Education Opinion

Help Wanted: Qualified Secretary of Education

By Megan M. Allen — January 25, 2017 5 min read
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I dug up a bunch of job qualifications for different education jobs earlier this week, and didn’t find any job in education that seemed to fit nominee for secretary of education Betsy DeVos. I also wasn’t completely happy with what I found on the U.S. Ed website as far as job responsibilities.

My suggestion: We need to tighten that up. Firm up what the bare minimum should be for someone to qualify for the job. What’s the threshold? What experience is needed? What are the skills, knowledge, and dispositions that are needed to at least be considered for the job of running public education in our country?

So I begin to unpack it. It’s just a start, but I’d love to create a job description that some day, some how, might be used as a baseline to pick this important appointee. They have the WHOLE world of education in the United States in their hands. That impacts every person with children. We deserve to be a little picky and have high expectations.

As you read this, I know you will see the job posting and think it seems long. I know it seems lofty. The job seems impossible. But you know what? We need the best of the best, someone who can accomplish this list and more, to lead education in our country. I know they are out there. I have high expectations, and I do think what I am asking is reasonable. Our kids count on it.

Here’s what we’re starting with, from the Ed.Gov website. Under mission and responsibilities:

The mission of the Department of Education is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation.

Side note: MAJOR side note unless I am missing something: There seem to be no responsibilities listed. Just a mission. Vague. This would be a great place to dig in and start...does this need to be proposed in legislation? How might we go about suggesting changes?

The secretary is responsible for the overall direction, supervision, and coordination of all activities of the Department and is the principal adviser to the President on Federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States. The Secretary serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Department under the President’s Memorandum of July 11, 2001.

So here is the beginning of my own list.

Job responsibilities:

  • Uphold the mission of the Department of Education, to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation.
  • Believe in and have experience in ensuring equal access to education and promoting educational excellence for ALL children throughout the nation.
  • Believe that in public education, all things are possible. And that no matter a student’s race, culture, background, SES, gender identify, sexual orientation, dialect, zip code, or anything else, they are ensured a safe place to learn, grow, and thrive.
  • Work with all stakeholders to create policies that improve public education for all children. These stakeholders include but are not limited to: Teachers, school staff, administrators, parents, education researchers.
  • To be the face and voice for public education, leading transformational change that will support learning for students and adults.
  • Support the employees in all 50 states and territories, realizing that morale, professional culture, and student success all work hand-in-hand.
  • Collaborate with education stakeholders to help all public education employees work towards a united vision of education in the United States (do we even have a united vision of what education is or should be? I don’t think so...another great starting place).
  • Ensure that every child has access to a great education, regardless of race, culture, background, socio-economic status, or other factors that could impact a child’s access to an equitable education.
  • Help support states in their education work and ensure that every state is meeting the high expectations and dreams of every child and family.
  • To be a trusted source and expert voice to the president, helping ensure that our American education system is growing stronger.
  • Engage in learning in every step of the job, knowing that education is constantly evolving and bright spots can be found in many places around the country and world.

Experience, training, and education:

  • At least 8 years teaching experience (expertise would be developed?)
  • At least 15 years in public education
  • Teaching certificate
  • National Board Certification
  • English Language Learners endorsement
  • Experience working with students with special needs and English language learners (and a deep background and training in the law around both)
  • Preferred but not essential: Experience working as a substitute teacher, a paraprofessional, or in some support staff role
  • Undergraduate degree in education
  • Graduate or terminal degree in education and/or education leadership
  • Experience in leadership of complex (disfunctional) teams
  • Experience working in positions dealing with policy matters and issues
  • Experience listening to various perspectives and building consensus with varied groups on sensitive political issues
  • Experience in advocacy and working with people from all political beliefs
  • Experience implementing successful change

Essential Knowledge Needed:

  • A working knowledge of education systems at every level
  • A deep knowledge of the policy and laws impacting the work of education at the federal, state, and local level
  • A knowledge of the history of education in the United States (how do you know where we want to go when you don’t know where we’ve been?)
  • A deep knowledge and understanding of the best practices in learning, teaching, and education, including the systems and supports needed in order implement and to make those best practices survive
  • A knowledge of the education landscape in the United States, including the players who impact education
  • Knowldege of servant leadership and other leadership styles that are integral to successful running and growing an organization of employees in about 100,000 schools and 50.4 million students

Essential Skills Needed:

  • Demonstrate patience, tact and professionalism in dealing with all stakeholders
  • Possess a deep understanding of education concepts and practices
  • Ability to establish and sustain rapport with all stakeholders
  • Ability to work as part of a team; flexibility
  • Organizational skills and effective communication skills
  • Ability to apply research and organizational leadership skills
  • Create a positive, informed and collaborative climate for collegial teaching and learning.
  • Demonstrate respect for existing program strengths and have a commitment to support and build upon those strengths.
  • Facilitate constructive change.
  • Plan for, model, and encourage collaboration and shared decision-making.
  • Be comfortable leading conversations around instructional leadership and change
  • Active listening
  • Ability to surround one’s self with experts from varying background and opions
  • Abiilty to work in a high pressure environment
  • Ability to get jobs done with grace and humor

At least 100 letters of recommendation from happy former students, parents, and teachers in the schools that you served.

That’s the beginning of my list, as completed on one train ride. But it continues to grow.

What would you add?

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.