, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

June 8, 2014

With Common Core gone, superintendent contest sizzles

Barresi, who once backed program, has opposition in both parties

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision last week to set aside Common Core education standards further heats up an already-hot race for schools superintendent.

Incumbent Janet Barresi has drawn two GOP challengers, plus four more among Democrats, as she seeks a second term. Like Fallin, Barresi formerly supported Common Core’s guidelines for achievements in math and English but says now “it has become entangled in federal government” and has become “too difficult and inflexible.”

With Fallin’s signature, Oklahoma returns to academic guidelines in place before 2010 and establishes a plan to draw up new ones by 2016. Fallin said she signed the bill because the federal government was attempting to use Common Core to unduly influence state education policy.

Barresi was also a driver behind Oklahoma’s A-F grading scale for public schools. Former state Education Board member Joy Hofmeister, a Fallin appointee, has been critical of the grading system. She resigned her seat to mount a challenge to Barresi in the June 24 primary. During her campaign, she has said state administrators have lacked meaningful communication with districts and that the A-F scale is “not meaningful, useful or reliable.”

Brian Kelly of Edmond is also in the GOP primary.

Although both Fallin and Barresi have a record of supporting Common Core and then opposing it, political fallout likely won’t land evenly, said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor.

“The difference between the governor and the superintendent is that this is one of many issues the governor has to deal with and the governor is able to frame this particular issue and step back and she doesn’t have serious primary opposition,” he said. “The Superintendent of Public Instruction has got serious primary opposition that has been consistent on this issue.”

Gaddie noted a recent ad by GOP opponent Hofmeister, which grouped Barresi, Common Core and President Barack Obama.

“My gosh, that’s red meat in the Republican primary,” he said.

A spokesman for Barresi referred questions to her campaign manager, Robyn Matthews, who said in a statement that the debate over Common Core has become a distraction to the overall goal of raising standards.

“Whether the standards in question are Common Core or another set, what is important is creating and implementing standards that truly prepare our children so they attain their dreams. She has never wavered in her support of greater rigor,” the statement said. “The clock is ticking on each and every child in Oklahoma classrooms, and we must press forward to make Oklahoma’s public schools the best they can be.”

Hofmeister, who resigned from the state board in 2013, shortly before announcing plans to challenge Barresi for the GOP nomination, said she was not on the board when the standards were first approved, having been appointed in 2012.

“It was becoming more discussed just as I resigned,” Hofmeister said. “It was at that time I began listening and traveling about the state and hearing how Common Core was affecting Oklahomans.

“I did ask the governor to sign the legislation to repeal Common Core because it was important to listen to Oklahomans, and that includes the parents and teachers,” Hofmeister said.

Ben Odom, a Norman attorney and former Democratic Party vice chairman, said there was a lot of “fanatic opposition” among some conservative groups over Common Core. But he said that any race that includes an incumbent is about that incumbent.

“(Common Core) may be a factor in some peoples’ decision, but most of the people I know that are keenly interested in that race — and there are a lot of them — they would have been keenly interested whether Common Core was in it or not.”

Calls to Kelly rang unanswered.

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