What’s the Point?

The Maryland State Board of Education voted today to lower the barriers of entry in becoming a school superintendent:

The state school board voted Tuesday to allow the appointment of non-educators to superintendent positions.

The new regulation passed despite significant protest by educators across the state, including the association representing local school boards.
Across the nation, it is not unusual for individuals with a track record of success in another field to take the helm of a school system. Most notably, Joel Klein, a lawyer, headed the New York City school district from 2002 to 2010.

The impetus for the change came last year, when members of the board set up a task force to look at creating a new regulation that would allow local school boards to go outside of the usual education circles and find an “exceptional” leader.

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Maryland currently requires its superintendents to have specific academic credentials, as well as teaching and administrative experience.

Now the idea, of course, is one with a whole lot of merit. There is no magical curriculum that qualifies an individual to be a school superintendent. The is no life experience that means that somebody is qualified for the job. There are any number of companies and organizations who have had somebody from outside of the field come in and do a fantastic job in leading an organization and being an agent for change.

The problem though is that the State Board watered down the requirements so much as to make them nearly meaningless;

After considerable opposition from teachers, local school boards and others in the education community, the staff proposed amendments that require any non-traditional candidate to be an interim superintendent for one year. In addition, the candidate must take six credits of graduate course work in public school administration, supervision, and methods of teaching within a year after becoming a superintendent.

Now there are a whole host of problems with the caveats added to the proposal.

  • What leader of change is going to be willing to leave their current job to become the interim superintendent, potentially for only one year?
  • What leader is going to want to be required to take coursework in order to keep the job on a full-time basis?

Those two caveats are poison pills designed to make sure the status quo remains in place, and to continue to limit the potential candidate pool for school superintendents. One of the appeals of expanding the potential pool of superintendents is to bring in potential agents of change to shake up a school system. A dynamic leader may not be somebody who has the degree that the education establishment wants. They may have never been an administrator inside of a school. And they may have never taught in a classroom.

Well, the CEO of Coca-Cola has never bottled a Coke. The CEO of Southwest Airlines has never flown a plane. They seem to be doing OK.

The superintendents we have now? Yes, they may have been teachers. Yes, they may have been administrators. And yes, they may have education degrees. But so have all of the other superintendents who have led Maryland’s struggling public school districts. It isn’t like the credentials that everybody thinks are so precious has worked out in every instance before.

Dallas Dance and Kevin Maxwell were highly credentialed. How’d those guys turn out?

So what’s the benefit to non-educator superintendents? They may be somebody who is an innovator. They may be somebody who is passionate about education and about creating opportunities for kids. And they may be somebody whois willing to break the status quo in order to get results.

That, by the way, is way so many people in the educational establishment are terrified of non-educator superintendents. They fear change, and they fear accountability.

Yes, the Maryland State Board of Education took a positive step forward today in moving closer to an environment that promotes innovation in education. But it was only a half-measure and at this juncture, all we can do is ask what the point was of changing the rule in the manner that they did.


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