CT News Junkie | OP-ED | Free College For All and Must The Ed Commish Be An Educator?

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OP-ED | Free College For All and Must The Ed Commish Be An Educator?

by | May 22, 2015 4:30am
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Analysis, Education, Labor, Opinion

Christine Stuart file photo

Acting Education Commissioner Dianne R. Wentzell


Two education initiatives caught my eye recently. The first, a bill that would require the state education commissioner to have significant classroom and school administrative experience, has cleared the House and is headed to the Senate. I’m trying hard to feel reassured but for some reason that’s not happening.

The bill strikes me as an overreaction to the appointment of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first commissioner, Stefan Pryor, who was not an educator but a reformer of the system who had co-founded Amistad Academy, a charter school in New Haven.

The state’s education establishment distrusted Pryor from the beginning. For one thing, he did not come from the typical background one would expect of an education leader or bureaucrat. Pryor doesn’t have a doctorate in education; he has both undergraduate and law degrees from Yale. He also took the lead on the proposed changes in the state’s teacher tenure system.

Pryor has a background in economic development and politics, having served as deputy mayor in Newark, N.J., Pryor also served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen and was a policy analyst on youth and education issues for Mayor John DeStefano.

As a teacher for 12 years myself, I can tell you that teachers and administrators often take a dim view of leaders who don’t share their backgrounds. And if someone was brought in to lead my school or district without substantial experience in education, I too would be highly skeptical.

In the Pryor case, the education establishment is launching a preemptive strike. As state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, was quick to point out, Connecticut is one of only four states that don’t insist on minimum qualifications for the post of education commissioner. And we do have such benchmarks for the posts of attorney general and commissioner of public health, for example. But the attorney general does have to practice law — at least on occasion — and the health commissioner must make medical decisions in a public health crisis.

The education commissioner, on the other hand, is basically a manager whose job it is to carry out the policies of his boss, the governor. Does the commissioner need to have been a science teacher or a building principal to do that? As teachers are fond of saying, education is more art than science.

I suspect what’s really going on is the Connecticut Education Association and its allies in the General Assembly want to make sure future education commissioners come from a standard education-establishment background. That way, a new commissioner will be less likely to work with Malloy to shake up the system and make their lives miserable. And Malloy has fallen in line. Even before signing the bill into law, he appointed Dianna R. Wentzell, who has been an educator in Connecticut for 25 years, to succeed Pryor.

* * * * * * * *


And then there is the case of presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who planned to introduce legislation this week to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.

screengrab Sanders’ proposal is far broader than President Obama’s, which proposes to make only the nation’s community colleges free. Sanders wants the federal government to dramatically increase aid to public colleges so that at least the first two years would be tuition-free.

Sanders rightly laments the extent to which so many students leave with not only diplomas but mountains of debt. But he has said nothing about the administrative bloat that has caused tuitions to rise to the point of absurdity. Perhaps his reluctance to broach the subject stems from the fact that his wife is a former president of a college in Vermont that is near bankruptcy and in danger of losing its accreditation.

Be that as it may, in the unlikely event that Sanders’ proposal becomes reality, it will be a joy to watch the federal government itself grapple with skyrocketing tuitions and fees at America’s colleges, which since 1986 have risen nationally at two-and-a-half times the rate of inflation.

Come to think of it, maybe Sanders’ legislation would help contain those costs. The federal government would never tolerate what we run-of-the-mill consumers have to put up with. No way.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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Comments

(7) Archived Comments

posted by: MyOpinion | May 22, 2015  9:41am

What do will now live in a Socialist Society. The Government provides all for us, Education, Food, Jobs, etc….??

posted by: Biff Winnetka | May 22, 2015  10:18am

The proper organization of all public education bureaucracies, from local school district to state education commissions, is for the Principal to be a private sector, C-Level executive with a strong record of successfully leading a large organization with a Union workforce.  The Deputy should be the professional educator.
The Deputy runs the day to day operations of the organization and the Principal focuses on the big picture issues that plague ALL public education operations.

posted by: bob8/57 | May 22, 2015  10:58am

bob8/57

That the country does not already offer free education through college is testament to the power of greed trumping the need to compete globally.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | May 22, 2015  11:06am

By all means, let’s exclude all possibility of introducing non-orthodox, creative solutions to important social concerns by limiting the political executors to the class with the most vested interest in stifling creative solutions and enforcing orthodoxy. No doubt they will find enough supine and complacent legislators willing to go along.

posted by: ocoandasoc | May 22, 2015  11:28am

Great post.
There is a real danger that what we in the corporate world used to call “NIH Syndrome” (Not Invented Here) is holding back all kinds or innovative education reform. The teachers unions and the educational establishment are creating their own Tower of Babel, preventing the kind of public/private partnerships that many deem essential, and creating distrust among taxpayers and the parents of school children who feel left out of the decision-making process and who resent the arrogance and dismissive attitude by educators toward all but those with extensive educational backgrounds.
I doubt that providing every high school graduate with a free four year college at the school of his choice is a workable, affordable, or even a desirable idea. Here in Tennessee (a State many northern educators would dismiss as non-progressive) we now offer any graduate of a TN high school two free years at any TN community college. And so far the program is working out well. It’s motivated marginal high school students to stay in school and get their degrees and should provide a more job-ready workforce for the booming TN economy. And, thanks to TN’s strong financial position, the costs are workable. A degree in art history from a $35,000 a year school in rural Vermont may be a nice perk for a young person whose parents can afford it, but I don’t believe that most taxpayers will see it as an effective government expenditure essential to their well-being.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | May 22, 2015  1:20pm

Let’s start small - free weed for all!

Twist and shout!

HST

posted by: shocked | May 26, 2015  4:13pm

hmmm - nothing is free.  And proposing it doesnt change that.  A more appropriate wording would be Sen Sanders proposes someone else pay for your education.  Then perhaps your article would have included something about the people paying the bill.