Like many others, when I first read the info Willamson Evers of the Hoover Institution in California submitted in his application for state school superintendent I really did not give it much thought.
Sounded like a bright guy for sure with three degrees from Stanford University, one of the country’s top private schools where tuition is $46,000 per year. But I could not find where he has ever worked for a public school system, even as a teacher. Nor a principal nor a superintendent. And after all, the announcement of qualifications says, “Experience in successfully managing a large organization as a superintendent or other education leader.”
In fact nowhere on his resume’ does he list jobs he has held. He gives a rundown on education, publications, research and teaching experience, professional activities and additional civic activities. You can see his application here.
The announcement also states, “Hold or be eligible to hold an Alabama certificate in administration or supervision–preferred but not required.” Obviously he does not hold any Alabama certificates and the end of this sentence “but not required” is very troubling. Since when did the state begin saying that it is OK to not have a license? Try that the next time a policeman pulls you over and asks to see your driver’s license. Or tells you that your car tag is expired.
And do we tell a doctor that a license to practice medicine is nice to have–but not really necessary before you cut someone open?
Knowing all of this, plus knowing that three good local Alabama superintendents, as well as a member of Governor Bentley’s cabinet, were in the running, I didn’t dwell on Mr. Evers application.
So it came as quite a surprise when five members of the state school board on July 12 voted to ask him for an interview. (In addition, Governor Bentley also gave him a vote, though it was not tallied in the final count.)
What had I missed? What was the attraction five board members saw that I did not?
There was no record of having turned around any school systems and jerking them from the brink of irrelevance. No record of helping inner-city schools close an achievement gap. No mention of re-structuring school finances and helping someone pay their bills. No mention of rallying a legislative body to form a strategic partnership with its school systems.
In other words, no evidence of real world, practical, hands-on experience. One of those “action means more than words” examples.
So since I could find no work record that seemed relevant to the needs of Alabama schools at this point in time, that meant all there was left to search for was a philosophy that gave a hint of what paths Evers might choose if he were state superintendent.
As a long time Fellow at a think tank, this meant turning to speeches, articles and publications. This was a fertile field. Early in his career Evers was an active Libertarian, even running for Congress under this banner. He edited the libertarian magazine for the Cato Institute for several years. Cato was founded in 1974 and originally named the Charles Koch Foundation.
Evers is not a fan of Common Core, which puts him in lock step with many in Alabama. (However, the majority of these folks I have met have not been educators.) One of his articles, How the Common Core Suppresses Competitive Federalism, while interesting, does not seem germane to the needs I see in schools. Evers discusses “vertical” federalism vs. “horizontal” federalism and cites Alexis de Tocqueville. My guess is that Ann Monroe, science teacher at Bryant Junior High in Jackson County, would rather learn how she might get more equipment for a science lab.
In Evaluate Teachers on How Much Students Have Learned, Evers writes about a California law suit and offers his support of teacher evaluations based on student test scores. This was one of the basic concepts of the RAISE Act that failed in the last regular session after being vehemently opposed by educators.
No doubt Williamson Evers is a bright and well-educated man and great company for a leisurely meal in a nice restaurant. But far more a philosopher than someone with dirt under their fingernails. Our state school board must decide if this is a luxury we can afford.
Stanford University snugs up against Palo Alto, CA, 35 miles south of San Francisco and smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley. The median home value there is $1 million.
It is 2,400 miles from Palo Alto to the office of the state school superintendent in the Gordon Persons Building in downtown Montgomery. I honestly don’t know if federalism in this building is vertical or horizontal. But I do know that decisions impacting the lives of 730,000 boys and girls in Alabama are made there. I trust and pray my friends on the state school board will keep this in mind in the next very important few weeks.