Alaska Dispatch News columnist Charles Wohlforth's recent commentary regarding Education Commissioner Mike Hanley's resignation was misleading to such a degree that I feel compelled to set the record straight. Truth matters.
It is natural to be frustrated when something that you feel is unfair happens to a friend. I am grateful to Wohlforth for declaring his bias in that regard. Still, disagreeing with a decision does not give license to misconstrue comments, distort the facts or intimate malicious motives where none existed.
I like Hanley. He is a good man. He has led the Department of Education and Early Development through difficult times and accomplished much in his tenure. That said, there is nothing illegitimate or sinister in transitioning to new leadership if the state Board of Education feels there is a need for such change.
Like Hanley, the board members currently serving are people of integrity. They receive no compensation for their service and are striving to do the right thing for kids. It is unfair to judge a board based on limited information, rumor or personal displeasure with a situation.
Perhaps a little history would be instructive here. When Hanley's predecessor was removed by the previous governor, there was public news coverage decrying his resignation and statements of surprise from board members, including the board chair at that time ("Commissioner's resignation riles education board," Peninsula Clarion, Nov. 29, 2010). State law is clear that the commissioner works for the board subject to approval of the governor (Alaska Statute Sec. 14.07.145). Was that "political interference," to use Wohlforth's words?
In this case, the article intimates there was something inappropriate about the process. There was not. For the governor and the State Board of Education chair, in light of mounting concerns, to jointly request Hanley consider resigning was within proper boundaries of their authority. Ironically, it was handled in this way out of consideration for the commissioner.
Other issues of concern in Wohlforth's commentary:
1. Sen. Mike Dunleavy's frustrations with the commissioner were not the driving force behind the change. Along with other board members, I was aware of them, and certainly consider productive relationships with legislators to be important. Nevertheless, I would not rate that as either the impetus or the main concern.
2. Dunleavy's interest in using public funds for private schools was not a factor in discussions about the change in leadership, for myself or for others to my knowledge. The Alaska Constitution is clear (Article 7, Section 1). The attorney general's opinion is clear.
3. At no time, to my knowledge, has anyone on the board urged the commissioner to violate federal mandates. I explained in some depth to Wohlforth that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act opens the door for stronger advocacy from the Department of Education and Early Development in the rule-making process. I support stepping up efforts to clearly articulate Alaska's interests, nothing more.
4. Regarding the Alaska Measures of Progress exam, in light of inaccuracies in data handling and other issues with the test contractor, the board supported the commissioner's decision to move in a different direction. My statement referred to a survey showing 90 percent of superintendents supported doing away with AMP either this year or next. Considering the test credibility issues, it seems reasonable to pursue permission from the federal government for districts to choose between AMP or other tests in which they have confidence this spring.
Each of the issues listed above was, in my view, distorted in the article to infer impropriety where none existed. For me, the primary reason for a leadership change is the shift in the educational environment and the challenge of meeting high expectations for Alaska's young people.
The environment of public education has changed under the Every Student Succeeds Act, bringing a significant -- and welcome -- shift toward less federal involvement and greater local control. The board's strategic priorities reflect a new, more collaborative approach in working with stakeholders to raise student performance and prepare students for the future. The move to new leadership supports this new direction.
To illustrate, when Commissioner Hanley was hired, the governor at that time identified the candidate.The State Board of Education interviewed the designee and appointed Hanley. In keeping with the change in environment, I am hopeful the process in this instance will be more open and inclusive, including wide application opportunity, input from stakeholders regarding criteria and appropriate selection by the board, subject to the governor's approval, as outlined in statute (AS 14.07.145).
School boards across the state are stepping up to the challenge posed by higher standards and a rapidly changing world. They are too often criticized for their efforts by those with incomplete information, a political ax to grind or single issue focus. Nevertheless, Alaska's future depends on their willingness to be courageous despite the accusations.
Likewise, the Alaska Board of Education is moving toward fulfilling its statutory responsibilities and being conscientious, ethical and visionary in serving Alaska's young people. Thank you for allowing me to share the "rest of the story."
Sue Hull is first vice chair of the Alaska Board of Education.
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