Clear Agenda Propels A to F School Rating System

Image of Janet Barresi

Behind the new A to F calculus to grade Oklahoma schools, developed and much hyped by the state Department of Education, is the obvious conservative push to privatize public education and break teachers’ unions.

That’s an idea not getting too much discussion during the rollout of the new state schools grading system, which is modeled on the flawed Florida system championed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, an outspoken proponent of vouchers and charter schools.

Recent draconian budget cuts to education are another issue not getting much discussion within the A to F debate. One prominent organization recently reported that per-pupil funding in Oklahoma has decreased by a staggering 20.3 percent from 2008, according to an article in the Oklahoma Gazette. That’s a mind-boggling, huge decrease. It’s the result of an irresponsible, even craven ideology, one without one iota of regard for the state’s future.

Here’s the basic outline of the formula now used by conservatives in Oklahoma to attack schools:

Take as much money and as many resources away from schools as possible.

Constantly disparage teachers based on conservative sloganeering, such as “teachers who won’t teach,” etc.

Blame teachers’ unions for all problems related to schools.

Push for standardized testing that will obviously result in low grades.

Institute a school ranking system based on arcane methodology. Don’t explain it adequately to school administrators, teachers and the public.

Fail as many schools as possible. Keep raising the “acceptable” ranking so even more schools fail.

Push for vouchers and any type of privatization of schools.

Oklahoma, of course, is ripe and ready for this formula. In recent years, it has intentionally starved its schools financially without a great deal of objection from the public. Its state government is completely dominated by Republicans, most of whom at least acquiesce in some degree to the above formula. State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, pictured right, was elected as a Republican school reformer and once started a charter school herself.

Many of the state’s schools’ superintendents are opposed to the new system because of the way averages and growth are calculated, and they’re absolutely correct, but the larger picture here is that numbers can be as ambiguous as words. School administrators might contend that one particular, disadvantaged student who raised a score from a D to a C achieved much more than another particular student who raised a score from a B to an A, and they, again, would be correct, but the numbers will mean what Barresi and her supporters mean, not anything else. Is it even fruitful to argue within the system’s parameters? Maybe it’s better to attack the agenda.

The general information released so far by Barresi shows that 11 schools received F grades, 137 received D grades, 595 received C grades, 843 received B grades and 158 received A grades. Supporters of the new system, including The Oklahoman editorial page, point to the supposed low number of F and D grades as evidence the system is not “unfairly maligning schools.”

But is 148 really a low number? Apparently The Oklahoman wants us to see it that way, but, overall, how may school children and their parents will be affected by the low scores? What’s that number? It’s a lot more than 148, that’s for sure. As acceptable or grade averages get raised, how many more schools will join the list?

Why don’t we help struggling schools right now instead of setting them up for ridicule and failure through contrived labeling?

These supposed quantifiable rating systems for schools—again, the numbers can have plural interpretations—never take into account the individual student, especially disadvantaged children. A student’s home life has as much to do with educational success as anything else. Everyone knows that. Dedicated teachers in Oklahoma tirelessly work with disadvantaged and sometimes problematic children, only to be met with scorn by educational ideologues in the so-called educational “reform” movement.

Most everyone wants to improve education, and it’s an ongoing process, but it can’t be done by laying off teachers, cutting programs and doling out imaginary F’s and D’s to schools. That’s what’s going on in Oklahoma right now. It’s part of a clear agenda to weaken public education, and it will continue until more Oklahomans speak up against it.