Bush To Create Education Post In White House

By Julie A. Miller — April 12, 1989 4 min read
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President Bush is on the verge of naming a full-time adviser on education to his White House staff, Education Week has learned.

The White House appointment will be unprecedented for education, political analysts said, reflecting a dramatic rise in the issue’s national prominence.

John E. Chubb, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, confirmed last week that he had accepted the job.

Roger B. Porter, assistant to the President for economic and domestic policy, said that he had interviewed candidates for the new position and that Mr. Bush would soon announce an appointment. Mr. Porter would not comment further on the new post.

“There’s really no precedent for it,” Mr. Chubb said. “What’s happened is that Bush has made education a top priority, and Presidents have people in fields important to them to provide advice and be a check on the departments.”

Mr. Chubb, who said last year that he had “voted Democratic more often than Republican,” joined Brookings, an established Washington think tank, in 1984.

He was previously an assistant professor of political science and the associate director of public policy at Stanford University. Mr. Chubb is best known in education circles for his support of parental choice in public schools, an idea Mr. Bush has also espoused.

Mr. Chubb said his role would be to advise the President, represent his views, and do battle with the federal bureaucracy where its interests conflict with the President’s--a role he acknowledged might result in conflicts with the Education Department.

“The basic reason to have an expert in a policy area is to represent the President’s view and provide a counterpoint to the views of the department,” he said. “Some Presidents say they will run a Cabinet government, that Cabinet members will have key input on issues, but it never works out that way. ... The White House ends up making key policy decisions.”

“It’s never happened with education, because it’s never been important enough for the White House to wrest control from the department,” Mr. Chubb said. “But education is important to this President.”

Observers agreed with Mr. Chubb’s assertion that appointing a White House adviser to deal strictly with education issues is a new idea.

“It’s significant only if the President meets with him, listens to him, and does something about what he says,” said Douglass Cater, who described himself as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “man on education,” though not strictly an education adviser, while serving as special assistant to the President from 1964 to 1968. Mr. Cater is now president of Maryland’s Washington College.

Mr. Chubb bases his advocacy of choice on a study of American high schools that were included in the government’s longitudinal “High School and Beyond” survey. He and Terry M. Moe, an associate professor of political science at Stanford, surveyed teachers and administrators at 500 of the schools about their organization and leadership.

The two scholars have published several papers based on the study, and will soon detail their findings more extensively in a book titled What Price Democracy? Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools.

“My basic point is that if you are going to improve schools, you have to provide autonomy,” Mr. Chubb said last fall at the New England Education Summit, held at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

“There is no way to provide autonomy and maintain accountability without moving to a different accountability system, and that accountability system is a system of competition and choice,” he said.

Mr. Chubb concluded from his study that the most important factor successful schools have in common is autonomy--the concentration of decisionmaking power at the school level. Autonomous schools tend to have principals who are strong leaders, teachers who are part of a team that supports a common school mission, and parents who are involved with the school, he says.

Private schools are more likely to resemble this model, according to Mr. Chubb, because they are held accountable by a marketplace in which parents will pull their children out if they are dissatisfied, rather than by superintendents, school boards, and state legislatures subject to political pressure.

“Democratic” control makes autonomy impossible, Mr. Chubb contends, and thus must be replaced by another type of accountability if reform is to take place.

Several members of the President’s Commission on Privatization, which recommended last year that the federal government encourage school choice, specifically said they found Mr. Chubb’s testimony persuasive. He also spoke at a recent White House conference on choice.

He earned a bachelor’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis and a doctorate at the University of Minnesota, both in political science.

While at Stanford, he wrote Interest Groups and the Bureaucracy: The Politics of Energy. More recently, he edited two books with Paul E. Peterson: The New Direction in American Politics and Can the Government Govern?

A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 1989 edition of Education Week as Bush To Create Education Post In White House

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