The Woodward News

Local News

May 19, 2014

Superintendent candidate shares vision for schools

The Oklahoma education system is floundering because because the State Department of Education leadership failed to properly vet testing programs, Common Core and other reforms before passing them down to districts as a mandate.

And as a result of current State Superintendent Janet Baressi's unwillingness to include opinions that differed from hers regarding Common Core and high stakes testing, students are beleaguered, teachers are leaving and parents are confused.

Those are paraphrased comments made Thursday night in Woodward by Joy Hofmeister, Republican candidate for Oklahoma State Superintendent.

She spoke at the Woodward County Republican Women's Club monthly meeting Thursday evening at the High Plains Technology Center. Barresi was also invited to the meeting but unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, organizers said.

Hofmeister, a former school teacher and owner of a Kumon tutoring program in Tulsa is running in the primary against Barresi and Brain Kelly.

At present, local polls conducted last week by News 9/News on 6 indicated Hofmeister could have a narrow lead with Barresi trailing by one percentage point and Kelly trailing by two percentage points.

The primary winner will face a Democrat in the fall. Democrats include Freda Deskin, John Cox, Ivan Holmes and Jack Herron Jr.

Hofmeister shared her vision for school children in Oklahoma.

When you listen to Hofmeister, she might be considered by many to be a "back to basics" person who believes teachers need more time in actual instruction with children rather than spending so much time preparing students for tests.

She believes there are some basics to math and basics to language that all children need to gain before they can move on a learn the "language of math or the language of reading."

"You can't apply what you don't know," she said "Teachers need the flexibility to be able to focus on actual learning."

Hofmeister rejects the idea of a more centrally controlled education system and points to the scooping up of that control and the micro management of administrators and even teachers as one of the primary reasons students are not improving but, indeed are struggling more.

"It was Ronald Reagan who said, 'Those closest to the problem have the best chance of solving it'," Hofmeister said. "But right now, we are seeing the reverse of that."

Hofmeister said because of the consumption of power and control at the state level, "one-size-fits-all" mandates are being passed down to districts without first identifying whether the district even has what it needs (for instance, technology to handle certain programs) to implement the mandates.

"One-size-fits-all does not work in the economy and it does not work in education either," she said.

According to Hofmeister, who reminded the audience that Common Core and many of the other reforms were voted in before Barresi was in office, the situation now facing the state with the contention over Common Core and high stakes testing could still have been avoided.

"She should have vetted those reforms before executing them," she said. And, Hofmeister said, the reforms should have been phased in much more slowly.

Hofmeister agrees with the idea of having high standards. But she rejects the inflated rhetoric she says is forthcoming from the state department leadership that seems to say "if you are against these reforms you are against high standards."

She links the high stakes testing culture through which teachers are rated based on the performance of her students on a test, to the rampant loss of teachers to nearby states.

"Every mandate they pass lands on the desk of a teacher," she said.

Hofmeister supports going back to a national norm referenced assessment (such as the old Iowa nationally norm referenced tests), which is not linked to retention of a student.

"High stakes promotes gaming," she said, referring to the way numbers and which students are tested in certain districts begin to be manipulated with this punitive system.

She plans to help create an accounting system that can better track how districts and the state department spends money.

She is in favor of giving back the reins and respecting local control, allowing the people who really know the students - the parents the teachers and administrators to make the best decisions for the students.

"We are micromanaging all the way down to the classroom," she said. "By doing this, we are creating a climate of dysfunction."

Finally, Hofmeister suggests the state needs a leader who can be cooperative, who opens up to many different views, who takes into consideration vetted research, even when it disagrees with formerly held opinions.

"Our kids are counting on us to get this right and we need someone who is not afraid of people with different ideas," she said.

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