Five Ed Chiefs Undertake ‘Aggressive’ Reforms in New Group

By Catherine Gewertz — November 30, 2010 2 min read
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The education leaders of five states announced today that they have created a new education-chiefs group to press a policy agenda topped by school choice and performance-driven evaluations for teachers and principals.

Unveiling the new group, “Chiefs for Change,” were its founding members: Tony Bennett, of Indiana; Deborah Gist, of Rhode Island; Paul Pastorek, of Louisiana; Gerard Robinson, of Virginia; and Eric Smith, of Florida. They were gathered here in Washington for the national summit of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the reform group headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The new chiefs group came together in conversation with Gov. Bush, who has agreed to provide it with financial and staffing support.

The five chiefs said that even though they work on important policy issues through the Council of Chief State School Officers, they felt the need to push a subset of policies through a separate group. Pastorek said the five want to “set ourselves apart and pursue a much more aggressive path toward success.” It’s not a partisan agenda, he said, but a “cutting-edge, pushing-the-envelope way of putting children at the top of all of our decisions.” Bennett said the five have “kind of started our own union, a children’s union,” in which the interests of students trump those of adults.

How does that translate into a list of policy bullet points? The five education leaders put these at the top of their list: “value-added” ways of evaluating teachers and principals; more rigorous accountability systems based not on inputs but results; raising academic standards; and expanding school choice. The chiefs don’t walk in lock step on the choice issue, though. They said they all agree that students should have more charter and virtual school options, but some of the chiefs “may not go as far as others” on other forms of choice—an apparent reference to vouchers.

The chiefs said they are talking with other commissioners and state superintendents about joining their group, but declined to name names.

UPDATE: Here is a more detailed statement of the new group’s policy agenda. Disregard the “draft” markings; it’s now final.

It isn’t the first time that some chiefs within the CCSSO have formed their own group. The Education Leaders Council formed in 1995 to pursue a more conservative education policy agenda, which includes, in a deja vu, one of the themes repeated here today: that education should focus on the needs of children, not adults. The ELC ran into some rocky turf, had trouble gaining traction, and morphed into a school-improvement program a few years ago.

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