Three Democratic candidates for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction were welcomed Monday evening by a full house of concerned Bryan County residents at the First Texoma National Bank Main Street Conference Room. Joining in discussion and debate about the state of public education in Oklahoma were Dr. John Cox, Dr. Jack Herron, and Dr. Ivan Holmes. The fourth Democrat seeking the nomination, Dr. Freda Deskin, in a last-minute cancellation, was represented by Alissa Frank Dorman of Durant, who distributed an information sheet but declined participating in the debate.
Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Bryan County, Matt Sandmann, moderated the event. A number of times during the evening, the three candidates, Cox, Herron, and Holmes, remarked about the similarity of their views, especially in regard to the two topics that dominated their comments: Charter schools and the Common Core Curriculum. They made a strong stand against charter schools. The absent Deskin is the only Democrat who favors charter schools; she is the Chief Executive Officer/Founder of Advanced Science and Technology Education Charter (ASTEC) Schools, which serve almost 1,000 of Oklahoma City’s 44,000 students. All three candidates at Monday’s discussion agreed on two main objections to public charter schools: (1) They take money away from the already poorly funded regular program, and (2) They are not well enough regulated.
The participants also agreed in opposition to Common Core: They object to the “out-of-state” development of the curriculum and to the expensive “over-testing,” another drain on short public funds. They all charge present Superintendent, Janet Baressi, with politicizing the program and trying to use it to fail public schools by setting unachievable standards.
County Chair Marilyn Alexander offered the following analysis of Baressi’s motivation: “ She is doing this so that she will have evidence that our public schools are not measuring up and that charter schools are, even though the tests are not measuring what students should be learning and tested on. However, if she can prove this assumption to those who don’t know any different, then she can make the case for public funding of charter schools, which she can show are doing better.”
The related practice of uniformly holding elementary/school students back if they fail the reading test received harsh criticism. Cox asked, “What is this doing to students?” He argued for “case-by-case” evaluation. Citing visits with all 327 Oklahoma school superintendents, Cox and Holmes both oppose consolidating school districts. Holmes says that further consolidation would be the “biggest mistake” the Oklahoma Department of Education could make; and Cox argues that, for many districts, the school is the center of activities and that consolidation will “kill our communities.”
After discussing and debating for an hour, the three candidates remained and visited with members of the audience for 30 more minutes.
- Submitted by Bryan County Democratic Party