Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Federal

Hickok Brings a Taste for Local Control to the No. 3 Washington Job

By Joetta L. Sack — September 19, 2001 3 min read

Eugene W. Hickok has a reputation as a contrarian, an education maverick unafraid of taking on the established school groups and wary of an encroaching Washington role.

Now, as the undersecretary of education, Mr. Hickok, great-nephew of Old West icon Wild Bill Hickok, is a part of the Washington establishment.

Occupying the No. 3 slot in the Department of Education hierarchy, Mr. Hickok will work closely with the White House on education-related initiatives and advise Secretary Rod Paige on policy.

Mr. Hickok, who was the secretary of education in Pennsylvania prior to his Washington appointment and maintains a residence in Carlisle, Pa., was an adviser for the 2000 Bush campaign. He didn’t apply for the undersecretary’s job—in fact, he had a few reservations about taking it.

He said he didn’t want to leave Pennsylvania and his service under Gov. Tom Ridge, also a Republican. While his name had circulated during the early weeks of the new Bush administration as the president’s choice for undersecretary, it was mid-March before the White House made an announcement.

Despite his reservations, Mr. Hickok says he’s happy with the job. He’s planning to work on ways to shift more control to states and districts, which was one of his top priorities as a state leader.

“I’m going to have one foot in Pennsylvania and one in D.C., and, hopefully, I’ll get the best of both worlds,” he said.

In the Keystone State, Mr. Hickok worked closely with Gov. Ridge to put in place an array of accountability measures: more rigorous tests for teacher licensure, more specific academic-content standards for student learning, and, with the state legislature’s approval, the state takeover of low-performing districts. He frequently and loudly butted heads with the state’s main teachers’ union over school choice proposals, including vouchers and charter schools.

One of Mr. Hickok’s complaints about what he refers to as the “education establishment” has been what he considers the excessive use of acronyms and jargon. In 1996, he went so far as to fine employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Education $1 each time they spoke in education jargon, rather than plain English.

But what brought Mr. Hickok’s name to those outside the Pennsylvania state lines most prominently was his involvement in an upstart group, the Education Leaders Council, made up of state education leaders of a mostly conservative bent.

He helped establish the group in 1995 as an alternative to the Council of Chief State School Officers and other long-standing education groups, which he and other ELC members viewed as having a characteristically liberal focus on spending increases and federal initiatives. The ELC has promoted local control, greater accountability, and other education measures, such as giving Title I aid to parents to spend on educational services of their own choice.

Mr. Hickok favored some of the ideas put forth by congressional Republicans after they took power in the 1994 elections, particularly those that favored local decision-making. Most education groups were opposed to the GOP plans.

“The problem with some organizations is, when they lobby, they lobby against those things,” he told The Washington Times in 1995 when he bowed out of the CCSSO.

After advising the Bush campaign on education, he helped oversee the transition in the Education Department.

Now, Mr. Hickok says he been converted to the Bushian spirit of working, or at least talking about working, with those on the other side of ideological bright lines. Mr. Hickok says he plans to work more closely with the Washington education groups he once criticized, even if it will result in “some major differences of opinion.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Director of Information Technology
Montpelier, Vermont
Washington Central UUSD
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Director of Athletics
Farmington, Connecticut
Farmington Public Schools

Read Next

Federal How Biden's Data Mandate Could Help Schools Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis
An executive order directs the Education Department to collect data on issues like whether schools offer in-person learning.
4 min read
President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, on Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, right, at the White House, on Jan. 21.
Alex Brandon/AP
Federal Early Education Department Appointees Have Links to Jill Biden, Teachers' Unions
President Joe Biden's 12 appointments have links to the players who could exert the most influence on the new administration's K-12 policy.
4 min read
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hug as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hug as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House on inauguration day.
Alex Brandon/AP
Federal Biden Launches New Strategy to Combat COVID-19, Reopen Schools
The president plans a more centralized strategy that includes broader vaccine efforts, more data on the pandemic, and new school guidance.
5 min read
Public School 95 in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn is one of many schools in New York ordered to close due to a flare-up of coronavirus cases in the area on Oct. 5, 2020.
Public School 95 in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn is one of many schools in New York ordered to close due to a flare-up of coronavirus cases in the area on Oct. 5, 2020.
Kathy Willens/AP
Federal Opinion Blessings and Best Wishes, President Biden
Rick Hess takes a moment to offer President-elect Biden his best wishes and to reflect on Inauguration Day.
1 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty