Thursday, April 7, 2011

Barresi gives congressional testimony

APRIL 7, 2011

Chairman Kline and Honorable Members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, I am pleased to offer testimony today on education reforms and to address how I believe we can better promote flexibility and innovation.

I took office in January amid a bipartisan groundswell of support in Oklahoma for education reform. Most Oklahomans recognize we’re in crisis in education in our state.

In March, we learned that nearly 43 percent of first-time freshmen who entered Oklahoma’s public colleges in the fall of 2009 were not prepared for college.

In January, results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that 72 percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders taking the test and 75 percent of eighth-graders taking the test fell below “proficient” in science.

And research by Stanford economist Eric Hanushek that compared top-performing math students all over the world showed that Oklahoma ranked far down on the list near developing or struggling nations like Bulgaria, Chile and Thailand.

These results are like a dash of cold water. We understand mediocre doesn’t cut it anymore, and we’re taking action.

Just three weeks ago, I launched the 3R Agenda — a commitment to new fundamentals for the 21st century. The new 3Rs for our state’s future are: Rethink, Restructure and Reform.

RETHINK is a complete reassessment of how we’re delivering education to empower parents, children and teachers, and to embrace new tools like digital learning. RESTRUCTURE involves a transformation of Oklahoma’s State Department of Education.

I'll focus more on the third ‘R’ — REFORM — because it is the primary reason I am here today.

We’re now at the halfway point in our State Legislature’s annual legislative session, and significant progress has been made on a number of reform bills.

It appears we will implement a grading system for schools and school districts — an annual A through F report card just like students receive, so that parents can determine how a school is performing without having to interpret obscure or confusing metrics.

We will also likely end social promotion after the third grade — so students aren’t entering their most critical learning years unprepared.

And I am urging passage of legislation enacting tuition tax credits in Oklahoma to offer parents more and better choices. Under the legislation, business and individuals could qualify for tax credits for contributions to eligible scholarship-granting organizations, and those organizations, in turn, would offer scholarships to qualifying families in need.

But just as we embark on legislative implementation of the 3R Agenda, we are mindful of potential obstacles if the federal government is too inflexible. I am also hopeful that, while policymakers debate the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, reformers will follow the lead of states like Oklahoma.

A few examples.

Under the current implementation of No Child Left Behind, the Adequate Yearly Progress yardstick evaluation is rudimentary and does not provide meaningful information to parents. But most importantly, it does not recognize the ultimate goal of college and career ready status for all students facing the 21st century workplace. By contrast, Oklahoma’s new A through F school report card system will offer easy-to-understand results for parents, and it is based on a number of different measurements that incorporate gains and improvement.

Another example: As Oklahoma seeks to end social promotion after the 3rd grade, many districts would like to fund portions of this effort with federal funds. But it appears this would not be possible currently because of federal restrictions on supplementing versus supplanting. This demonstrates the ways in which entrenched federal guidelines present some barriers to innovative state policies.

On the one hand, the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines that on the surface seem to offer states more flexibility to meet local needs. But there seems to be a disconnect between good intentions at the top level and what actually occurs in practice.

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. I urge reforms that follow this same pathway by incentivizing states to provide an array of options for students.

As all participating states prepare to transition to Common Core curriculum standards, more flexibility is also needed in the use of federal funds for professional development that would support effective instructional practices. Additionally, broadening the scope of the designation of Title programs to include a wider array of subject matter, such as STEM initiatives, would help enable states to offer a more challenging curriculum.

Mr. Chairman and honorable members of the committee, the bottom line is this: we can turn our crisis in Oklahoma into an opportunity, but only if we are prepared to embrace the kinds of bold reforms that fundamentally transform our education system for the better — and only if the federal government is prepared to work with states like ours to allow the flexibility we need in order to innovate.

Thank you.


Elise Robillard said...

Aren't "Tuition Tax Credits" really called "vouchers"? Did Superintendent compare Oklahoma to developing nations? Here's a clue as to why OK test scores have fallen behind other nations' test scores in science: Thanks to NCLB, science is not a tested area. In Oklahoma, as in most states, science has dropped off the map in elementary and middle schools as they focus on tested areas like reading and math. It's interesting that she compared Oklahoma to foreign nations on this. Her 3R program is really a code for ending public education in Oklahoma --- odd for a State Superintendent of PUBLIC Instruction to advocate vouchers which only serve to divert funds away from public education. But then, she never has really been invested in public education, has she? Superintendent Barresi is just a tool for the Republican machine, led by Jeb Bush, that would move education to the private sector.

Brandon Dutcher said...

True enough, she's never really been invested in public education -- other than starting two public schools, one of which Newsweek now recognizes as one of the best in the nation.

Public education is not "ending," but it is being redefined. Put simply, "public education" means "educating the public." Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, a liberal black Democrat, puts it this way: "An innovative and productive public education system can include homeschooling, parochial schools, private schools, cyber schools, public charter schools and, yes, traditional public schools."

Anonymous said...

A 'groundswell of bipartisan support?' She received 56% of the votes when 50% of the voters participated. The vote was purely partisan, and many who voted for her are having 'buyer's remorse.' She is not representing the interests of the vast majority of students in the state with her agenda to allow huge tax credits for corporations who donate to private schools.

Linda said...

The state's constitution provides for a "free and appropriate" public education for all students. So, let's enrich the private schools with tax credits. Let's work really had to ensure that public schools educate only the poor, the disenfranchised and those students with disabilities (boy, THEN we can show how lousy their results are!) OR we can admit that low performance is affected by poverty. We can emulate excellent districts and support schools in need. We can admit that charter schools and private schools do not serve populations that reflect their neighboring public school diversity, and that any student who does not measure up is sent back to the neighboring school district before testing time. I'm all for a variety of schools, but not at the expense of "regular" public schools which throw open the doors to kids whose parents will not volunteer, to kids that don't learn easily, to kids with a multiplicity of native languages and disabilities as well as to the kids who are easy to educate.

Elise Robillard said...

How interesting this claim that Superintendent Barresi "started" two public schools. Of course, you mean charter schools. A little digging into that story reveals that while she has served on Boards, she never had much involvement, beyond being a parent of students there. Teachers and administrators from these schools report that she was 'present' in name only. Regardless, this point merely distracts from the original point: Superintendent Barresi is a tool for a corporate machine that would love to see public schools taken over by the private sector.

There is indeed an important place for homeschooling, parochial schools, private schools, and charter schools that test innovative educational strategies. What I dispute is the diversion of funds away from public education. Our state constitution guarantees access to a free K-12 education for all, not tax breaks for those who opt out and not vouchers with a cheer of "Good Luck!" when you try to find a school that meets your needs and budget.

Ultimately, access for all to a free public education is an equity issue.

Superintendent Barresi has a catchy speech with 3R's and derogatory comments about the state of education in Oklahoma, but she (sadly) knows little of the reality of education in Oklahoma. Just look at how she is conducting business: Sheltering herself from criticism and critical input, manipulating state rules and regulations, alienating career professionals, and shirking her true responsibilities at the State Dept. of Education so she can push her political agenda to the detriment of our students and schools.

Just this week, school districts had to decide to go it on their own in setting policy because no one at the State Dept. of Education knows what is going on, what programs are going to move forward, how existing rules are to be implemented, and what standard schools will be held to. Why? A failure of leadership. Superintendent Barresi is busy demoting those who question her decisions and alienating those who could help her most IF she were truly serious about improving education in Oklahoma.

Brandy Sitts said...

Because you call something by a new name does not make it a new innovative state idea or policy. Reform is to reshape the existing. You can't take away public education and call it a reform. Can you reform public schools when you take the students and the funding away? Do you receive support when new and innovative teachers are fired because of a lack of funding? Do teachers feel supported when class sizes are raised to the point a teacher cannot individually assist every student in a 45 minute period? No. She'd rather pull our funding with vouchers.

Brandon Dutcher said...

Claudia and Linda, I would suggest that tax credits are more popular than you realize -- -- and that by supporting them Dr. Barresi is in fact representing the vast majority of students. Because as Greg Forster points out, school choice is the one reform that consistently has been proven to improve PUBLIC schools. "The impact of school choice programs on public schools has been studied 19 times, by researchers at top institutions (Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, the Federal Reserve, etc.) using high-quality empirical methods. ... 18 of the 19 studies found that school choice improves public schools."

As to the curious assertion that "charter schools and private schools do not serve populations that reflect their neighboring public school diversity," I don't know who would get a bigger kick out of that statement -- the kids at KIPP, the kids at Sacred Heart, or the kids at my neighborhood school, Edmond North.

Anonymous said...

KIPP, which can require extensive parental involvement, which requires teachers to be available for parent or student calls until 10pm, which can require extended days or weekend hours for students and teachers. KIPP, which still has 40% drop out rate for Black males.

My objection is this time, in our state's financial this the best time to be awarding up to $10 million in tax credits for corporations? Is this just another form of corporate welfare, instead of addressing the 20%+ child poverty rate in our state? That rate, by the way, is higher than the third-world countries Superintendent Barresi compared us to...fewer of their children live in poverty than Oklahomans. Less corporate welfare, more services for our poor children.

Ray Ratzlaff said...

I will spend the next 4 weeks getting my students ready to take a test that means nothing to them. But it will show the state how good of a teacher that I am. Something in that formula doesn't sound right to me, but then again I teach every child that finds their way to my classroom. I don't get to choose the students that I can teach, and I don't think that would be the best thing for public education. Tuition tax credits, vouchers, private education, they are all the same and that is what our state is trying to turn "public" education into. Thank goodness that my children are almost through with their public education, and won't have to endure this kind of idiotic decision making.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Dutcher, you're not addressing my concern at all, and you're attempting to reframe it.

I have no problem with school choice...I do have a problem with up to $94 million a year in tax credits to corporations who donate 'scholarship' money to parents who can already afford to send their children to private schools.

"Choice" depends on more than the 'scholarship' available...there will be more tuition to pay, transportation costs, uniform costs...what if a private school is not available, like in rural areas? Will these schools take every child? The special education student with an IEP, a behavior problem? Poor children whose parents can't volunteer in the school?

Choose away. But do not give public money away to the tune of $94 million a year that could be used to address our many budget problems. You continue to give us the names of 'liberal' Black men to make your point about choice. I repeat: my objection is not with choice. It's with corporate welfare, which is what's being proposed in the current bill.

Brandon Dutcher said...

Claudia: OK, so there will be no reframing, let’s look at your concerns one by one. I think this will require more than one comment, because of Blogger's word-count requirements.

You write: “I have no problem with school choice…I do have a problem with up to $94 million a year in tax credits to corporations who donate 'scholarship' money to parents who can already afford to send their children to private schools.”

Answer: Your description is incorrect in every significant detail. Please read the bill in question, the one Supt. Barresi is referring to in her testimony (, and let me know where you get $94 million. Please read Supt. Barresi’s testimony in this blog post, and the bill itself, and you’ll see that corporations don’t donate to parents (they donate to scholarship organizations), and they certainly don’t donate to parents who can afford it (the scholarships go to low-income and special-needs kids).

Brandon Dutcher said...

Claudia, you write: "’Choice’ depends on more than the 'scholarship' available ... there will be more tuition to pay, transportation costs, uniform costs...what if a private school is not available, like in rural areas? Will these schools take every child? The special education student with an IEP, a behavior problem? Poor children whose parents can't volunteer in the school?

Answer: You seem to be assuming people would want to leave their public school. But if the school is good, no one will want to leave. And certainly no one is forcing parents to take a scholarship. If parents don’t want to pay extra tuition, or transportation or uniform costs, then stay put. If there’s no private school in a rural area, then stay put. (Again, why the hastiness to skedaddle?) Will these schools take every child (such as children on an IEP or with a behavior problem? Oklahoma PUBLIC schools CURRENTLY don’t take every child — they send some IEP kids to private schools, sometimes out of state at great cost to taxpayers. And that was before Lindsey’s Law passed in 2010 ( -- now Oklahoma parents have even more opportunities to send their special-needs children to private schools. As for volunteering in the school: you’ll have to consult the school handbook for whichever school you’re referring to – policies and practices differ from school to school.

Brandon Dutcher said...

Claudia, you write: “Choose away. But do not give public money away to the tune of $94 million a year that could be used to address our many budget problems. You continue to give us the names of 'liberal' Black men to make your point about choice. I repeat: my objection is not with choice. It's with corporate welfare, which is what's being proposed in the current bill.”

Answer: It’s not public money (I’ll get to this in a minute) and I don’t understand what you mean by budget problems when Oklahoma government spending is at an all-time high: In this comment thread I’ve given you the name of two liberal black men and five liberal white men, but I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. Do you want a liberal black woman? Okay, let’s try the chairman of the Tulsa County Democratic Party, a former social worker and longtime Tulsa public school board member. She’s in the state Senate now and voted for the tax credit this year also. But the key here is that it’s not “public money” we’re talking about. Public money is money that is sitting in the state treasury. As I noted above, we’re talking about money that individuals and corporations donate to scholarship organizations. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this very month regarding Arizona legislation similar to that being proposed here, “When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to STOs [scholarship tuition organizations], they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers.” In other words, the Court said pointedly, “Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the Arizona State Treasury.” Claudia, if you want to argue that my entire paycheck—or a corporation’s total earnings—are government property until the state in its magnanimity allows us to keep a portion of it, then we’ll just have to agree to disagree. And finally, I know what corporate welfare looks like and I don’t hesitate to criticize it, even when it ticks off some of my friends in the legislature and in the governor’s office ( But I fail to see how letting people keep more of their own money is welfare.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brandon!
One area of concern that has not been addressed here or really anywhere that I am aware of is the practice here in Oklahoma of allowing school activities (sports, band, clubs, etc.) to be scheduled during the school day which takes kids out of the classroom. I honestly believe this has a tremendous bearing on a lot of the academic deficiencies we see here in Oklahoma. In my 13 years of teaching here, when students miss class time due to school activities (in one case, I had a student who missed 10 class periods in one nine week grading period)it has far-reaching implications on their work ethic and overall general attitude towards academics - academics do not become the priority anymore in this kind of a system. This may sound like an attack on Oklahoma culture and it is not meant to be. I have lived here in Oklahoma for the past 16 years and have come to love Oklahoma and the people of Oklahoma. I am truly blessed. I just would like to see a return to where academics is the number one priority and everything else secondary. Thanks for allowing me to share in this discussion.

Kristen said...

So grateful to Dr. Barresi for seeking what is best for all children! If neighborhood schools are not fitting the bill, parents and children will be able to attend private, parochial or other schools. Throwing money at public schools does not make them "better". Dr. Barresi, thanks for seeking the best education possible for our Oklahoma children whether it be public, private, home or parochial.