The job's (Secretary of Education) been vacant since Dec. 15, when Alan Bersin left after barely more than 16 months. Three able people have been asked or sounded out about replacing him; none was interested because, as one education official put it, "it's a crappy job." Although California spends nearly half its budget on education, the governor seems barely interested in how it's spent or in education policy generally.
We have an Acting Secretary of Education, Scott Himelstein. I've met him, and while I haven't seen into his soul, he struck me as a good man with a command of both education and politics.
This opinion piece from the major Sacramento newspaper continues:
That (lack of collective knowledge of education policy) has led to a series of blunders in recent years, the most obvious being last year's act by the Legislature to punish the State Board of Education -- the governor's board -- by cutting all funding for its staff.
When the blunders get serious enough, as they did when the whole state accountability system was under attack, also last year, and two former governors issued a public warning to Schwarzenegger, he parachutes in with reassurances. Something similar happened in 2004 when the staff director of the State Board of Education resigned and two members of the board threatened to quit.
But there seems to be no strong capacity in the governor's shop to track or develop expertise in long-term education policy issues.
After a lengthy diversion about a series of soon-to-be-released studies about school financing, the article concludes:
That brings us back to the question of leadership. California badly needs the capacity in the governor's office to oversee what will almost necessarily have to be increased spending on schools and protect California's high academic standards. But that will require both the people to do the job and, more important, the interest.
I'm not convinced that the governor demonstrates a lack of interest in education, but neither does education seem to merit as much of his attention as something that consumes half the state budget should garner. He was no doubt bruised by the November 2005 special election, which also gave a boost to the California Teachers Association, one of several unions that fought against the governor's initiatives. That, however, explains, but doesn't excuse, the governor's apparent lack of involvement.
What is it, you might wonder, that I expect of the governor? First, he has stated that he supports California's high academic standards; I expect that he'll continue to nominate exceptional people (Reed Hastings, for example) to the State Board of Education. Second, I expect him to be a vigorous supporter of the state content standards, and to shame anyone that dares try to weaken them (Jackie Goldberg) as not doing what's best for children. Additionally, he should be proactive about these, not wait until an issue arises before he gets involved. Governor Schwarzenegger needs to lead from the front, to identify his educational agenda publicly and push to have it enacted. I honestly don't know what the governor's education agenda is, although I'm sure I could find it with a few minutes on a search engine.
But that's just the point, isn't it? I'm a teacher, in a school not a dozen miles from the governor's office in the Capitol. If anyone not in the governor's circle should know what his agenda is, I should. But I don't.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. At least, I hope that's the failure, and not a lack of interest.