Mary Fallin’s Education Record
This morning, the Oklahoman published a puzzling editorial about the alliance between Governor Mary Fallin and Republican nominee for State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister. Probably the best way for me to describe it is that I agree with their premise, in part, but dispute their analysis of her record over the past four years. Here’s a teaser:
GOV. Mary Fallin and Republican state schools superintendent nominee Joy Hofmeister have announced that they’re “working together on an agenda to strengthen Oklahoma public schools and produce better outcomes for Oklahoma students.” Problem is, published details of that agenda are notable mostly for their lack of specifics.
The release was notably silent about Fallin’s first-term education agenda. That’s disappointing because Fallin has compiled a strong record on education. After the 2011 legislative session, she issued a report declaring it a “banner year for education reform in Oklahoma ….” She specifically identified the creation of an A-F grading system for public schools as a success, as well as a reading law that prevented illiterate students from being promoted to fourth grade. During her State of the State speech this February, Fallin again cited both laws as major achievements and also praised adoption of Common Core academic standards. She fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, to preserve the third-grade reading law this year even as lawmakers worked to gut it.
Several people commented on the clause to which I added bold emphasis. This was my favorite:
Yes, saying Fallin’s record on education is strong only works if you’re writing parody. Initially, she was a consistant ally of the corporate reform movement – issues such as vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing, union busting, teacher evaluations. Now we really don’t know what she is. She seems to have softened on the third-grade test. Or maybe that’s just what she says now. She changed positions on the Common Core when popular opinion was overwhelming for repealing it. Maybe she’d be succeptible to a different position on value-added measurements too.
One other piece from that quote above stands out to me: the use of the word illiterate. This is the most offensive way possible to describe eight year-olds who struggle on what the state calls a reading test. As districts around the state have learned, even with the exemptions in place, the amended Reading Sufficiency Act, as passed in 2011, really hurts special education students and those learning English. Fallin vetoed HB 2625, which gave parents a voice in retention decisions. The Oklahoman likes to say that “lawmakers worked to gut” the law. It would be more accurate to say that they added a measure of sanity to it.
The Oklahoman also mentions that for each of the last four years, Fallin’s proposed education budget was lower than the Legislature’s, which was in turn lower than Janet Barresi’s. Even with the gains that have been made, the 2014-15 budget still gives less state aid to schools than they received seven years ago. And for some reason, the money added to the formula hasn’t exactly translated into gains to districts on the funding notices they received late last month. In other words, Fallin sure has waited an awfully long time to start supporting schools.
Mary Fallin briefly poked the bear on school consolidation. She hired an Ohio charter school purveyor to run our Career Tech system and then gave him the dual title of Secretary of Education. He never moved here, and resigned after 13 months. She threatened to cut school funding if administrators didn’t quit speaking their mind on the A-F Report Cards. She toured the KIPP Charter School campus in Oklahoma City with Jeb Bush and waxed poetic over its virtues. Yeah, she’s been a peach to public education.
All that being said, I don’t hold it against Joy Hofmeister that she’s presenting herself as a team with Fallin. And I hope she doesn’t hold it against me that I will determine my vote on those two positions independently. I assume when the Democrats finally have a nominee, that person will make appearances with Joe Dorman. This is politics. It’s just how it works.
In the back of my mind, however, I have a little voice that keeps warning me. It says, “The only thing that scares me more than an incompetent corporate education reformer is a competent one.” The voice talks to me quite frequently. With the three remaining candidates for Barresi’s job, we have platforms and vagaries to consider. With Fallin – as we did with Barresi – we have a track record. The sum of her actions are really no better than Barresi’s. She’s just more polished. She has better handlers. And she’s fairly astute, politically.
Fallin’s re-election campaign was supposed to be a cake-walk. It isn’t. Now that she’s in an unexpected battle with a legitimate challenger, she’s talking a different game. Her words aren’t worth much to me. Her accomplishments are. She brought political competence to the Barresi agenda. Dorman has repeatedly called her out on it, and she simply has no answer.
One of my readers commented on my Facebook page today with a quote from Star Trek: Next Generation:
“Villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.” – Jean-Luc Picard
It’s a great way to sum up what I’m thinking today. As I’ve said before, with a governor, you have to look at all the issues, not just education. But when I look at her education track record, I’m convinced we can do better.