Maurer for state schools chief

By Observer Upload May 11, 2010 02:25 pm

We’re deeply interested in the political process, but even we need a double dose of NoDoz to care much about the race for state superintendent of public instruction. As we’ve said on numerous occasions, this shouldn’t be an elected position at all. The office should be filled by gubernatorial appointment.

Try a little pop quiz:

1) Who’s the incumbent? The answer, for those who drew a complete blank, is Susan Castillo, a former state senator who’s completing her second term.


2) Who’s the challenger? The answer is Ron Maurer, a state representative from Grants Pass.

3) When’s the last time Castillo, now in office almost eight years, visited Northeast Oregon? Can’t remember, neither can we.

3) Finally, the truly tough question: Name one — just one — instance over the past eight years in which Castillo has used the bully pulpit provided by her office. Can’t name one, can you?

The fourth question isn’t as arbitrary as it might seem. The only conceivable reason to elect a superintendent of public instruction is to provide a platform for advocacy that might irritate the person who’d otherwise appoint her. Take away the pulpit, and the superintendent of public instruction is largely an elected bureaucrat.

Castillo does have priorities, of course. She supports early education programs, for instance, and greater spending on public schools. But she’d like to stick around for another four years, she told The Bulletin, largely to see through some unfinished business — namely, the full implementation of tougher diploma requirements for high school students.

Re-electing a capable educational bureaucrat isn’t necessarily a terrible thing — unless, of course, you consider the lost opportunity for educational leadership. And, boy, does Oregon need leadership. Look no further than the scoring of the state’s Race to the Top application, which was rated one of the country’s worst. Among the Beaver State’s biggest problems, the reviewers indicated, is its regulatory and labor environment, which is about as conducive to educational innovation as the moon’s atmosphere is to human life.

Maurer doesn’t strike us as much of a tub-thumper, but he does argue that the state’s education superintendent should make greater use of the office’s bully pulpit than Castillo has. Just as importantly, his views on education are a lot closer than Castillo’s to the Obama administration’s reform agenda. Maurer, for instance, believes that teachers should be judged, at least in part, by how much their students learn.

Oregon collects a great deal of data tracking the academic growth of each student, for which Castillo claims some credit. But when The Bulletin asked her whether that data should be used in any way to assess teachers, she dodged the question: “I think that these are the conversations we’re having in Oregon.” And when we pushed on the issue: “I think that I am still trying to figure out whether that’s going to be a useful tool for us.” Her non-answers speak volumes.

Maurer also thinks the state has placed too much emphasis on assessment testing — to the point it’s costing students classroom time.  And he said he believes the state superintendent should be a frequent visitor to schools all around the state. We agree.

If you’d be excited by a federal initiative called “Race to the Status Quo,” be sure and vote for Castillo. Electing Maurer won’t shake the foundations of Oregon’s reactionary education establishment. The office is, after all, a largely bureaucratic position that comes with a modest pulpit, for which reason it should be filled by appointment. But Maurer, a legislator with a doctorate in education, is certainly qualified for the nuts-and-bolts aspects of the job. And to the extent he uses the pulpit, he’s far more likely than Castillo to support the innovative policies that Oregon so badly needs.

It’s time for a change in the state superintendent’s office. Ron Maurer is well suited for the position. Vote Maurer in the May 18 primary election.