This week, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt indicated that he would like to see the State Superintendent of Public Instruction become a gubernatorially appointed position.
Though members of ROPE have consistently advocated for the right of citizens to directly elect their government officials, it might just be time for Oklahomans to revisit the issue of an appointed Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Yes, it’s true that while members of the State School Board are appointed by the Governor - and as such should be an extension of that position with similar philosophies and ideas - there are two issues which can stymie appointed members in their task.
First, as with any Board - and particularly school boards - internal and external political and social pressures (groupthink/consensus building) tend to stifle independent thought, resulting in members defaulting to the desires of the Superintendent over the wishes of families and students. In addition, State School Board appointments - almost by default – are political in nature and not necessarily the result of an even cursory search for individuals recognized for their knowledge of the inner workings of K12 education. This leads to a dearth in understanding of the issues brought before them and a tendency to default – again – to the desires of the Superintendent. Consequently, a gubernatorially-appointed State School Board doesn’t necessarily lead to the creation of appropriate and excellent state public school policy any more than an elected Board subjected to the same pressures might.
As an organization, ROPE members often attended State School Board meetings and provided comment during our fight against Common Core (from 2010 to 2014). Our State Superintendent at that time, Dr. Janet Barresi, was a Common Core proponent, and though we took the time to provide well-researched, thorough and respectful comments to the Board, it was obvious to us that no sitting School Board member - none of whom had real educational expertise - truly considered our concerns. Our thoughts were confirmed when three Oklahoma State School Board members sued the State of Oklahoma to overturn the repeal of Common Core. Unfortunately, our Governor at that time, Mary Fallin, was also a Common Core supporter which thoroughly cinched School Board sentiment and educational policy against widespread public opinion, giving Common Core dissenters like us little voice. Direct appointment of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction would change nothing if the Governor and State Superintendent again aligned in favor of receiving money tied to a national educational incentive against the wishes of most Oklahoma citizens.
On the other hand, direct appointment of the State School Superintendent by the Governor would prevent two things: Influence of the state public education industrial complex over elections and a State Superintendent racking up multiple terms in office.
In 2010, former State Superintendent Sandy Garrett ended an essentially 20 year term when she was voted out of office in favor of Dr. Barresi. This may seem inconsequential on its face, but State Superintendents not only exert authority over state educational policy, their influence creates a culture inside the Department of Education which – thanks to appointments and hires of their own - can persist well beyond their tenure, as President Trump has described using the term “swamp”.
Former State Superintendent Garrett was a long term proponent of Outcome Based Education – the educational policy precursor to Common Core. Though Garrett was a Democrat and Barresi a Republican, the bill to embed Common Core in state law, written under Democratic Governor Brad Henry, was championed via bipartisan support in the Oklahoma House and Senate and the successive Republican Governor’s office. Much of this support certainly resulted from a desire to chase federal funding, but how much was due to a culture at the OSDE that had spent years developing the policies and talking points to sustain and influence legislators and policy ‘experts’ to OBE?
Every election cycle – certainly 2018’s – the public education industrial complex comes together to help fund the campaigns of the State Superintendent candidates they support - even to the point of (illegally) using taxpayer supported public school informational systems and support staff. As ROPE has questioned for years, how in the world can enough citizens band together to be heard over the howling winds of propaganda and disinformation originating from elected education officials, and paid administration and staff of the public education institutions themselves, let alone union-bought television, print and radio ads hawking their personal Superintendent preferences? In short answer, we can’t. The only short-circuit to this closed loop system is to make an elected office one seated by appointment.
No government solution is ever the best – or Ronald Reagan would never have uttered, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'”
With our state’s supposedly post-Common Core but Common Core-addled recent PISA and NAEP scores, another quote – this time from Einstein - seems to sum up our predicament, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Let’s stop the insanity and try something new. Let’s let Oklahoma’s Governor appoint our State Superintendent of Public Instruction and see what happens. It couldn’t be much worse than the insanity we’re exhibiting right now.