Mark S. Schneider, President Bush’s new pick to head the National Center for Education Statistics, is a far less controversial figure than his first choice for the job, comments last week from researchers and education advocates suggest.
The NCES, which collects, analyzes, and reports data on the nation’s educational progress, has been without a permanent commissioner since 1999.
President Bush tapped Robert Lerner, a Rockville, Md.-based social scientist, to head the center in 2003 but that nomination ran into opposition from researchers, gay-rights groups, and civil rights organizations over Mr. Lerner’s conservative positions on hot-button social issues. (“Lerner’s Writings Raise Objectivity Concerns,” June 18, 2003)
To avoid a confirmation battle in the Senate, Mr. Bush put Mr. Lerner in the job by means of a “recess” appointment in January 2004.
When that appointment expired in January of this year, the Senate failed to agree to make Mr. Lerner’s status permanent.
Since then, Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst has headed the statistics agency on an interim basis, while at the same time serving as the director of the Institute for Education Sciences, the arm of the Department of Education that oversees the NCES.
President Bush announced his intention to nominate Mr. Schneider as commissioner of education statistics on July 28.
A political scientist by training, Mr. Schneider is no stranger to federal service. Since last year, he has been the deputy commissioner of the National Center on Education Research, another branch of the IES.
Before then, he was a professor and the chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he and Mr. Whitehurst were colleagues.
An ‘Encouraging’ Choice
During his 18-year tenure at SUNY-Stony Brook, Mr. Schneider published books and papers on school choice, school facilities, environmental policy, and suburban growth, among other topics.
In one study, published in 1998 with fellow professor Paul Teske, Mr. Schneider suggested that student achievement in a New York City community district renowned for its school choice program was higher than in comparable city districts because of the program.
“I’ve just read his work, but it’s clear and nonideological, so this is very encouraging,” said Bella Rosenberg, an assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has been critical of school choice efforts.
“Overall, this is probably a good nomination,” added James W. Kohlmoos, the president of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, or NEKIA, a Washington group that represents research organizations, such as the federal education research laboratories.
He noted that federal officials have praised Mr. Schneider in his current job for his management skills.
“The commissioner needs to run probably the world’s best education statistics operation and also needs to be a strong leader,” Mr. Kohlmoos said.
Gerald E. Sroufe, the director of government relations for the American Educational Research Association, also in Washington, said Mr. Schneider had been talked about for months as a possible nominee to the NCES position.
But Mr. Sroufe said he did not know much about Mr. Schneider’s experience in education statistics.
“We look forward to learning more about him as a candidate for the position,” Mr. Sroufe said.
Strong Leader Crucial
Mr. Schneider, 58, is a former Fulbright scholar who earned his doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
His most recent book, Choosing Schools: Consumer Choice and the Quality of American Schools, written with Mr. Teske, won the Aaron Wildavsky Best Book Award from the Policy Studies Organization in 2000.
If the Senate confirms Mr. Schneider for the statistics post, his appointment will last until June 20, 2009. Pending his confirmation, Mr. Schneider is declining to comment on his plans for the agency.
Policy experts said last week that it was important to get a strong, permanent leader in the job as soon as possible, particularly given the Education Department’s current emphasis on “scientifically based” research.
“One of the problems in that push has been that, without a strong leader, it’s easy for an agency with more-conventional, statistics-gathering responsibilities to get overlooked or marginalized,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2005 edition of Education Week as Bush Nominates Commissioner for Statistics Agency