A Job to Downsize

SACRAMENTO – David Long, California’s Secretary of Education, resigned on August 10, the fourth such Secretary to resign in the past five years. California should take this opportunity to eliminate this position, which Mr. Long’s brief 18-month tenure confirms to be redundant.

“I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say there were some structural problems,” Mr. Long told reporters. He said he didn’t know of any other state that has a system like California, which divides responsibility for public education between an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, an appointed state Board of Education, and an appointed Secretary of Education.

When Governor Schwarzenegger appointed Mr. Long in March, 2007, a reporter asked: “Why do we need an education secretary?” The governor explained that Mr. Long shared his vision and would “bring everyone together in order to really start shaping how we’re going to reform education. Because next year, as I said already before, that we want to make next year the year where we really reform education and really look at it from the bottom all the way up, and really provide the kind of education that children really need.”

A news database search provides some clue as to how effective Mr. Long was in that task. Between the story of his appointment and news of his resignation in 2008, a ballpark figure for the number of times he’s mentioned is zero. What he actually did beyond collecting his salary of $175,000 is not entirely clear.

Long told John Fensterwald of the San Jose Mercury News that he was proud of what he accomplished as Secretary of Education. He mentioned the agreement he helped negotiate with the state Board of Education and Superintendent Jack O’Connell regarding the 97 school districts that face sanctions under No Child Left Behind. “Obviously I missed something here,” Fensterwald wrote.

On Long’s watch, California made some incremental improvements on state English and math tests, but nothing that would hold up the state as a national showcase of reform and achievement. Even so, the lapses of Mr. Long, and the obvious redundancy of his post, are not the only leadership problems in California education.

Governor Schwarzenegger named a holiday for the late economist Milton Friedman but has done nothing to advance one of Milton Friedman’s major ideas: parental choice in education. Elected state superintendents also continue to disappoint.

Current ed boss Jack O’Connell believes that more money will solve everything. His department lost a key case involving James Lindberg, a California Department of Education (CDE) employee who was disciplined, not rewarded, for blowing the whistle on massive fraud and corruption. That was the doing of Delaine Eastin, the previous state superintendent, who was hostile to charter schools and home schooling. Bill Honig, the superintendent before Eastin, was convicted of felony conflict-of-interest charges while in office.

Such scandals have been largely unknown among Secretaries of education, including the current governor’s picks Richard Riordan, Alan Bersin, and Scott Himelstein. Like David Long, they all failed to achieve any meaningful change and have since moved on to greener pastures.

The Secretary of Education post is essentially a sinecure and California should eliminate the position. If legislators look hard enough, they will find many other posts to eliminate in the state Department of Education, the County Offices of Education, and the various school districts. They are all part of the bureaucratic sediment that absorbs fathomless funding but fails to deliver the academic achievement California deserves.

K. Lloyd Billingsly is the editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute. This article originally appeared as a PRI Capital Ideas feature.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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