It’s National Teacher Appreciation week. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “Open Letter to America’s Teachers” includes not only praise for our nation’s educators, but the first hint I’ve read to date that he recognizes (and maybe even wants to address) some of the fundamental flaws in NCLB and our overall, dominant paradigm of high stakes testing. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for an about-face in official administrative educational policies, but these words from the Edu secretary were the first I’ve ever read which indicate he may actually be listening to our voices. In his letter published today Duncan wrote:

You have told me you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students. Because of the pressure to boost test scores, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, and important subjects like history, science, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education have been de-emphasized. And you are frustrated when teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems. You rightfully believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves… So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking. States, with the help of teachers, are now developing better assessments so you will have useful information to guide instruction and show the positive impact you are having on our children.

Following these ever-so-slightly positive words from our national education secretary, however, I had a severe case of cognitive dissonance this evening watching Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi‘s latest video message. In this post, I’ll explain what caused my confusion and highlight the way I used both Google Earth and Google Maps to solve a problem and share a solution which this situation presented: Which Oklahoma City Public Schools fall within the boundaries of the 89th Legislative district (currently represented by Rebecca Hamilton) which allegedly:

…not only do not provide them [students] with the kind of education they need to have a future, they destroy their souls while they’re at it.

Those are strong words, to say the least, and deserve careful scrutiny as well as investigation. Inquiring minds want to know: Are educators at Jackson Middle School, Adams Elementary School, and/or Rockwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City Public Schools “destroying the souls of children?”

View Oklahoma Schools in 89th District in a larger map

At the 1:38 minute mark of her April 29th video address, Janet Barresi shared the following quotation from Oklahoma legislator Rebecca Hamilton. Barresi prefaced the comment with praise, stating Hamilton “said it well.”

Quotation from Rebecca Hamilton in Janet Barresi's April 29th video

In case Flickr is blocked in your location and you cannot view the image above, here is the full quotation:

I represent children who go to schools that are essentially factories. Those schools not only do not provide them with the kind of education they need to have a future, they destroy their souls while they’re at it.

This is a serious charge from a state legislator, and it’s both endorsed and amplified by our elected state superintendent. Both women are not simply observing that test scores are low or the majority of students served at these schools come from low income families, they are asserting the educators in one or more of these three schools (Jackson Middle School, Adams Elementary School, and/or Rockwood Elementary School) “destroy the souls” of students. Can an accusation of educational malpractice be more vitriolic and passionate than this? If so, I have not encountered it before today in the public record.

A statement this strong deserves further investigation, so (of course) I turned to Google for assistance. A quick search produced both the official Oklahoma legislative page for Rebecca Hamilton, and an official map (available as a PDF) showing the boundaries of her legislative district.

Rebecca Hamilton: Oklahoma House of Representatives

Map of Oklahoma House District 89

To figure out which Oklahoma City Public Schools fall within the boundaries of District 89, I used the polygon tool within Google Earth to draw a map of the district 89 boundaries. Then, I searched for “school” and added the three public schools which showed up inside the polygon to the Google Earth folder I’d created for this little project.

Public Schools in the 89th Legislative District of Oklahoma

To share my map publicly, I created a new Google Map (in “My Maps” after logging in to Google) and chose to import the KML file I’d saved from Google Earth to my desktop.

Import KML file into Google Maps

These technical procedures allowed me to put some school names with this accusation of “teachers destroying the souls of students.” Educators at Jackson Middle School, Adams Elementary School, and/or Rockwood Elementary School are “the accused” in this serious allegation by Oklahoma elected officials.

The second phase of this needed investigation can’t be answered with Google – yet. I (along with others in Oklahoma City) need to visit these three schools and interview students as well as parents. Armed with flash-based video recorders and recording only after parent permission as well as student permission (if the interviewee is a minor) have been obtained, we can ask some very simple and straightforward questions like these:

  1. What teacher has made the biggest impact on you at [insert name of school] and why?
  2. Do you think your soul [or the soul of your child] has been destroyed by [insert name of school] and the teachers at the school? (Why or why not?)
  3. If you could change one thing about your school today, what would it be?

These videos can be uploaded to YouTube with a common tag, like “district89schools” so they can be readily aggregated and shared by others. Then, this “video evidence” can be compared to the assertions of Rebecca Hamilton which Janet Baressi amplified this week in her video message.

There is a statistical chance Hamilton and Baressi are correct, and “the souls of students at one or more of these schools are being destroyed.” I am extremely reticent to believe, however, all the teachers at any one of these schools are actively destroying souls. Inquiring minds want to know: What is the truth?

The good news is, powerful tools for video documentation and viral media sharing are at our fingertips today. I don’t have time to contact PTA / PTO representatives at these schools this week to see if they’d like to help organize a social media video response to these strident accusations or not. Perhaps later in May? We’ll see. This is a videography research project worth pursuing.

Without a doubt, we have SOME teachers in our public schools today who could be doing a MUCH better job teaching, inspiring, and caring for their students. At the same time, however, we have MANY public school teachers doing a phenomenal job developing relationships and helping students learn new knowledge and skills every day in the classroom. It is neither fair nor accurate to demonize ALL teachers as professionals, yet the campaign to deride and discredit educators continues to gain steam in our state as well as across the nation. Yes, we must work hard to improve and transform our schools, but we must NEVER do so by condemning all educators. Accusations of incompetence and malfeasance are serious, and deserve critical examination rather than passive acceptance.

My cognitive dissonance this evening was triggered by a message to ostensibly highlight Teacher Appreciation Week, which in the same breath accused all educators on at least one of the district 89 public school campuses (Jackson Middle School, Adams Elementary School, and/or Rockwood Elementary School) of “destroying the souls of children.”

If I was writing a thank-you card to the professional educators of our state, that wouldn’t be something I’d write. But that’s just me.

What’s your take?

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5 Responses to Demonizing Oklahoma Public School Teachers While Praising Them?

  1. KHazelrigg says:

    This post is excellent. I would encourage you to send a shorter version to the Daily Oklahoman, as well as to the Superintendent of Schools and Representative Hamilton.
    In addition, I would love to see the results of the video interviews you suggest.

    Janet Barresi was indeed talking out of both sides of her mouth. The shift in focus in the middle of her message was stark and contradictory, and struck me as slightly ridiculous. I cannot understand why she did not notice it herself.

    Representative Hamilton should be ashamed of her remarks and should be made to prove their truth or publicly apologize. The faculty and staff of those schools deserve as much.

    K. Hazelrigg

  2. Mikayla says:

    Thank you for this eloquent and timely response. Your voice, insight and technical skills add so much to our shared concerns.

  3. Thorough and informative post, but wouldn’t it have been easier just to ask Rep. Hamilton what she means? Indeed, “accusations of incompetence and malfeasance are serious” (not unlike deploying the term “demonizing”), and they do deserve critical examination. Therefore, someone should interview Rep. Hamilton and upload the video to YouTube with a tag like “district89schools.” One might discover that Rep. Hamilton knows whereof she speaks. One might come to understand why liberal Democrats like Rep. Hamilton and Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre (a longtime Tulsa Public Schools board member) would vote for the bill in question.

  4. P.S. Those who want to see and hear Rep. Hamilton’s floor debate for themselves can go to:

  5. Angie says:

    Are you @176b9b7ee46b85c0727d319e88085798:disqus Kathy Hazelrigg who lived in Manhattan?

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