I'm unenthusiastic about the idea of Colin Powell for secretary of education, as reported by Politico yesterday. It's certainly true that Powell has been outspoken on education issues. When he endorsed Obama on Meet the Press last month, he said:
America has a terrible education problem in the sense that we have too many young people not finishing school. A third of our kids don't finish high school; 50 percent of minorities don't finish high school. We've got to work on this. My wife and I are leading a campaign for this purpose.
Good stuff. But the truth of the matter is that the idea of using military leaders to fix schools, though perennially popular, demeans the very idea of expertise in education itself. The more scientists teach us about neuroscience, the more we understand just how complex a task it is to teach a child to read or do arithmetic. The more we know about how poverty and poor health affect education outcomes, the more we look to education leaders with a serious grasp of social science. And the more consensus builds around ideas such as teacher merit pay, the more important it becomes to appoint leaders who will have credibility and experience in negotiating with unions, and who will take their concerns seriously.
Another buzzed-about candidate is New York City Superintendent Joel Klein. Klein is not exactly popular with teachers or known for a deft political touch, but at least he has experience running a school district and deep, detailed knowledge of the challenges facing urban education systems. More concerning is the fact that the grading system Klein's department uses to show progress in New York City schools has been called into question by some education statisticians, who believe it inflates inconsequentially small test score gains and unfairly maligns schools doing a good job teaching tough populations.
In other words, I don't think either of these two guys would be an ideal secretary. I'll consider more names as they come up.
cross-posted at TAPPED