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Career Advice

Do Education Leaders Need More Teaching Experience?

By Liana Loewus — November 11, 2013 1 min read


The Huffington Post recently published a list of 11 high-profile education leaders who’ve never been teachers.

While worth a click, this isn’t much for news. Several of these figures whose jobs revolve around changing schools and teaching—including Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and common-core standards architect David Coleman—have been hammered repeatedly over the years for their lack of classroom experience.

In the cases of others on the list—like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, and New Jersey senator-elect Cory Booker—it seems more of a given that they’ve never taught, as their involvement in education is tangential to their primary political or entrepreneurial roles. (Bill Gates, who is also on the list, is primarily an investor as well, but considering his foundation has spent $700 million on teacher-quality issues alone, many educators find his lack of teaching credentials particularly hard to swallow.)

Teachers, what are your thoughts? How important is teaching experience to effective leadership in education? Does it have to be K-12 teaching experience? Where do you draw the line on?

(As an aside, the question of whether on-the-ground experience is necessary to understand a topic fully is an interesting one for reporters, many of whom don’t have a background in whatever they’re tasked with covering.)

Bill Gates waits to speak with an audience of students at the Franklin Institute’s public magnet high school, the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, in 2010. —Matt Rourke/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.