As we get closer to the Nov. 4 general election, I will take a look each day at a state election of interest. (If you’ve missed my election reporting from California, Florida, and Georgia, you’ve still got time to catch up!) I’ll look at polling numbers and the candidates’ general positions on K-12 issues, and I’ll also highlight the political and policy
environments that are influencing the debate about public schools. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only focus on the Democratic and Republican candidates. Today, I’ll look at the race for state superintendent in Oklahoma.
If one state superintendent can be fairly characterized as “embattled,” it might be Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, a Republican elected in 2010. She took a great deal of heat for the state’s A-F accountability system, which she helped to pass and implement in Oklahoma. The president of the state PTA, along with a state school board member and a GOP state legislator, recently called on her to resign. She’s been criticized for hiring the husband of her general counsel to a position she created not long before the Nov. 4 election. What have I left out? Barresi lost the GOP primary and her re-election bid earlier this year to Joy Hofmeister, who is facing Democrat John Cox on Nov. 4. So, who will replace her and what could change at the state education department?
Unfortunately, Real Clear Politcs’ excellent work with poll numbers does not extend to state superintendent’s races. However, SoonerPoll, a statewide polling outfit, conducted a survey of 400 likely voters for an Oklahoma TV station, KWTV, in late September that showed Cox and Hofmeister tied at 38 percent apiece, with 24 percent of respondents undecided. A similar poll conducted a few weeks before showed Cox with a slight lead, but in a virtual tie with Hofmeister.
A school administrator and adjunct university professor, Cox has a long list of his priorities for K-12:
• On the funding issue, Cox puts it simply: “We do not adequately fund our Oklahoma Public Schools! ... We are at a point of time now that we cannot cut anymore.” He says it’ll be his job to advocate for more school funding, and to take the pressure off local superintendents of struggling to work under constricted budgets. He also believes the state should only pass K-12 mandates when they are “fully funded.”
• He doesn’t support the Common Core State Standards (which Oklahoma ditched earlier this year) or high-stakes testing. Other than English/language arts and math, he doesn’t want any subject-based state tests and wants to leave those up to individual districts.
• The minimum first-year salary for teachers, he says, should be $35,000. According to a National Education Association statistical digest of the 2012-13 school year, the average public school teacher salary in Oklahoma was about $44,400. the third-lowest average of any state in the country, ahead Misssissippi and South Dakota.
• And Cox comes out against “privatization,” a term he doesn’t directly define. However, he discusses it in the context of public revenue, arguing that money that should go to public education shouldn’t be diverted to “other avenues of education.”
A former teacher and member of the state school board, Hofmeister beat Barresi in the GOP primary. She used Oklahoma’s adoption of the common core against Barresi, saying that Barresi used the Obama administration to bully Oklahoma lawmakers when it came to the standards. Hofmeister has picked up several high-profile endorsements, including those from U.S. Rep. James Lankford, a Republican, and three former statewide officials.
Hofmeister highlights her opposition to the state’s A-F accountability system, arguing that school ratings can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to a “single indicator.” Hofmeister stresses that she stands with research scientists in their skepticism of the system, a reference to a study released by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University showing that as few as three test responses separated some A schools from F schools (a finding the state disputed).
Like Cox, she comes out against high-stakes tests. And like Cox, she wants teachers to be paid more. But she’s not afraid to go after her Democratic opponent over the issue of salaries. See the video below:
Other Delights in the Caravan
Suffice to say that since Oklahoma dropped the common core and moved to develop its own standards, there’s been a great deal of tumult and uncertainty in the state over several issues. These include its state assessment and its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. For a recent overview of Oklahoma’s tangled relationship with its NCLB waiver, check out a recent article in Education Week by my colleague Alyson Klein.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.