American education lost two great leaders last week with the passing of George H.W. Bush and Harold O. Levy.
It’s likely they never even met, as they came from different worlds and moved through the education solar system on different orbits. They belonged to different political parties and hailed from different generations. Yet their contributions to the betterment of K-12 education in the United States were both large and in interesting ways parallel.
Bush was a New England aristocrat turned Texas oilman turned politician and government official. Save for his time as ambassador to the United Nations, he never lived in New York. Levy, on the other hand, was a quintessential New Yorker, the son of Jewish refugees, a Wall Street lawyer who ultimately became the city’s schools chancellor and then head of an important private foundation.
Yet each was, in his way, an education leader, a visionary even, a champion of both excellence and equity, the head of large enterprises, and the source of a durable and influential legacy.
In 1988, campaigning in New Hampshire, Bush declared before a high-school audience that “I want to be the education president.” No U.S. president nor (to my knowledge) serious candidate...