BY TIM GILPIN
The Oklahoma State Board of Education is in turmoil led by outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi. That should concern Gov. Mary Fallin. And it should worry the rest of us because the governor’s leadership is absent at a very important time for our school children.
Yet, as best I can tell, the governor’s response to the current education mess is “no comment.” Mary Fallin stepped forward during past state Education Board controversies involving Janet Barresi. But where is she now?
Oklahoma does not have a contractor to administer the winter “End of Instruction” testing to about 50,000 students. For many the testing is necessary to meet high school graduation requirements. Like or hate the test, current law requires it and our students have to live with that fact. No testing contractor is willing to work with Ms. Barresi and Oklahoma.
The time to hire a testing contractor has passed and now will require emergency action by the state board. Oklahoma also blew the deadline to set acceptable academic standards for our school children.
Mary Fallin and the Legislature dumped Common Core standards, but did not replace it with sufficient and clear new standards. Whether you like Common Core or not, once it was repealed, an adequate timely replacement was required so our schools would continue to received much needed federal dollars under No Child Left Behind without strident regulations coming down from Washington.
Yet, no leadership from the governor on this education mess either.
Controversy at the State Board of Education is not new to me or this governor.
In January 2011, I was near the end of a six-year term on the board when Ms. Barresi was elected. We were the first board to encounter Barresi and her leadership choices. That board took a lot of heat for opposing Barresi’s decisions at the Oklahoma Department of Education.
Then Mary Fallin immediately stepped in to support Barresi and, until recently, the governor stood by her. In 2011, Mary Fallin exercised her power to criticize that State Education Board and supported legislation taking away its powers and gave Barresi an unhindered hand at the state Department of Education. At the same time Fallin gained the power to hire and fire state Board members upon demand.
In 2011 the governor was wiling to step in to support Barresi with a new board to her liking. Four years later we are coping with the consequences.
The current board is in turmoil with vital issues tabled that require past due action. Gov. Fallin needs to step in with the board she hired and the state superintendent she supported to help get this mess cleared up.
Everyone knows an election is near. Maybe that accounts for the governor’s present inaction. But the deadlines affecting our school children won’t wait for the day after election. Mary Fallin should step up and lead. Hard choices need to happen at the Oklahoma State Board of Education. So where is Mary Fallin now?
– Tim Gilpin is a Tulsa attorney who served on the State Board of Education from 2005-11