Archive for Thursday, October 13, 2005

Superintendents quiz education commissioner

October 13, 2005


— New Education Commissioner Bob Corkins on Wednesday tried to ease fears among Kansas school superintendents about his conservative activism and lack of experience.

But after failing to answer basic questions and repeatedly voicing support for "choice and competition" in public schools, some superintendents were not pleased.

"I was real disappointed that he doesn't seem prepared for the job," said Wichita school Supt. Winston Brooks.

More than 60 school district leaders from across the state met with Corkins as part of the monthly meeting of the Council of Superintendents.

Corkins, 44, of Lawrence, was picked by the conservative majority on the State Board of Education to become education commissioner at a salary of $140,000 per year.

The appointment has caused shock waves in Kansas politics.

Questions, answers

The position has traditionally been held by someone with experience in the education profession. Corkins, however, has no background in education nor in managing a large number of employees. He also supports school vouchers and has been lobbying against increased school funding during the past several years in one of the most divisive debates in the state.

Earlier this year before the Kansas Supreme Court, Corkins filed a legal brief on behalf of an anti-tax group, arguing against increased funding for schools, citing inefficiencies in school operations.

At Wednesday's meeting, Brooks, the leader of the largest school district in Kansas with 49,000 students, asked Corkins to specify what inefficiencies he meant.

Corkins said he had no specifics, but said the public school system is "a virtual monopoly not subject to natural market motivations."

Brooks said later: "That really concerns me that somebody would be filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court based on perceptions with really no data to support it. I think that is kind of scary."

Other issues

Corkins said he thought charter schools might be a viable option for helping at-risk students, but under questioning from Brooks, Corkins said he wasn't aware of any in the nation that specifically targeted children in poverty.

Corkins was asked whether he thought all-day kindergarten was a good idea, and he said he didn't know but would defer to experts in the field.

But Corkins told the superintendents that although he had a nontraditional background, he had valuable experience as a lawyer and researcher.

"None of this should cause any angst," he said.

He echoed Education Board Chairman Steve Abrams' remarks that the state should consider exempting itself from the federal No Child Left Behind law, saying the administrative burdens of the law are too much.

As superintendents questioned him about what he wanted to do, at one point Corkins said, "I didn't think this was all going to be about me. I want to hear your concerns."

One superintendent said loudly, "These are our concerns."

Corkins said he planned to assemble a voluntary team to advise him and noted that he needs to find a communications director. The current director, Kathy Toelkes, announced this week she was leaving the education department at the end of the month.


Richard Heckler 12 years, 7 months ago

Bob Corkins has a long way to go. Stating public schools are a monopoly and not subject to natural market motivativations is absolutely correct. Public schools were designed to educate the nations children not compete in the retail world. Sounds like he has been talking to the Walton's of Wal-Mart who are willing spend money pushing for vouchers.

Bob Corkins does not like big government but like Brownback and Ryun is willing to accept tax dollars for wages and medical insurance. He is willing to accept a job for which he is not qualified. This man is neither republican nor a conservative...appears to be a Bush Type neo-con.

He does not support more dollars for public education yet my speculation tells me he would support a tax hike if a voucher program were implemented. Vouchers will be a form of corporate welfare for a private school chain. Vouchers are neither a money saving venture nor a guaranteed education. CHECK a nation wide right wing christian homeschool program would love to receive voucher funds although oppose government involvement in education.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 7 months ago

"Vouchers are a pernicious, steal-from-the-poor-and-give-to-the-rich scheme. They take money from our public school students, give it instead to private schools, and abandon many of our children in the process" - NAACP executive director Kweisi Mfume

"The privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable industry." - Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman like the Waltons and some members of the Koch family are quite active in pursuing vouchers for this private school industry. The Christain Coalition is also an active pusher.

Kookamooka 12 years, 7 months ago

My son wen to a private school and recieved a terrible education. They educate the mainstream, middle of the road kid who fits directly into the "average". If your child has a speech impediment or is intellectually gifted, the private schools are NOT the places to send them. They will, and often, do, get left behind. I was dissapointed in the education he received. Private schools are great for xenophobic parents but really limit the exposure children have to creative and inspired teachers. "Class open your book to page 400 and lets begin reading aloud together.....drone, drone, drone."

bobi 12 years, 7 months ago


I don't know what private school your child attended, but I find it to be quite the opposite. My children are currently in a private school. This is the best place for them to be. The school does as it pleases, educates as it pleases, and does not answer to politicians who control the spending. That's the whole idea...get it?

John1945 12 years, 7 months ago

Private schools, far from get rich quick schemes are often run on a shoestring budget by people who are correctly terrified of putting their kids in government schools where the kooks from the KNEA and leftist administrators continue to transform them into America-hating child abuse centers.

The vast majority of the parents are working and middle-class folks who don't want their children indoctrinated with the trash the educrats are trying to cram down their throats, or taught by union thugs whose only concern is the size of their paycheck and how much work they don't have to do.

bobi 12 years, 7 months ago

John 1945:

Right on! I applaud your honesty. You have hit it right on the nail. Our school does operate on a tight budget, and it is very difficult to pay the tuitions. I do however feel it is worth the benefits.

John1945 12 years, 7 months ago

The real distinction between private schools and public schools is that the private schools fire the duds who can't teach, and throw out the punks who don't want to learn.

If you want to clean up government schools, they need to do the same. Unfortunately, the teachers unions protect the duds and the libs reward the punks who refuse to learn with an endless parade of useless programs that pay them to be morons.

If you give someone a shot at a free education and they don't take it, society owes them nothing and they should be removed from the schools so they don't ruin someone else's chance to get a decent education. As long as they know there's and endless list of programs to get their 2nd through 200th chances, they'll continue to screw around in school.

Kodiac 12 years, 7 months ago

John1945 I am curious as to why you indicate that "Private schools, far from get rich quick schemes are often run on a shoestring budget". While you are correct for some of the private schools, the statement itself does not correlate to anything being discussed above. There is no mention of a "get rich quick scheme". What is being said though is that vouchers does take money away from families with lower incomes and benefits families who can afford to send their child to private schools.

As far as your other negative comments, it is clear you are still trying to inflame rather than offer constructive criticism. They only give an indication of how little you know and the size of your ego.

lunacydetector 12 years, 7 months ago

private schools have higher test scores. they are run on a shoestring. that means money is not the cure all people are indoctrinated to believe.

John1945 12 years, 7 months ago

Kodiac, your ad hominem simply indicates the weakness of the arguments in support of government schools.

The vast majority of students in private schools are from working and middle-class families and Merrill's comments (although I can see why you'd ignore them) suggest that private schools are some great corporate scam.

The big lie from the government school establishment is that vouchers hurt the poor. No, crappy government schools hurt the poor.

With vouchers, the poor can send their kids to a decent school where they can get a decent education far away from the union duds and punks who refuse to learn. If vouchers cause lousy schools to fail, good! Either they'll clean up their act, or the kids will go someplace where they can get an education.

Isn't that what you want for your kids? Then why would you deny it to the poor? Simply because you don't want them to go to school with your kids? You're not a racist are you?

Richard Heckler 12 years, 7 months ago

John 1945,

How do you know the corporate minds behind vouchers are not a get rich quick scheme? After all corporations are generally "bottom line" enterprises. Milton Friedman more or less implies such and he's been very active in the voucher movement.

John1945 12 years, 7 months ago


I've seen the "private" schools you're so worried about, and I know their budget problems because I've worked to help raise money so they can keep the doors open.

I've seen kids get part-time jobs so they can help their parents pay their tuitution so they don't have to go back into your government child abuse centers.

But thank you for pointing out that I had not mis-stated your argument. This isn't England and the vouchers we're trying to get aren't to send some rich guy's brats to Eton. We just want to get them out of your hellholes.

If you're so worried about their impact on the poor, let's start a pilot program that provides vouchers only to those below the poverty line (incidentally, this has already been proposed, but the government school and teachers union racists have opposed them).

Jamesaust 12 years, 7 months ago

My problem lies less with some of the ideas than it does with the man trying to implement them. Clearly, he's not qualified for the job and will no doubt fail. What's worrisome for those who want to disrupt a calcified, unaccountable education system is that his failure will tarnish the effort.

That public schools are "a virtual monopoly not subject to natural market motivations" is pretty much beyond dispute. So are: courts, jails, emergency rooms, the legal bar, the military, etc. Where the opportunity lies is that public schools are much less inherently monopolistic than most government monopolies.

Corkins does not need to identify any inefficiences. He needs to give power into the hands of the decisionmakers (parents) and let them, collectively, identify which providers (schools) are inefficient. Look: the Moon Bar recently went under in Lawrence. I don't need to know what their inefficiences were as opposed to any of the many other bars that have been operating forever. I don't need to know if petroleum is more efficient than natural gas, I just need to most reliable, least expensive choice. Nor do I need an expert to tell me that Addidas is better than Nike (or vica versa), although I may choose to pay an expert to recommend one course of action over another.

Running centralized but unaccountable schools as if this were the Soviet Union doesn't (indeed, cannot) work. Running decentralized but unaccountable schools is even worse. (How is it that American higher education - virtually beyond dispute as the best system in the world - does not have a centralized, one-size-fits-all model?) Unfortunately, instituting an accountable school system is probably too great a task for this inadequate man.

John1945 12 years, 7 months ago

He has not failed yet, and what would a reformer look like, if not outside the sysytem to begin with?

I suspect his beginnings will be bumpy, but give him the credit for at least having the courage to try. That's more than the collection of twits he spoke to have.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 7 months ago

John 1945,

You have not seen the schools I am so worried about for they are not in existence. More private schools will be necessary should a voucher system become real if the demand is so great. I question whether or not that demand has been fabricated as there are many many parents who could as of now place their children into private schools but have not.

All that I 've read states that vouchers will be made available to all regardless of economic background. I contend corporate america has a profit motive driving this issue.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 7 months ago

If anyone wants some background on Bob Corkins plug his name into google and start following the trails.

Densmore 12 years, 7 months ago

John-I am not sure what a reformer would look like, but I would be more comfortable with someone who has had significant administrative experience in industry, education, or government, as opposed to being a political activist/one-man "think tank."

John1945 12 years, 7 months ago

Posted by Densmore (anonymous) on October 13, 2005 at 2:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

John-I am not sure what a reformer would look like, but I would be more comfortable with someone who has had significant administrative experience in industry, education, or government, as opposed to being a political activist/one-man "think tank."

Fair critiques, and I understand the skepticism, but I personally am glad that he's at least not a part of the education establishment. That alone gives him a leg up in my mind.

John1945 12 years, 7 months ago

"All that I 've read states that vouchers will be made available to all regardless of economic background. I contend corporate america has a profit motive driving this issue."

Funny thing about profit and competition, they tend to make things better, not worse. If you're doing your job, competition shouldn't be a problem.

Presently, you have schools that are being run on pennies producing results that are vastly superior to what the government schools are doing with billions.

Kids were better off in one room shacks that at least taught them responsibility and the basics of education instead of some perverse, morally depraved, leftist political agenda.

The only good news is that the people promoting this are such losers that they don't know how to teach either.

windex 12 years, 7 months ago

I don't understand how it would be wise to spend public monies, collected from taxpayers, on private schools. Where's the accountability to the public, whose money would be spent? It seems to me that the potential for abuse would be huge. I don't see the local private schools having to publish their test scores in the paper, and I'm not convinced, all else being equal, that they do a better job.

james bush 12 years, 7 months ago

This article is factually questionable and obviously written with bias against Corkin---" experience...managing a large number of employees." Does Corkin have hiring and firing authority? He's been hired! Stop the whining and observe!

james bush 12 years, 7 months ago

PS--- The only drawback I see in his qualifications is his being a lawyer---he does have that shortcoming.

MyName 12 years, 7 months ago

Right, you can either believe all of the worthless vitriolic BS that people like Johnny boy are spouting, and go with a voucher system, or you can believe the truth: that vouchers are a dead end and only some kind of a moron would view them as this panacea for our state's education system.

What I really love is how Johnny boy talks about how "ad hominem attacks" indicate "weak arguments", when most of his arguments for vouchers consist of ad hominem attacks on teachers! Or should I say the "union duds" that "infest" our schools.

I don't believe any of the anti-teacher anti-union crap you've been spewing, but my question to you voucher people is this: if teachers are unionized under the current system, what is to prevent them from being unionized under a voucher system?

MyName 12 years, 7 months ago

And let's not forget this pseudo-economic BS about how these "government monopolies" are "full of inefficiencies" and competition is our only saviour.

First, where are your numbers to back up this BS argument? The electric company is a monopoly, the cable company is a monopoly, the fire department is a monopoly, the police department is a monopoly. And they're all unionized too! Do you want to deregulate the Lawrence PD?

And even if you're right about the ineffiencies, why should we believe that vouchers are any better? Profit and competition may make things better in the free market, but that is rarely the case when gov't money is involved.

MyName 12 years, 7 months ago

I don't see how anyone with a working brain can still carry water for these conservative BOE members. Hiring this Corkins joker is just the latest in a long string of stupid blunders. Guys like these would make Eisenhower vote democrat.

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