Former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina thinks today’s state leaders have a lot to learn about improving schools. With a new institute that bears his name, the 64-year-old Mr. Hunt hopes to educate the next generation of education governors on the fine art of pulling off a large-scale school improvement agenda.
And given the new federal requirements in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001—and the fact that 36 governorships will be up for grabs next fall—he says it’s not a moment too soon.
“We’ve got to have a quantum leap in the knowledge of our leaders,” Mr. Hunt said in an interview here last week, “both in terms of the knowledge of what it takes to change schools, and in the skill of doing it, particularly in getting the political decisions made that are going to be required.”
The James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy debuted in February, when it co-hosted a summit in Durham, N.C., that brought together U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and four others who had held the same post.
But it got a major boost last week, when the Tarheel State Democrat announced that he has tapped one of the highest- ranking officials in the country’s largest school district to serve as its first director. Judith A. Rizzo, who has served for the past six years as the deputy chancellor of instruction for the 1.1 million-student New York City public schools, plans to take the helm of the organization next month.
Launched with the support of $2 million raised from foundations, the institute is based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Organizers say the institute will be more than an information clearinghouse. Although they plan to distill the work of other education groups— and to do their own research—their intent is to give direct assistance to policymakers in diagnosing their states’ needs and in crafting strategies to address them. Institute officials envision working with teams of business, political, and education leaders from each state that invites them in, but the focus will be on the top elected officials.
Said Ms. Rizzo: “The governors really need to know this, and in my experience, they’re often left out of the loop.”
Ahead of the Pack
With the passage of the federal legislation, virtually every state is having to retool its education policies. The measure, which overhauled programs for K-12 schools, requires that all teachers be “highly qualified,” that students be tested annually in grades 3-8, and that state officials intervene when schools persistently fail to meet improvement goals.
Officials of the new institute point out that North Carolina is one of a handful of states that already have made most of the changes called for in the federal law. Mr. Hunt—who served as governor from 1977 to 1985, and again from 1993 to 2001—shepherded through several major initiatives that sought to set higher standards for the teaching profession, raise teacher pay, expand early-childhood education, and hold schools more accountable for their results. (“Dean of Education Governors Departs,” Jan. 10, 2001.)
While lauding the stated mission of Mr. Hunt’s latest educational enterprise, Gary Huggins of the Education Leaders Council says he hopes that the institute looks beyond the policy options supported by many of the national education groups.
The former governor has helped lead, for instance, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which recognizes educators who pass a yearlong assessment. He’s also played a key role in the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, which supports higher standards for the teaching profession.
Some members of the Washington-based ELC, question the value of national board certification.
“They talked about pushing for reform, and doing what’s right for children, and also implementing what we know that works,” Mr. Huggins said. “But is that increasing options for parents and charter schools? Is it reforming the teaching profession beyond the national board?”
A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 2002 edition of Education Week as Hunt Institute to Tutor Governors On Education