New York Times: Christie Seeks Leeway in Hiring Schools Chiefs
The same week that Cathleen Black assumed the Chancellorship of New York schools, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started advocating for relaxed requirements for superintendents of his low-performing school systems. Let’s take a look at what changes he wants.
Under the current system, you need a master’s degree, a 150-hour graduate internship in educational leadership, and a passing score on a superintendent’s assessment (among other things) to run a school system in New Jersey. Christie wants to lower the minimum degree to a bachelor’s and get rid of these other things in favor of having the state education commissioner evaluate a candidate’s work experience and determine whether it is sufficient/distinguished enough to indicate strong potential for leadership in a school system.
I think the only part of this that I question is the lowering of the education requirement, but even then – people like Bill Gates never finished college. You don’t need a Ph.D. to run a school system, and having one does not guarantee you would be successful. Indeed, the current requirements to be a superintendent in New Jersey remind me of traditional requirements to be a teacher: student teaching plus passing scores on the Praxis or other teaching exam. Given the obscene number of bad teachers we have teaching our neediest students, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that traditional requirements do NOTHING to guarantee professional success. I’m inclined to say the same is true for superintendents.
I wonder how the state education commissioner will evaluate a candidate’s prior work experience. Let’s take Michelle Rhee, for instance. She taught for three years in Baltimore, then went back to grad school at Harvard (in public policy) before founding the New Teacher Project, which recruits and places teachers in a way similar to Teach For America. To me, this proves at least that she knows about education reform – sure, she never ran a school, but she showed extraordinarily proactive leadership in establishing a new organization to help solve a major problem, and there was no reason to expect that she would not exercise that same problem-solving mentality as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.
What about Joel Klein? He was a Harvard-educated lawyer who clerked for the Supreme Court, worked in private practice, and spent his last several years before leading New York City schools as a counsel for Bill Clinton’s White House and Assistant Attorney General for antitrust. His only major connection to education or to New York was that he grew up there and graduated from a public high school in Queens. Did he do a good job as Chancellor? Yes.
There’s no magic formula here. Relaxing requirements per Christie’s recommendations isn’t a guarantee of successful leadership either, but “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome”. We can’t afford to wait any longer to fix schools. If the leadership pipeline isn’t producing effective leaders, we need a new one.