Election 2010 Results

Post date: Oct 26, 2010 1:28:12 AM

State Question 744, which would have required Oklahoma fund its public schools at the regional average, was soundly defeated with 81% of voters rejecting it. The question was opposed by the sitting governor and both gubernatorial candidates and many legislators and various interest groups, who said its lack of a funding mechanism could lead to massive cuts in state services.

Our New State Superintendent

Republican Janet Barresi was elected the new State Superintendent of Public Instruction, receiving 56% of the vote to Democratic candidate Susan Paddack's 38% and Independent candidate Richard Cooper's 6%.

Dr. Barresi was once a speech pathologist in the Harrah and Norman public schools. She later became a dentist - her doctorate is in dental surgery. When her twin sons reached middle school age she established the first charter school in Oklahoma City, Independence Charter Middle School. She was asked a few years later to start Harding Charter Preparatory High School, which serves 400 students in Oklahoma City and was named one of the country's best high schools by Newsweek.

Here is how Ms. Barresi presented her issues on her campaign website:

• We must be honest about the problems we have—the high drop-out rate and remedial education needed in college prove that our current system is not working. It is time for fundamental reform and common sense solutions to prepare our kids for the demands of the 21st century.
• My focus will be on teaching and learning with an emphasis on the basics: reading, writing, and math, particularly at the elementary level.
• We must teach kids how to think, not what to think.
• I will be upfront with parents, teachers, students and the business community about what our testing results mean. We must end the “shell game” of annually changing “passing” scores and standards to hide deficiencies.
• I support local control and will reduce government mandates that do little more than create the need for bureaucracy and wasteful spending on administration.
• I oppose the forced consolidation of schools districts. Forced consolidation has never led to improved academic results.
• I support the expansion of parental involvement and choice in their children’s education, and I will protect the right of those who choose to home school.
• I want to empower teachers by giving them the resources they need to be successful. Our test scores will rise as a byproduct of effective teaching.
• I encourage alternative certification for those with expertise in advanced mathematics and science so we can better prepare students for the next generation of high-paying jobs.
• I will promote legal reform to enable school districts to get rid of poor performing teachers. Currently, the potential legal fees make it economically unfeasible to fire bad teachers.
• I want to build on our successful CareerTech system to encourage more Oklahomans to get specialized training and facilitate learning for students who learn though a more hands-on method.

It is a certainty that Ms. Barresi will promote charter schools. Research on charter school effectiveness has been mixed. According to the Washington Post:

Margaret Raymond, director of Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, reported in June that most charter schools deliver academic results that are worse or no better than student accomplishments in regular public schools. She relied on test data from 15 states (not including Maryland or Virginia) and the District.
Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford economist, reported in September that charter school students are making much more progress than peers who sought entry to those schools by lottery but were turned down. She drew on test data from New York City.

We might also expect Ms. Barresi to wholeheartedly set about implementing aspects of the recent Race to the Top legislation which will require that, by 2013-14, 35% of a teacher's evaluation be based on student growth as measured by standardized test scores or other student test data and 15% on other academic measurements. The new legislation already provides for mandatory teacher firings for those not achieving certain ratings over a certain period of time on a new statewide evaluation system. The state had sought $23 million in federal funds for the development of this new evaluation system and related merit pay and high-needs school staffing projects. But that did not come through, so Ms. Barresi will be leading an effort to develop and implement the new system without that funding.

One of her campaign issues appears to be removal of the current teacher protection of trial de novo, where a career teacher may appeal a firing to district court. Republicans who oppose trial de novo will be emboldened by how the party's control of both houses of the legislature has now been extended to the governor's mansion. It seems likely that in the future an Oklahoma teacher may have no recourse to district court if he or she is fired by the local board of education, nor a mandatory firing under the forthcoming new statewide teacher evaluation system.

Our New Governor

Oklahoma's first female governor will be Republican Mary Fallin, who defeated Democrat Jari Askins by 60% to 40%. Here is what her campaign website had to say about education:

For our children to compete in today’s increasingly competitive workforce, they’ll need a good education. More than anything, that means creating a system where good teachers and good schools are rewarded, students are encouraged to think big, and quality – not a dollar amount – defines the bottom line.
As governor, I’ll work to improve the quality of our educational institutions across the board: from grade school to vocational schools to our universities. A better educated workforce will get us better jobs, and that’s exactly what we’ll get when I’m governor.
Mary has a plan for improving Oklahoma’s educational system. As governor, she’ll work to hold schools more accountable for the success of their students and she’ll see that more dollars make their way into the classroom. She'll push for higher academic standards, because low expectations lead to low levels of achievement.   Mary will work to give students and families the option of escaping failing schools and she’ll work to implement financial incentives for excellence in teachers.

So any increase in funding for our woefully underfunded schools will almost certainly be linked to greater "accountability" in the form of more testing, test-score-based evaluations, and merit pay plans. There will also be a continued push for charter schools. The new governor and state superintendent may or may not also push for school vouchers, depending on what they meant by their various statements about "escaping failing schools" and "parental involvement and choice".