in point: The last Oklahoma City election for mayor was the most active and seriously contested in my memory. Oklahoma City is on a roll, but our 3-term mayor, Mick Cornett, who was going for a fourth, was spending way too much time in increasingly tighter circles of thinking. The crescendo of that process was Cornett’s speech to the Republican National Convention in 2012. It was a rousing speech of right-wing dog whistles and partisan grandstanding that Oklahoma City is not used to hearing from what is, by design, a non-partisan mayor. Those earlier non-partisan days of his leading the city to lose a million pounds were past. But, not quite….
One of our City Council members, Dr. Ed Shadid, mounted an energetic campaign that focused on giving neighborhoods a voice instead of only listening to interests that wanted downtown to grow at the expense of the rest of the city.
Shadid held a series of public forums in different parts of a city whose leaders had conveniently forgotten the welfare of those who were living there.
Shadid’s campaign effectively pointed out the contradiction of the recent growth of Oklahoma City: Wealthy corporate chieftains who lived in the suburbs were dictating how Oklahoma City would spend millions and give millions more in tax breaks to promote their new headquarters at the expense of neighborhood development.
This campaign pushed Mayor Cornett to reconsider his direction. We began to see him in more neighborhood meetings. Even though some thought it was a campaign stunt, his Twitter feed started using the word “neighborhood” more, which was a significant change from last elections. For the first time, I actually saw him actively engaging the crowd of the Martin Luther King Day Parade for a considerable length of time, not just shaking hands, but carrying on conversations.
Mayor Cornett won his fourth term, but not without the wakeup call of the results. This election resulted in a far larger turnout than before. Those who voted for Shadid actually turned in larger numbers for him than those who had voted for Cornett in the last election that was not seriously contested. Yes, Cornett won, but he would be stupid (he’s not) to ignore the fact of the number of voters who cast a vote for the other guy.
That other guy, Dr. Shadid, is still on the City Council and is still asking those questions that need to be asked.
Did those who voted for Shadid “lose” their vote. No way. Just yesterday I saw the mayor’s tweet that he had eaten at a popular locally owned neighborhood restaurant for the first time. By being there, he was meeting new people and learning once again about what common people thought. That’s progress. And it’s because people got out and voted.
The only votes that were “lost” in that election were those that were not cast. Plan to vote!