In January, I wrote an article bidding a not-so-fond farewell to former Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Richard Ross who, I believe, was as pathetic a leader of and proponent for public education as the state superintendent’s position has ever known. But in that same article, I predicted there wasn’t much reason for optimism. The political establishment has rigged the system to guarantee that anyone who speaks out against the flawed political agendas that control educational policy development at the state level will not be permitted to occupy that seat.
The beauty of having such low expectations is that it is hard to be surprised, so the state board of education’s decision to hire policy wonk Paolo DeMaria as Ohio’s next Superintendent of Public Instruction was exactly what I expected.
I’d love to take a moment to discuss our next state superintendent’s wealth of experience in the field of education and the vast knowledge he has about how children learn, but I can’t. He doesn’t have any. His degrees are in Public Administration and Political Science. So Mr. DeMaria couldn’t even be hired as a superintendent to lead your local school district, because he doesn’t hold the degree or license to do so. How ironic is that, considering he will be leading the state agency that dictates to Ohio’s school administrators who we can and can’t hire depending on the license prospective employees hold?
My degrees in special education and educational administration have been just a tad helpful in allowing me to understand how children learn, as have the years I have worked in schools as a teacher and school administrator. Admittedly, Dr. Ross proved that those things don’t guarantee strong leadership, but one still might think that having some expertise in your chosen field might be a nice little feather in one’s cap. After all, I wouldn’t expect to be named as Upper Valley Medical Center’s next CEO since I have no expertise or experience in that field. But, that’s not how our government works.
Instead, as with nearly everything else in our lives, politics trumped education and experience with Mr. DeMaria’s selection. His time working in Governor Voinovich’s, Governor Taft’s, and Governor Strickland’s administrations, helping them implement bad policies, was apparently more useful than any pesky educational degree or license.
If nothing else, Mr. DeMaria’s selection puts to rest any myth that the Ohio Department of Education is an educational agency. It is clearly just another political entity indistinguishable from all the rest, and that is a shame.
So, without an educational degree or license, just what is our new state superintendent’s claim to fame?
He worked as state budget director at the end of Governor Voinovich’s time in office. Governor Voinovich is the man who began the downward spiral of the Ohio Department of Education when he changed the state board from being comprised of all elected representatives to a combination of elected officials and those appointed by the governor. This move, for all intents and purposes, changed the discussions held by that board from those based on educational research to those governed by political agendas, particularly those held by the governor. That was a very bad idea. Strike one for Paolo.
In a previous stint at the Ohio Department of Education, Mr. DeMaria helped oversee charter schools, vouchers, and the state report card. Ohio’s charter schools have been a dismal failure and are the laughingstock of the nation; the voucher program is built on the political fallacy that under-privileged children can take a voucher and attend any private school they want to better their lot in life; and the state report card uses invalid data in an invalid way to make invalid assumptions about children, teachers, and schools while wasting untold millions of dollars. Strikes two, three, and four for Paolo.
He also is a proponent of the Common Core. In other words, in keeping with his lack of knowledge about education and his wealth of experience in the political establishment, he still believes that creating politically driven “standards” like the Common Core actually equates to a child’s success. We now have two decades of data that shows us that these kinds of “standards” do no such thing, but that doesn’t stop policy makers like Mr. DeMaria from continuing to beat that dead horse. Strike five for Paolo.
Those who know him suggest that his greatest strength is in building partnerships and consensus while not being easily swayed in his beliefs. In other words, he believes what he believes, and he is capable of bringing others to his way of thinking despite what the facts tell us. I would imagine that he would have no interest in building a partnership with someone like me, who disagrees with him on many of his main issues and has the data to support my beliefs. Of course, the feeling is mutual.
So, in spite of the united front of optimism that the state board has projected about Mr. DeMaria’s selection as our next state superintendent, the fact is politics once again trumped educational knowledge at the state level. What the children of this state really needed was someone with expertise in education who was willing to fight against the political establishment and all its wayward notions, not one who supports them. But, that person never had a chance.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.