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Daily Journal

The Rodney Dangerfield of State Government?

May. 4th, 2012
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This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Dr. Terry Stoops (@TerryStoops), John Locke Foundation Director of Education Studies.

RALEIGH — “With my old man I got no respect. I asked him, ‘How can I get my kite in the air?’ He told me to run off a cliff.” – Rodney Dangerfield

The superintendent of public instruction is the Rodney Dangerfield of state government. He or she gets no respect. Indeed, if the position were tossed off a cliff, I suspect few would notice.

Despite the naysayers, I believe that the elected superintendent of public instruction is a valuable office — not for what it is but for what it could be.

First, let’s take a look at what it is. According to the North Carolina Constitution, the superintendent of public instruction serves as both the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education. In these roles, the superintendent manages the day-to-day administration of the state’s public school system but is subject to the dictates of the State Board of Education.

The SBE is a 13-member board that consists of the lieutenant governor, treasurer, and 11 members appointed to eight-year terms by the governor.

State statutes list approximately 14 duties and responsibilities for the office. To simplify the list, I divided those duties into five roles: administrator, publicist, researcher, lackey, and adviser.

1. Administrator

• Organize and establish a Department of Public Instruction subject to the direction and approval of the State Board of Education.

• Maintain a program of “comprehensive supervisory services.”

• Have custody of the official seal of the SBE and attest all deeds, leases, or written contracts executed in the name of the SBE.

2. Publicist

• Keep the public and media informed by making public appearances.

• Distribute printed materials.

• Communicate instructional policies and procedures approved by the SBE to public school administrators.

3. Researcher

• Compose a biennial report to the Governor that includes information, statistics, and recommendations.

• Collect and organize information about public schools.

4. Lackey

• Manage matters delegated to the Superintendent of Public Instruction by the SBE.

• Administer instructional policies established by the SBE.

• Attend all meetings of the SBE, keep the minutes of the proceedings “in a well bound and suitable book,” and forward a copy of the minutes to SBE members.

• Other duties assigned by the SBE.

5. Adviser

• Keep the SBE abreast of developments in public education.

• Outline recommendations to the SBE with regard to the problems and needs of education in North Carolina.
Admittedly, there is nothing pleasant about being a State Board of Education lackey, but two roles — publicist and researcher — are potential game changers.

As such, I recommend that the candidate who wins the superintendent of public instruction race in the fall initiate a four-part research and public relations effort that will demonstrate to taxpayers the office’s value.

1. Measure educational productivity and publish the results.

Last year, North Carolina’s public schools spent an average of $9,250 per student on operating and capital expenses. What was our return on that investment? Which school districts do the best job of using their funding to increase student achievement? Which ones spent a lot but have little to show for it?

We will never be able to answer these vital questions unless we begin to measure educational productivity. A 2011 report published by the Center for American Progress should be his or her reference point.

2. Release value-added data.

Value-added analysis uses standardized tests to estimate teacher effectiveness. This powerful evaluation method employs advanced statistical techniques to project the future performance of individual students based on their past performance. The difference between the projected and actual performance of students determines the value added or subtracted by the teacher.

North Carolina’s public schools calculate and record value-added scores for teachers in a computer system called EVAAS (Education Value Added Assessment System), but state officials have not released the data to the public. If we want to identify and reward the best teachers in the state, this is the place to start.

3. Compute the cost (or projected cost) of complying with state and federal mandates and regulations.

We may find that the resources used to comply with top-down mandates outweigh the benefits.

4. Ensure that the Department of Public Instruction is transparent and accountable to taxpayers.

For example, DPI recently set aside $350,000 for the Collaborative Conference for Student Achievement in Greensboro. The superintendent should make it easier for taxpayers to obtain budget and expenditure data for the department.

Incumbent June Atkinson will be the Democratic nominee for superintendent. On the Republican side, the race is a toss-up between five candidates – (in ballot order) Ray Ernest Martin, David Scholl, John Tedesco, Richard Alexander, and Mark Crawford. Regardless of who wins the office in November, it is time to show taxpayers that the office of the elected superintendent of public instruction adds genuine value to North Carolina’s public schools.