Critics of state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi often claim that she's pushing too much change too fast. We disagree. Frankly, the problem in Oklahoma schools has often been stagnation. The multiple-year phase-in of recent reforms is hardly the government equivalent of an Olympic 40-yard dash.
Still, we'd rather people complain that Oklahoma is focused on improving its school system too fast rather than too little. In West Virginia, the state board of education recently fired state Superintendent Jorea Marple, citing West Virginia students' below-average performance on national standardized tests and concerns about the department's willingness to make improvements under Marple's leadership.
That change comes even as West Virginia officials consider a recent education-system audit that identified up to $90 million in potential savings and suggested the money could instead be used for school modernization and reform measures.
The West Virginia firing has its share of political complications — the state board of education is accused of violating open-meeting laws during the process and Marple (whose husband is West Virginia's outgoing state attorney general) has sued to get her job back.
In Oklahoma, voters will decide Barresi's job status in two years. As citizens consider Barresi's record and her critics' complaints, it's worth noting that although many Oklahoma officials decry poor student performance, few actually advance meaningful initiatives to improve schools. In the rare instances reforms are enacted, they are often subsequently rolled back before implementation. For example, graduation tests were included in 1990's House Bill 1017 law but not implemented until 2012. Barresi's strong support helped finally make that goal a reality.
Oklahoma is fortunate to have a state superintendent accused of being too hard-charging because she's getting things done. Better that than a state superintendent like West Virginia's, accused of doing little to benefit students, yet earning praise from her state teachers' union.