OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A former dentist who has served as Oklahoma’s superintendent of schools for the past 3½ years said Wednesday that unionized teachers and the long-entrenched school administrators were to blame for her embarrassingly poor re-election bid and complained that no school district in the state has pushed children to reach their academic potential.
“From day one the education establishment and the (teachers) union told me they were going to get me out of office. Obviously, they were successful,” Janet Barresi said following Tuesday’s GOP primary in which she finished third in 71 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. “They don’t like people knowing how they are performing. They don’t like accountability.”
Barresi was defeated by former Board of Education member Joy Hofmeister, who will meet the winner of the Aug. 26 Democratic runoff in November’s general election.
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, Hofmeister said the GOP primary was ultimately about leadership.
“As a former state board of education member, parent, educator and business owner, I understand that reform doesn’t happen just because we pass a law or adopt a policy,” she said. “Instead, reform happens when people come together to produce the desired goal.”
Since taking office in January 2011, Barresi has supported a number of education initiatives she said were designed to increase the academic performance of public school students.
She was the driving force behind the state’s A-F grading scale for public school performance that was introduced in 2012, a scorecard that was heavily criticized by public school administrators that Hofmeister described as “not meaningful, useful or reliable.”
“There’s not one school district in this state where the children graduating from that district have reached their academic potential,” Barresi said. “The chief job of the state superintendent of public instruction is to improve academic achievement for children. I am not a cheerleader. I have had enough of low performance. It will not stand.”
Barresi, who established Oklahoma’s first charter school in 2000, also was an early supporter of Common Core standards for English and math instruction. But she withdrew her support this year, stating that the guidelines had “become too difficult and inflexible” after being entangled in federal government policies.
Gov. Mary Fallin earlier this month signed legislation overwhelmingly adopted by the Legislature that repeals the Common Core standards and directs that new ones be developed by 2016. The standards had been adopted by more than 40 states but at least 12 states have introduced legislation to repeal them
Barresi also supported a law that required students to demonstrate basic reading skills on a test administered at the end of the third grade before moving on to the fourth grade - a measure that was modified by the Legislature this year to make it easier for a student to advance even if the child fails the reading test.
“Oklahoma needs to hold our elected officials responsible. Our children are suffering,” Barresi said. “Education in Oklahoma is a disaster after this last legislative session.”
Many Oklahoma lawmakers became disenchanted with Barresi’s policies. About 20 Republican legislators formally endorsed Hofmeister early in the primary election campaign.
“It’s a matter of results,” said one of the lawmakers, Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia. “Are we getting better? No. Are we getting better results? No. Are we doing more testing? Yes. These kids were very upset about the pressure and the testing on them and everything. At the third-grade level, that’s a sign we’re going at it a little heavy handed.”
Professional educators also expressed concern about Barresi’s initiatives.
“It doesn’t always mean better, it just means change,” said Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. Last fall, the 35,000-member teachers’ group delivered an ‘F’ grade to Barresi as the state’s top education official.
Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, said Barresi did not connect well with public educators.
“Honestly, public schools aren’t as bad as she has portrayed them to be,” Crawford said.
Voters who supported Hofmeister on election day said her message resonated with them.
“I want each person to tell me what they’re going to do,” said Debbie Johnson, 57, of Blanchard. “Joy put out what her policies would be.”
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