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About the Governor’s Race

July 31, 2014

I’ve been quiet the last couple of weeks, mainly just enjoying my summer. I go to work. I come home and do things not related to my job or education policy. I catch up a little on Twitter. Otherwise, I’ve been staying low key regarding politics, and enjoying every minute of it.

In June, I was the blogger who wouldn’t shut up, and it wore me out. Before work, I was researching and writing. After work, it was more of the same. I was tired, but it was worth it. As David Blatt pointed out today, the rise of activists on social media probably contributed something to the defeat of Janet Barresi in the Republican primary.

The anti-Barresi movement was united by frustration with high-stakes testing and inadequate funding of public education. The A-F school grading system, mandatory third-grade retention and efforts to expand charter schools all stoked the feeling that the superintendent and her supporters were bent on implementing an ideologically driven agenda at the expense of teachers, students and parents.

The movement, which identifies itself by the Twitter hashtag #oklaed, includes many strands playing different roles. Statewide organizations of superintendents, school board members and teachers spread information to their members across the state. Civic groups like the Parents Legislative Advocacy Committee, the PTA, and Voice effectively educate parents and bring them to the Capitol to lobby their legislators.

This year, these advocates showed their organizing muscle by mobilizing 25,000 Oklahomans for a rally at the Capitol. They showed their political muscle by defeating legislation to expand charter schools and getting the Legislature to override the governor’s veto of a bill to give parents and educators more control over retention of third-graders. And of course they delivered their knockout blow to Barresi in June.

When I started this blog in 2012, it was never my intent to focus so much on one individual. I’m still more pro-public education than I am anti-Barresi. In most political races, I have no desire to endorse candidates. When I’m not blogging, I’m quite free with my political views – much to the chagrin of family, friends, and colleagues. On the blog, however, I don’t think I need to endorse candidates. I’m not a newspaper with an editorial board. I’m an individual with strong views about my profession and the children we serve. On the other hand, when the preponderance of evidence shows – as it has with Janet Barresi – that a public official has actively harmed public education, I have no problem stating the case that we should elect someone else.

At the same time, I’m not a single-issue voter. Public education is probably the biggest focus I have when it comes to state politics, and with the state superintendent’s race, it’s an easy focus to maintain. With our legislators and governor, however, we have to ask ourselves how much our passion for public education matters when we look at the big picture. When I ask myself, “Is Mary Fallin the best possible governor for Oklahoma,” the analysis is much more complicated than one issue.

Over the next few months, I will occasionally break down the race between Democrat challenger Joe Dorman and Fallin. Today though, I want to start with yesterday’s news that Fallin and Joy Hofmeister – the Republican who ousted Barresi – have pledged support for each other in this November’s elections.

“Joy Hofmeister is a teacher, small business owner and a mother who cares deeply about public education in Oklahoma, which is why I was proud to appoint her to the Oklahoma State Board of Education. I know Joy will work tirelessly to unite parents, teachers, employers and lawmakers as we work to support and improve our schools. I am proud to support her in her race for superintendent.” – Governor Mary Fallin

“Governor Fallin has always said that improving education is the most important thing we can do to support the long term growth and prosperity of our state. She should be applauded for highlighting the importance of public education, not just in the individual growth of our students, but for Oklahoma’s long term economic well-being. I encourage Oklahomans to get behind Governor Fallin to ensure we have a pro-education governor for the next four years.” – Joy Hofmeister

These are both very nice statements, but as many in the print media and social media have noted over the last few weeks, Fallin has actively distanced herself from Barresi. I noticed this late last fall when the state superintendent always seemed to mention the governor’s name, but with no reciprocity. It’s clear that attaching herself to Barresi’s toxic personality would not benefit Fallin politically. Surrounded by many astute handlers, the governor kept putting more space between the two of them.

While Mary Fallin may not be tight with Janet Barresi anymore, however, their education policies remain intertwined. As chairperson of the National Governor’s Association, Fallin has pushed strongly for the Common Core. She opposed HB 2625 which gave parents a voice in the retention decision of third-graders – in lock-step with Barresi, who called the Legislature’s override of Fallin’s veto pathetic and outrageous.

By the way, it was after that override (by a combined 124-19 margin) that I realized the power of the #oklaed movement. Apparently Fallin did too. She flipped her support for the Common Core into a signature of HB 3399, which eliminated it in Oklahoma (a change of heart that could have major unintended consequences in terms of increased federal oversight). Even her campaign website still proclaims her love of all things Common Core.

Fallin Website

Though Fallin received good press after speaking to the state PTA last week for backing off the third-grade reading test, her actual words do not show much of a change. And her website still shows she supports high-stakes testing for eight- and nine-year olds. Here’s how Rob Miller explained it.

In her prepared remarks to the PTA delegates, Governor Fallin said, “If we can get to a system where we are measuring a student throughout the progress of their education versus one test — one high-stakes test — we are better serving the children.”

As you recall, just two months ago the Governor made waves with her controversial veto of House Bill 2625. This legislation allows districts to implement “probationary promotion” by incorporating a committee of school personnel and parents in making final determinations on student retention. Her veto came despite the fact that the bill was passed by large majorities in both the Oklahoma House and Senate. At the time, the Governor was adamant that the RSA law should remain unaltered, saying HB2625 “returns us to a system that has failed Oklahoma children for decades.” Despite her strong objectives, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to override Fallin’s veto.

The “thump thump” sound you may have heard later in the Governor’s remarks was the sound of Superintendent Janet Barresi being thrown under the bus.

This happened when Governor Fallin remarked that testing accommodations should be restored for children in special education or English language learners. This year, all students but the most severely disabled were required to take the same standardized tests as their peers despite their disabilities.

When asked to clarify her remarks on special education students, Fallin said she always felt they should be accommodated and attributed the current Education Department policy to State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

“That’s been her position. Now I’m telling you what my position is as governor. The superintendent is an independently elected official. She has her ideas. I have my ideas,” Fallin said.

Thump thump!

She also still supports the A-F Report Cards and Value Added Measurements for teachers. These are positions far more insidious than the Common Core. I don’t care what standards are in place; if we insist on using flawed tests (or any tests, for that matter) to measure teacher quality and make critical decisions for students, our path is sorely misguided. Fallin is part of the reason that we will have to remain vigilant against the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs. She has done even less than Barresi to restore funding to public education.

In the end, I don’t know how much the other issues impacting our state matter to you. I’m not a straight-party voter, and some of the things I support would probably surprise you. When I consider the state of public education in Oklahoma, though, I cannot in good conscience support Mary Fallin. She has damaged public education. Sure, I understand that these two Republicans supporting each other is a political thing. I am also pretty sure it helps Fallin a lot more than it does Hofmeister. Yes, Joy would work well with Fallin, but based on my own meetings with her, I think she’d work pretty decently with Dorman too. Besides, there are two other state superintendent candidates, and once they sort out their own differences, Hofmeister will have to demonstrate why she is better than the one who remains. Oklahoma may be the reddest state in the country, but that doesn’t mean we vote with our eyes closed.

I want a governor who supports public education. Since we can’t bring back Henry Bellmon, I’m looking for the one who is close.

HB1017signing

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  1. Teacher's Husband
    August 1, 2014 at 8:09 am

    “Governor Fallin said, “If we can get to a system where we are measuring a student throughout the progress of their education versus one test — one high-stakes test — we are better serving the children.””

    If she spent any time looking at the actual testing taking place throughout the year, she would know that this is exactly what is taking place. Heaven help us from these people who are so clueless to the realities on the ground.

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