…the central flaw in the need for structure and hierarchy is that politics prefers leadership characteristics above expertise. No politician can possibly have the expertise and experience needed in all the many areas a leader must address (notably in roles such as governor and president). But during the “accountability era” in education of the past three decades, the direct role of governors and presidents as related to education has increased dramatically–often with education as a central plank in their campaigns.
One distinct flaw in that development has been a trickle-down effect reaching from presidents and governors to state superintendents of education and school board chairs and members: people who have no or very little experience or expertise as educators or scholars attain leadership positions responsible for forming and implementing education policy.
The faces and voices currently leading the education reform movement in the U.S. are appointees and self-proclaimed reformers who, while often well-meaning, lack significant expertise or experience in education: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, billionaire Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee (whose entrance to education includes the alternative route of Teach for America and only a few years in the classroom), and Sal Khan, for example.
Design and operation of specific programs must be in the hands of local experts:
Universal public education needs a new wall, paralleling the wall of separation between church and state: a wall between education and government and corporate America. Power over funding and broad performance benchmarks can remain vested in political leaders. But granular operational details should be left to educators and local administrators, the people best suited to achieve these goals in their schools and classrooms. Education should be treated no differently than a civil engineering project: government provides funding and ensures the goals of the civil function, and then expert builders and engineers fill in the details, taking into account realities on the ground and utilizing a wealth of experience and training that is completely unavailable to most elected officials. Governors and presidents are no better suited to run schools than they are to run construction sites, and it’s time our education system reflected that fact.