Bowen Leaving Maine Department to Work at Chiefs’ Group

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 16, 2013 2 min read
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Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced today that he is leaving his position to become the strategic innovation director at the Council of Chief State School Officers, the group of state K-12 chiefs perhaps best known for overseeing the development of the Common Core State Standards in cooperation with the National Governors Association.

In his new position, Bowen will oversee work on emerging practices in education that include competency-based learning and digital education, according to information released by CCSSO, which is based in Washington. He’ll oversee the group’s Innovation Lab Network, which is working in several states to change public education systems to provide a “personalized pathway” for each student to college and beyond—states in this network currently include Bowen’s own Maine, as well as California, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

“Taking on this role at CCSSO will allow me to work directly with states and state chiefs to explore effective new approaches to teaching and learning, to discover how student outcomes are being improved in schools and districts across the nation, and to harness the Council’s network of resources to move those promising practices forward not just in my home state, but across the country,” said Bowen, who has also served in the Maine legislature and taught as a classroom teacher, in a statement released by CCSSO.

Bowen was appointed education commissioner by Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, in 2011, and oversaw a transition to an A-F accountability system for the state’s public schools, as well as an expansion of charter schools. His tenure didn’t pass without controversy: Bowen’s department took some heat for a story by Maine reporter Colin Woodard published last September that focused on the intense lobbying efforts around virtual education programs in the state. More recently, Bowen was also in the news when emails from late 2011 revealed that he balked at installing a Miss USA pageant contestant in an education-related position in the state, an idea that came from LePage.

Bowen’s last day at the Maine department will be Sept. 12.

“Steve has led Maine in developing some of the most innovative education practices in the country and we look forward to bringing his experience and leadership to the national level,” said CCSSO executive director Chris Minnich in the statement.

One other issue worth highlighting is the membership status of Chiefs for Change, a group affiliated with the Jeb Bush-run Foundation for Excellence in Education that advocates for policies like A-F accountability and school choice. With Bowen’s impending departure, and Tony Bennett’s fall from his perch in Florida, the vocal group is now down to six sitting chiefs as members, representing the states of Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Will it go searching for new members to bolster its ranks? If so, who would be good candidates?

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