Teaching is considered a profession similar to medicine and law. Not only is a higher education required, but teachers are salaried professionals who do not punch a time clock for hourly wages. These are all state jurisdictions, with state bar exams and state medical board exams.
But the governance of these professions is not the same. In nearly all states, the legal profession is managed by legal professionals. Medical doctors likewise manage the state exams and sit on the hospital boards. Therefore, these professions are stable. They have a gradually evolving body of knowledge that they practice. There are no calls for drastic reforms and innovations every few years. And there is no movement to drastically lower the bar for entering the profession.
Education is different. There are fifty states and the District of Columbia producing 51 variations in governing the teaching profession. Day-to-day operations are usually overseen by a State Superintendent of Instruction or a Commissioner of Education. In 24 states, the State Board appoints that officer. In 14 states, the people elect this administrator. And in 12 states, it is a Governor’s appointment.
In 12 states the State Board is appointed and the Board appoints the chief officer. In 11 states, the governor appoints the State Board and the Commissioner or Superintendent is elected by the people. In nine states, the governor appoints both the State Board and the chief officer. And in eight states, the State Board is elected and appoints the Superintendent or Commissioner.
In two states (New York and South Carolina), the state legislature appoints the Board. In two states (Texas and New Mexico) and in the District of Columbia, the State Board is elected and the Governor or Mayor appoints the chief officer. In Mississippi, the Board is a mixed appointment between the executive and legislative branches. Louisiana, Ohio and Washington state have a mix of appointed and elected boards and chiefs. In two states, Minnesota (appointed) and Wisconsin (elected), the chief has no State Board and is the “education czar.”
Because public schooling is supported by a substantial amount of state tax revenue, every state has taken governance of education away from teachers—the education professionals—and made educational decision-making political. So in nearly all states, the criteria for being a member governing educational policy does not include being an education professional. (Admittedly, in Kansas, several Board members were teachers.)
So while the legal and medical professions move ahead with steady progress, building upon a solid history of practice, education policy whip-saws from pillar to post, requiring everyone to follow standardized assessments, then switching teachers to social skills development, then to continuous school improvement, etc.
But this non-professional government of education is not our only problem. Before the 1970s, state educational governance was the same as now but classroom teaching decisions rested fully with the classroom teacher. The intrusion of external assessments, the loss of professional teacher decision-making, and the usurping of state authority by federal extortion occurred since then. Before 1970, education was almost never a political issue and state governing boards let teachers be professionals.
When I examine the educational governing bodies of other countries today, all of which manage education at the national level, their ministries of education are stable. Staffed with educational professionals, most continue to serve across changes in political administrations. Other countries’ education policies evolve slowly. There is no reform fever. No perpetual innovation. Their school administrators serve their teachers, just as an American hospital administrator serves our doctors.
We would not consider a person qualified to make legal-profession policy just because they had appeared in court, nor oversee medical policy merely because they had at one time been a patient. But in most states, having been a student makes you qualified to be appointed or elected to manage educational policy and oversee the profession. Perhaps it is time to make teacher certification a requirement for election to our governing education bodies.