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May 29, 2014

Education candidate searches for votes among retired teachers

DUNCAN — A candidate vying for  state superintendent of public instruction on Wednesday told a group of retired teachers in Duncan that misguided education reforms are being corrected.

“I think the pendulum is beginning to swing,” John Cox said. “We’re making great progress. There’s too much focus on testing. We’re setting (students) up for failure. It’s an all out attack to make us look bad and to take the power away from local schools.”

 Cox, one of five Democrats on the June 24  primary ballot,  has been an educator for 28 years,  with the last 20 years spent as the superintendent of Peggs Public School in Cherokee County.

“It was just the right time,” Cox said of his candidacy. “We need to really listen to people. I’m not going to work over people but with people.”

Cox said teachers are often strapped to their subject material to prepare their students for a make-it-or-break-it test.  As a result, teachers find difficulty in teaching students things they might need to know in the career world.

He  admitted his irritation with Oklahoma’s third-grade reading test, which he said included a lot of language arts items instead of just a focus on reading. The third-grade test was among the reforms created by incumbent State Superintendent Janet Barresi, who is seeking re-election.

The Oklahoma House passed a  bill this year allowing teachers, administrators and parents to have the final say on whether a student is retained in the third grade after failing the reading test. Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill, but the House voted to override her veto.

Martha Burger, among the retired teachers visiting with Cox, said retention could leave a lasting, negative impact on students who are required to repeat a grade.

“We defeat the chance to help them,” she said.

Cox agreed.

Research has shown retention can harm students’ self esteem, he said.

“Right now, they can’t teach,” Cox said. “They have to focus on passing a test. I want to get back to where teachers can teach the entire spring semester.”

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