What Experience Should the New Education Secretary Have?

Amid all the controversy of the nomination of Betsy DeVos, questions arise about qualifications. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is having a non-educator tell me how to teach. That is like me telling an investigator how to solve a crime just because I watch NCIS. Watching and Reading do not qualify you for Doing. Period.

The question of experience had me on the hunt for answers.  I wanted to know (and so did some of you) how much teaching experience did some of the former Secretaries actually have. Had they worked in a classroom with children facing the same challenges that we face?

Here's a brief experience rundown of former Secretaries of Education:

Arne Duncan- Before becoming the U.S. Secretary of Education, Mr. Duncan served as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

John King, Jr. - Mr. King had a bit more experience. Prior to his appointment he served as: commissioner of education for the state of New York; CEO of state education department; managing director of a non-profit charter organization, Uncommon School; co-founder of a charter school, Roxbury Preparatory; and taught high school social studies in Puerto Rico, San Juan, and Boston. Both of his parents were educators.

Margaret Spellings - Mrs. Spellings has an extensive background in politics and leadership positions, such as: Assoc. Executive Director of Texas Board of Education and senior advisor and political advisor to George W. Bush.

Rod Paige- Mr. Paige served as a teacher, coach, Dean of Education School at TSU, and a superintendent. Both of his parents were educators.

Richard Riley- Mr. Riley spent his early years in the U.S. Navy before earning a law degree. Then he spent the remainder of his time, before serving as Secretary of Education in politics.

And acting Secretary of Education, Phil Rosenfelt is an attorney. His experience centers around low income housing and poverty.  His wife is an English teacher.

To be bipartisan, I included both Democratic and Republican nominees. I started with President Obama and concluded with President Clinton.  I could have continued the search, but what I discovered  is a remarkable lack of teaching experience, with the exceptions of King and Paige.  I am not undermining any achievements. I do realize that even with a lack of experience some were  successful and worked to improve education. But, I also have to wonder how much more success could have been demonstrated if the secretaries had  firsthand working knowledge of teaching.

What would happen if the Secretary of Education had the heart of a teacher?  It is my opinion that this experience is the most valuable of all.  In order to truly understand the world of education, someone must personally spend time there. I know my spouse hears about school, but his experience is second-hand. Experience makes a difference. Just like there is a difference between a first year teacher and a twenty year veteran teacher. Every situation adds to our knowledge base.  Being a CEO does not replace the actual hours spent in preparation and teaching. Nothing can replace the time spent in the classroom. Nothing. No amount of time spent volunteering or serving on committees. Not even an excessive number of teacher friends will replace being in the field.

The only way to understand the life of a teacher is to be one.

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Arne Duncan
John B. King, Jr.
Margaret Spellings
Rod Paige
Rod Paige
Richard Riley
Phil Rosenfelt

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