Cheryl Franklin

Grove Sun

In an address to Delaware County GOP Saturday night, State School Superintendent Janet Barresi shared some pretty grim statistics about student achievement in Oklahoma.

The newly elected Superintendent was the featured speaker at the Lincoln-Reagan dinner held in Grove Saturday night.  She will also soon be a Grand Lake resident, as soon as her home in Melody Point is completed.

Barresi outlined some pretty sobering statistics to the crowd of about 100 which included local officials along with Grove School Superintendent Sandy Harper. Barresi said the students in Oklahoma are not currently prepared to be competitive against young people from around the world.

Barresi quoted from a recent article in Atlantic magazine entitled "Your Child Left Behind" that compared math achievement from every country and ranked states along with countries.

“Taiwan was number one, Finland number four, Austria, 14 – it wasn’t until you got to number 20 until you saw the first state in our union and that was Massachusetts,” she reported. Barresi said that Oklahoma ranked 83rd. “We were down there with third world countries, like Chile and Azerbaijan.” “This is the United States of America, this is Oklahoma, and this isn’t right,” she said. “This is impactful for me.”

Barresi said that over the next 10 years, 65 percent of new jobs that are coming to this state will require, for minimal proficiency, for entry level positions, proficiency in algebra, geometry, statistics and data analysis. ”That gives you the idea of what we need to do in terms of education to prepare Oklahoma’s kids to go toe-to-toe with young people around the world, to e successful in the 21st century,” she said.

“The new economy is not going to be about manufacturing, the new economy is about critical thinking skills, it is using creativity, and using your head to get the job done. It is the knowledge economy,” she said.

  “For Oklahoma’s children we have to develop a new pathway for these reforms, I call that pathway The Three R Initiative, Rethink, Restructure and Reform Education in the state of Oklahoma,” Barresi said. 

Barresi, who has a master’s degree in Speech and Language Disorders, discussed the research that students learn differently.

 “We have to ‘Rethink’ the way we teach. Teachers are becoming mentors and coaches. Education has to be student centered, research based and data driven,” she said.

 She talked about treating education like a business in that you have to know your students and adjust your business to be successful.

Barresi told the group that that her team has been directed by Governor Mary Fallin to consolidate as much as possible. She said the IT system is very antiquated and the most expensive in the state, costing $12 million a year to maintain with 24 full time employees. Barresi said the new data system they are implementing will cost about $2 million to maintain and will have less than 10 full time employees.

Under Restructure, Barresi said they are completely realigning the structure of the Department of Education with less employees and to be more efficient. “We are transforming it into being a service organization because I am a big supporter of local control of schools,” she said. “Our job is not to be regulatory and tell districts what to do, our job is to turn to districts and say ‘what can we do to help you be successful in setting your goals and meeting your goals for your students.’ So I’m looking for employees with a heart for service.”

  Under Reform, Barresi said they are urging the legislature to grade schools on a letter score similar to school test scores rather than API scores so that parents and the community will be better informed. 

She also said she is excited about the move to end social promotion beyond the third grade.

“Once you get to the fourth grade you stop learning how to read and start reading to learn,” she explained.

“We have to focus on literacy,” she said. The initiative will promote alternative strategies for teachers to use to help them with students who are struggling with reading.

She also said she is pushing for incremental tests for students throughout the year rather than the year-end tests that students cram for and then forget.

Oklahoma Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki, who addressed the group before Barresi, said “We’re ready for change, you can feel it when you talk to people, you can see it from the election, we’re on the verge of something great here.”

Hudecki told the group that, according to a report that came out recently, 75 percent of U.S. 17-24 year olds are unable to enlist in the military because they did not graduate from high school, they have a criminal record or they are physically unfit.

“The job is huge,” she said.

“The Governor has asked her cabinet to Identify game changing ideas. So as a state we need to find a way to be creative to generate more money from the outside. That will take the regulations and the handcuffs off of people and allow them to be creative and innovative and develop things that other people outside of Oklahoma want to buy or want to invest in,” Hudecki said.

  Barresi established Oklahoma’s first charter school, Independence Charter Middle School, after passage of Oklahoma’s landmark charter school bill.

Now in its 11th year, Independence serves 350 students and has a waiting list each year for acceptance.

Independence was so successful that Superintendent Barresi was asked to start Harding Charter Preparatory High School, where she served as board President. Focused on serving 400 inner-city high school students, Harding offers a diverse student population a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. This year, Harding has seen its first National Merit Finalist, another student named to the Academic All-State team and more than a million dollars in college scholarships awarded to students for prestigious institutions such as Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University.

State Republican Chairman Matt Pinnell also spoke to the group and talked about a plan to increase voter registration and encourage youth to be more involved in government issues and politics.