Several top state education jobs changed hands as 2012 came to a close, with Florida welcoming a high-profile chief recently ousted by voters in Indiana, the surprise firing of West Virginia’s superintendent, and the departure of the Massachusetts chief in a state cabinet shake-up.
Florida’s new commissioner, Tony Bennett—one of the nation’s most prominent and most controversial state education chiefs—proved that losing his re-election bid for the Indiana job he first won in 2008 did not put a damper on his career prospects.
Despite a significant fundraising advantage and the energetic backing of groups devoted to revamping teacher evaluations and expanding school choice, Mr. Bennett, a Republican, was defeated by Glenda Ritz, a teacher in the Indianapolis area who criticized what she called excessive testing and the voucher program instituted during Mr. Bennett’s tenure.
On Dec. 12, Mr. Bennett was selected by the Florida board of education as the state’s next education chief, after consistent speculation that he would seek and be a favorite for the job. Gerard Robinson had resigned from the post in August, after about a year. He had previously been Virginia’s state superintendent.
Mr. Bennett is the president of Chiefs for Change, a group of superintendents who push for school choice, accountability through testing, and revamped teacher evaluations. The group is affiliated with the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Foundation for Excellence in Education, which advocates those same policies and which former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush leads.
The state school board praised Mr. Bennett’s work on the Common Core State Standards, among other things. But Andy Ford, the president of the Florida Education Association, the 140,000-member state teachers’ union and an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, blasted the move and specifically criticized Mr. Bennett for adopting the same policies that Mr. Bush touted, including “testing mania.”
A report critical of West Virginia’s K-12 bureaucracy appeared to be the undoing of former state schools superintendent Jorea Marple, who was dismissed by the state school board first on Nov. 15 and then on Nov. 29 after concerns arose about the process behind her initial termination. She was replaced by James Phares, a district superintendent in the state.
Ms. Marple took the top job in March 2011 after previously serving as deputy superintendent, but the turning point may have come last January, when, at the direction of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, West Virginia released an “efficiency audit” of the state’s K-12 system, 10 months after Marple became superintendent. The audit criticized the unwieldy education bureaucracy, among other concerns.
Ms. Marple argued that her department was demonstrably increasing expectations for students, and has plans to sue the state school board for damages and to return to her superintendent’s position.
Meanwhile, the top education official in Massachusetts, Secretary of Education S. Paul Reville, departed his position for the final two years of Gov. Deval Patrick’s term. Mr. Reville had overseen the K-12 commissioner, Mitchell D. Chester, as well as the state’s early-child-care and higher education systems. Mr. Reville declined to give a two-year commitment to serve in Mr. Patrick’s cabinet the rest of his term, as the governor had requested.
Bay State Selection
Mr. Reville’s career in education policy included time as chairman of the state’s board of elementary and secondary education, as well as president of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Rennie Center for Research and Education Policy.
His replacement, Matthew Malone, has been a superintendent, principal, and teacher in the Boston area. He is a 2003 graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, part of the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, that trains superintendents to run urban public school systems.
A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as Top State Ed. Positions Turn Over as Year Ends