Tallying the Tenure and Policy Experience of Key State Education Leaders

By Daarel Burnette II — February 16, 2017 2 min read
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Amid all the scrutiny of recently confirmed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, our library and I examined the tenure and education policy experience state superintendents and those who head up the education committees in state legislatures. These are the folks who, in concept at least, may end up having more power than DeVos this year to shape education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Here’s what we found.

From my story:

At a pivotal time for state education policy, half the nation’s state legislatures have at least one new education committee chairperson this year, and a quarter of state schools chiefs are less than a year into the job, according to an Education Week analysis.

This year’s large freshman class of key education policymakers has advocates and district leaders on edge as state leaders scramble to finalize the accountability plans due by next fall under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

And that trend continues. On Wednesday, New Hampshire’s Executive Council (a special elected panel that oversees the gubernatorial appointments in that state and some of the governor’s purchases) voted along party lines to confirm Frank Edelblut as the Granite State’s new education commissioner.

Edelblut lost in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary to Gov. Chris Sununu and was targeted during his confirmation hearings by teachers’ union members and others for not having any classroom experience. He has previously advocated for the expansion of the state’s charter school sector, and for the use of vouchers and online learning. He said during his confirmation hearing that he has no intention of undermining public schools and will only implement policies set by the board of education, according to the Associated Press.

Opponents had shown up in force at his hearings, wearing green buttons and signs that read, “Nice guy, no experience.”

Here are some more of the findings we gathered on state chiefs and legislators, including from state politicians’ campaign pages and Ballotpedia.

Here’s their website:

  • The longest-serving state legislators who are chairs of their state’s education committees are (it’s a tie) state Sen. John Courson, a Republican and the vice president of an insurance company who chairs South Carolina’s senate education committee, and New York Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, a career politician, Democrat, and parent. Both were elected in 1985.
  • The most recently elected education chairman is Kenny Mann, a former school board member and a Republican who was elected last year and who now chairs West Virginia’s Senate education committee.
  • The oldest education chairman is Georgia Republican state Sen. Brooks Coleman, 77, a former teacher, principal, curriculum director, and assistant superintendent in Gwinnett County schools, a suburb of Atlanta.
  • The youngest education chairman is Washington’s Republican state Sen. Hans Zeiger, a writer and National Guardsman who is 31.
  • The longest-serving state superintendent is Massachusetts Mitchell D. Chester, who has served as a teacher, administrator and principal and appointed by the board in 2008.
  • The newest superintendent is now Edelblut, in New Hampshire.
  • The average tenure of state chiefs is two years and six months.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.