Category Archives: SBOE

Walt Chappell, useful dissident

The Wichita Eagle has run a short profile of Walt Chappell, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education from Wichita. It’s a fairly negative piece, stating that “board members and education leaders say he’s ineffective because he’s not a team player.”

Might “not a team player” simply mean that he’s a dissident? If so, Kansans should be grateful for having a board member who is not a “team player.” Why is that? The progress of science and knowledge, as Thomas Kuhn tells us,  often comes through the work of dissidents who challenge conventional wisdom. Sometimes a dissident is simply a flake, but sometimes, the criticism becomes the new conventional wisdom as old ideas are discredited and new ones adopted.

The hook for the Eagle story is the board’s refusal to reimburse Chappell for a speech he gave to a Republican group in Wichita.

The board certainly has a strange theory for how its members ought to behave:

He should be allowed to say anything he wants whenever he wants, [SBOE member Sally] Cauble said, as long as taxpayers don’t fund it and his speeches as a board member follow what the board has discussed or decided on.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is on the state school board, we don’t speak our own mind when we speak as a board member,” she said, adding she only asks for travel expenses for events where she simply provides information.

Does anyone else see a contradiction in what Cauble said?

It’s time for some free exchange of ideas. Does anyone believe that Speaker Mike O’Neal reflects the views of the entire Kansas House of Representatives? Many times, he doesn’t even speak for all his fellow Republicans. If SBOE policy reflects what Cauble said, it ought to be changed. As long as a member gives a disclaimer at the beginning of a public speech–“What I’m going to say here does not necessarily reflect the views of the Kansas State Board of Education”–that should suffice.

The Eagle quotes board member Dale Dennis as saying that Chappell talks too long at board meetings. Perhaps he does, though “too long” may be a matter of personal taste. What turns some people into critics of Chappell, I suspect, is not the length of his remarks at board meetings, but the fact that he diverges from board orthodoxy. In the words of the Eagle, Chappell supports the “controversial ideas” of “changing teacher tenure laws, performance-based teacher pay raises and a $1,000 fee for students who can’t prove they’re in the country legally.”

Controversial? Perhaps. Beyond the pale? Not at all. Now, I don’t think that levying fees on illegal immigrants would pass constitutional muster, given past rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the other hand, the idea of changing tenure laws has bipartisan (if not necessarily widespread) support. This year, for example, both the Republican legislature of Florida and the Democratic legislature of Colorado enacted tenure reform. (In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican who is now running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, vetoed the bill.)

Knowledge advances–as does society–when talk turns to controversy. Bring on the debates!

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Finalists for Commissioner Announced

The names of the two finalists for the state commissioner of education are out. Among them: Alexna Posny, a former finalist and current official in the U.S. Department of Education.

See: “Education commissioner finalists are named,” Lawrence Journal World, April 27

State Board Moving Closer to New Commissioner

The State Board of Education has narrowed the field of candidates down to five. Interviews will commence shortly.

Source: State board of education picks commissioner finalists, Lawrence Journal-World, April 18.

Listening In

If you’re so inclined, audio clips of the meetings of the State Board of Education are online.

Another Look at the Legislative Session

What does the governor have in mind for this legislative session? Increased spending, and removing the popular vote from the selection of the Board of Education, and by extension, the commissioner of education.

“Sebelius said she continued to believe it was in the state’s best interests to finance all-day kindergarten in school districts. Currently, the state pays for half-day classes.

“We won’t be backing away from that,” she said. “It continues to be a passion of mine.”

The governor also vowed to support legislation that would allow local school districts to independently increase a “local option budget.” Such budgets are a provision in state law used by some districts to generate additional revenue through local property tax collections.

Sebelius said she remained dedicated to the idea of adopting a constitutional amendment that would convert the Kansas State Board of Education from an elective body to a board appointed by the governor.

“I believe that it is an appropriate conversation to have,” she said. “I’ll talk with legislators about that.”

Source: Education remains in session, Topeka Capital-Journal

Ask Questions, Become an Enemy?

In a review of the tenure of Bob Corkins, political reporter John Hanna notes a distressing attitude concerning K-12 education: ask questions, and you’ll become the enemy.

“But Corkins’ lack of education experience can’t explain the depth of hostility he faced or the stunned response to his appointment from prominent legislators. … To many educators, Corkins came from the enemy camp: the conservative bloc in society that sustains a vibrant home school movement and complains about the supposedly too-secular values being taught in public schools.”

The enemy camp? OK, we can understand that teachers and administrators would resent someone coming in (as the State Board of Education did) and saying “No, you can’t teach that, you’ve got to teach this.” But the opposition to home schooling is baffling. Granted, the motivations and methods of some home schoolers are not to everyone’s liking. But shouldn’t the chief concern of educators be that children . . . receive an education, even if it’s not in their own school?

Some large school districts in the nation have brought in non-educators to be superintendents, in part because they are not part of the status quo. Sometimes it is easier for an outsider to see the need for change than outsiders. By their nature, organizations have a tendency towards ossification, refusing to make changes necessary to respond to a changing environment. Bringing in an outsider can be a good thing, if the person has leadership skills, is willing to learn, and so forth.

At least one Kansas superintendent was willing to go on the record that complacency can be dangerous:

“Little River Superintendent Milt Dougherty  . . . said employers constantly express concerns to him that too many students are leaving school without the skills they’ll need to get good jobs in a globally competitive economy.

His prediction: The new commissioner will be from Kansas, ‘an educator well accepted by the educational establishment, upbeat, outgoing, a cheerleader, who maybe talks a little about change and innovation but really isn’t going to get serious about it.’

‘The problem is if you get someone who is accepted by the education establishment, they’re probably pretty much status quo,’ he said. ‘If you get somebody who’s not status quo, then they’re not accepted by the education establishment.'”

We have no idea who the new commissioner will be. And we agree that an insider can do the job. But we’re troubled by the complacency that seems to govern Kansas schools.

Source: Corkins replacement likely to have establishment credentials, Kansas City Star, December 3.

Religious Zeal and Non-Traditional Management

The Topeka Capital-Journal provides a look at the short tenure of Bob Corkins that we’ve not seen elsewhere.

An editorial criticizes him for being “a critic of public schools, not a supporter.” (Nothing new here.) The key paragraphs, though, are these:

“Where did Abrams and Corkins go over the line, to the point that Kansas voters stepped in and gave the commission back to the traditionalists?

We suspect the reason was twofold — the encroachment of religion with the teaching of evolution and the new, non-traditional look at managing the massive resources provide to educators in our society.

In retrospect, we suspect some of the ideas Corkins brought to the table were good, especially in terms of reviewing allocation of resources and results. We believe that some of those efforts were circumvented by the conservatives’ zeal for ushering more religion into the classroom.”

This account is one that is worth further consideration. It’s too bad that managerial reform got caught up in religious disputes.

Source: Bob Corkins: Mixed grade, Topeka Capital-Journal, November 29, 2006

Must a State Commissioner be an Insider?

Must a state commissioner of education be an education insider? The fact that Bob Corkins was never a superintendent, principal, or teacher was and usually continues to be mentioned in any discussion of him. So it might be fair to suggest that insider status is all but determined. It certainly seems to be the position of some of Corkins’ strongest critics, including several members of the SBOE. District superintendents favor this approach as well.

Then again, Bill Wagnon, who will likely be the leader of the State Board of Education, opens the door to some alternatives. “He also said he wouldn’t be opposed to candidates who have some experience outside public schools — so long as their backgrounds in education are substantial.”

How substantial is enough? We don’t know. Now, we’re not necessarily calling for a commissioner who is outside the education industry. We would, however, like to see that the possibility is not foreclosed.  Big city districts from LA to New York, with Chicago and other places in between, have hired non-education professionals from the fields of military service, lawyering, investment bankers, and financial wizards.

Now, we would say that experience leading large organizations is vital; a record of having lead an organization through painful changes would be an even better sign of leadership strength. As the Capital-Journal notes, “Corkins was criticized partly because he had never run a sizable organization.”

Sources: Parties know desired traits for education commissioner, Topeka Capital Journal, November 28;
Wanted: Schools Chiefs with Zero Experience, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2006; Search is on for Education Leader; Kansas City Star; November 28; Officials: Ed Commish needs experience; Hutchinson News, November 29.

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.

Revising Science Standards Will Take Time

In a demonstration of how long it can take the wheels of bureaucracy to turn, the science standards of the SBOE will change back to an evolution-friendly stance–but not immediately.

While Kansas public schools are likely to get their fifth set of science standards in eight years, the officials who want to ditch the anti-evolution ones now in place aren’t planning to act immediately.”

They say it will take some time to review testimonies and call on experts.

Source: “Returning to Pro-evolution standards could take months,” Wichita Eagle, November 21.

SBOE Flips, Flops, Flips Again

It’s official: the balance of power on the State Board of Education has changed again. Expect the board to take a more critical stance on charter schools.

Make the SBOE an Appointed or Advisory Body?

Political news in Kansas often involves the State Board of Education, so it’s no surprise that it has become an issue in the governor’s race. Kathleen Sebelius called the board “an embarassment” in a debate with her challenger Jim Barnett.

“The governor said the current school board isn’t accountable to taxpayers, parents and business leaders. Its 10 members are elected and pick a commissioner to run the Department of Education.”

(She further tells the editorial board of the Topeka Capitol-Journal: “I think we have a real institutional, structural problem in the state. The elected school board that we have in place doesn’t function in this day and age.”)

Say what you will about the decisions of the state board, but what about the allegation that they are not accountable to taxpayers? Last we checked, each member of the board was elected. Recently, the board has made some decisions that have upset many people, and the composition of the board will change after the general election. The state board of education is at least as accountable to voters as local boards are, if not more so, given their higher profile. In addition, the state board, unlike local boards, has no authority to levy taxes.

What does Barnett say about the board? He would like to make the board have an odd number of members, so as to avoid ties. That seems reasonable. He also supports the idea of electing board members. We’re of no particular position on the question.

Governor Sebelius, on the other hand, proposes increasing the power that the governor’s office has on education. ”

Sebelius has said she will propose a constitutional amendment to allow the governor to appoint a secretary to oversee the Department of Education and make the 10-member board advisory.”

In all, education in the state is far too political. Granted, anytime that public money is spent, political discussions will ensure. But it would be better if more of the responsibility for spending were pushed down to people who have the most at stake in education–children, in the form of their parents and guardians.

The Capitol-Journal offers another rundown on the story, with a review of legislative proposals made concerning the board over the years. Three previous attempts to take power away from the board made it out of committee, only to die in final votes on the floor.