After months of jockeying with control-freak Governor Ted Strickland, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman is on her way out, perhaps to the University of Oregon as ed-school dean (see here).
She toughed it out for a while but the handwriting went onto the wall for her once key members of the State Board of Education decided that placating the governor was more important than retaining Dr. Z, as she is known at the Ohio Department of Education. It must also be said that Zelman didn't try very hard to placate him herself, seemingly more determined to demonstrate independence than to make nice with Bob Taft's successor and his agenda. She can, in truth, be ornery, strong-willed, and mercurial, in addition to very bright, boundlessly energetic, and quite creative. But there was no way that a principled educator with her track record could have accommodated the Strickland education agenda, such as it is. Much of it, alas, simply involves seizing control of the system, reorganizing the deck chairs rather than repositioning the ship (see here).
Strickland has recommended changes that Dr. Z could not and should not be expected to stomach, much less preside over. Ohio's standards and accountability system leaves much to be desired -- but the governor's goal is to weaken it, not strengthen it. The state's charter-school and voucher programs also have their flaws -- but the governor's goal is to kill them, not fix them. Indeed, the only way Zelman could, in conscience, have stayed in Columbus was if she retained independent control of the education department. Once that became unrealistic, her fate was sealed. That's a pity. I like her personally, admire her pluck and her ‘what's-good-for-the-kids-not-necessarily-the-grownups orientation' and have enjoyed my various dealings with her. Far more important, Strickland is going to be freer to cripple these vitally important policy domains once she's out of the way. We'll miss you, Dr. Z, and the state owes you a far greater debt of gratitude than it's ever likely to pay.