Corkins Out as Ed Commissioner

For Bob Corkins, the end came sooner rather than later.

When Bob Corkins was selected by the State Board of Education as the Kansas commissioner of education last year, it was clear that he was in a tenuous position. He was assailed on several fronts: he was not a teacher or a school administrator. He has opposed tax increases for schools. He had supported vouchers. And he had never been in charge of a large organization; the KSDE has over 200 employees.

We always thought that this later quality would be his biggest challenge, though it turns out that he could not overcome the political resistance from the teacher union, the local school boards, the local school administrators, a minority (soon to be majority) of the state board, and a skeptical public at large. The controversies over the curriculum (sex education and evolution) focused attention on schooling, as did Montoy, the school funding lawsuit. Corkin’s fate was sealed with the results of August’s primary election, when the conservative majority that hired him lost its dominance of the board.  The only question was when he would leave.

Corkins answered that question this week, when he resigned rather than wait for his certain dismissal, which most likely would have come in January, with the installation of a new majority on the board.

At least one critic was gracious in the wake of Corkin’s resignation. Philip Baringer, a KU professor who attacked the SBOE for using ideology as the main criterion for hiring, said “”From what I could tell from following the board through the media, he did seem to try to do the job to the best of his ability. But he was severely handicapped by not having credentials to begin with.”

One could say that he was handicapped by the opposition, too. As the Capital-Journal put it, “College faculty, public school administrators, lawmakers and others practically climbed over each other for a chance to rip him and the board.”

The Kansas Association of School Boards jealously guarded its prerogatives. Here’s what Mark Tallman, public face of the KASB, had to say, as quoted by the Wichita Eagle: “”Rather than going down a course that says the state board wants to work with schools in creating new and innovative programs, the tenor has been the system isn’t working and we must create a way to override local boards.” Combined with the belief that Corkins was, in the words of one board member, “anti-schools,”he didn’t stand a chance.

Sources: Has Time Run Out for Corkins? Topeka Capital-Journal,  November 22, 2006; Corkins Resigns Top Education Post, Wichita Eagle, November 23; Corkins Resigns as Education Commissioner, Lawrence Journal-World, November 23.

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