Saturday, November 28, 2015

Who should be the next Commissioner of Education?

With the impending retirement of Commissioner Michael Williams in January, 2016, much has been written about the qualifications and experience of the individual who will be named by Governor Abbott as the Commissioner.  A number of school boards have recently weighed in on this consideration and offered their views of what the Governor should look for.  In a recent article, Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune offered a number of names for consideration and did a nice job of noting the complications associated with each group of potential appointees.

Let's take a look at how each of those groups (no mention here of individual names within each category) might fit the position.  And, by the way, the intent here is not to advocate for one over the other.  But there clearly is one group that has little interest in furthering the cause of public education, namely the reform champion group.  In fact, the so-called reform champion would run counter to the need for leadership that will build on the successes being achieved within our public schools.  It's time we recognize the successes and use these as a platform on which to build success and opportunity, not change for the sake of change.

The school administrator group of potential appointees has a similar challenge in that they might be viewed as being somewhat biased in their views on public education and not open to discussion to address the needs of public education as a whole.  Ms. Smith's article does highlight candidates who have repeatedly demonstrated the "big picture" thinking that should certainly be a requirement for this position.

Gov. Abbott has sought the support of the home-schoolers, business-oriented accountability groups, charter school advocates, and voucher proponents.  While each of these interest groups might be, much like the perception of the school administrator group, somewhat myopic in how they view public education, there also likely are individuals who can see the "big picture" and thus should be considered.

Viewing this from my position as a former school board trustee, the politico group represents those who might have the best understanding of the various education alternatives and, more importantly, the ability to make it all work in Austin.  They will likely be the individuals who can most quickly build bridges across the various stakeholder groups. However, this group will largely not have the education-specific experience sought by the resolutions approved by a number of districts.    In my mind, that does not preclude consideration; their qualifications for this position should be viewed in the context of their commitment and actions toward furthering public education for over 5.2 million public education students.

So where does that leave us?  Without question, the approved resolutions are well-intentioned and well thought through.  But I believe that there is an opportunity to find a highly qualified individual who does not necessarily have all of the qualifications outlined in the resolutions.  Hopefully, these resolutions provide a perspective to the Governor that will highlight how trustees view the importance of the position of TEA Commissioner and help him have a balanced perspective on how to approach this important appointment.

This is is an important time for public education as the student population grows, accountability and assessment continue to be debated, and a ruling on the school finance lawsuit is pending from the Texas Supreme Court.  If, as many anticipate, the Court remands the lawsuit back to the District Court, there will be significant delays in a ruling.

The incoming Commissioner will have a major challenge in managing the myriad of issues.  Whether the individual has classroom and campus administration experience is less important to me than the demonstrated willingness and ability of the nominated individual to be able to work across stakeholder groups who each have their own set of interests.  Ultimately, there should be only one goal - who can best lead an organization that addresses the needs of all Texas public education students?

To read Morgan Smith's article, please go to

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