News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

January 10, 2001 5 min read
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Nevada Selects Californian
To Be State Superintendent

The superintendent of schools in Berkeley, Calif., will become Nevada’s state schools chief on Feb. 1.

The state board of education chose Jack McLaughlin last month as its new superintendent of public instruction, a post in which he will be responsible for the education of the 310,00 students in Nevada’s 17 school districts. He replaces Mary L. Peterson, who retired Dec. 31 after six years in the job.

“It was time for a new challenge, and the idea of being responsible for a whole state appealed to me,” Mr. McLaughlin said from his home in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Mr. Laughlin, 59, has been a superintendent in California for 26 years, most recently in the 9,500-student Berkeley district. Before joining that system in 1994, he led the schools in Hemet and Sunnyvale. In 1999, the Association of California School Administrators named him its superintendent of the year.

“I’m excited” about the appointment of Mr. Laughlin, said Jan Biggerstaff, a member of the Nevada state board. “He seems to be forward-thinking, ambitious, and energetic. He’s going to do a good job here.”

—Catherine Gewertz

Calif. Education Secretary Named

Gov. Gray Davis of California has appointed a new secretary of education, tapping former state Assemblywoman Kerry L. Mazzoni to serve as his top education adviser and lobbyist.

The post had been filled by two different interim appointees for most of last year, following former state Sen. Gary Hart’s resignation from the post last February after just one year of service.

Ms. Mazzoni, a Democrat who was prevented by state term limits from running for re-election to the Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, had represented all of Marin County and part of Sonoma County from 1994 to 2000. She had served as the chairwoman of the Assembly’s education committee since 1997. Before her election to the legislature, she was a school board member in the 7,800-student Novato Unified School District for seven years.

“Kerry Mazzoni was a driving force for education during her tenure in the legislature,” Gov. Davis, a Democrat, said in a statement announcing the appointment. “Now she brings invaluable experience to further my administration’s efforts to improve California schools.”

Although considered a top official in the governor’s Cabinet, the secretary of education has different responsibilities from those of the superintendent of public instruction—an independently elected state official, currently Delaine Eastin, who is responsible for running the state education department.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Governance Changes Urged in S.C.

South Carolina should replace its elected state superintendent of schools with an appointed official, and pass a law ensuring that all school boards have full authority to set their own budgets without the approval of county officials, a panel of state leaders recommends.

The Education Oversight Committee, an appointed council that governs the state agency charged with managing the state’s 1998 education accountability law, asked a group of business leaders, educators, and school board members to suggest changes in the way South Carolina governs its schools.

In its report, the group called on the legislature to replace the current post of elected state superintendent with a Cabinet-level secretary of education appointed by the governor.

Also, the panel called on lawmakers to give fiscal autonomy to all of the state’s local school boards. As it stands now, some boards must seek county-level approval of their requests for public funds.

County-level oversight has forced some districts to limit spending to the minimum allowed by state law, which has inhibited efforts that might improve local schools, the panel found.

The Education Oversight Committee is expected this month to vote on whether to submit recommendations to the legislature for review and possible action.

— Alan Richard

Minn. Test-Score Errors Examined

In light of a scoring error that incorrectly assigned failing grades to almost 8,000 students taking Minnesota’s mathematics assessment last spring, an advisory group created by the legislature has cited an immediate need for new quality-control measures in the state’s education department.

The Office of Educational Accountability, in its third annual report on the status of K-12 education in the state, recommended that the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning no longer depend on National Computer Systems Inc. to check the test-scoring work the company does for the state.

“The experience of last spring clearly indicates that CFL cannot rely solely on the test contractor to ensure the accuracy of results,” says the report, which was released last month. “Therefore, the department will need to implement a number of steps to check the work of the contractor.”

A similar recommendation was made by the contractor itself shortly after the scoring error came to light, with company officials suggesting internal quality-control measures in the education department might have caught the scoring error and prevented the problems that ensued. (“Minn. Extends Testing Contract Despite Scoring Mistakes,” Sept. 6, 2000.)

The mistake, which initially barred some 50 seniors from graduating, effectively delayed the addition of other assessments for high school students, leaving writing as the only achievement test administered in those grades under Minnesota’s accountability system, according to the accountability office.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

S.C. Board OKs Licensing Changes

Middle school teachers in South Carolina will be required for the first time to have credentials and training that are specific to the grades and subjects they teach, beginning next year.

The state board of education approved the plan to require the new credentials last month. Under the system that is now being phased out, teachers in the middle grades are typically certified for either the elementary or secondary grades.

Adoption of the plan followed legislation passed last year directing the board to set new certification requirements for middle school teachers. That legislation was based in part on recommendations by a task force on the middle grades appointed by Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat.

The new credentialing system approved by the board must now be ratified by the legislature.

The changes will require education schools in the state to adjust by creating degrees specifically for middle-level teachers and administrators.

—Alan Richard

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2001 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup


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