U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has reportedly tapped former California State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell for a key post in his administration.
EdWeek and The Chronicle of Higher Education are reporting that Duncan wants Mitchell as the next under secretary for the department. Mitchell would succeed another Californian, former chancellor of the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District Martha Kanter, who announced in August that she’s leaving the post and returning to California.
Mitchell was president of the State Board of Education from 2008 to 2010. During that time he also took over as president and CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit venture philanthropy fund based in Oakland but with offices in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, that supports entrepreneurial programs to improve education for low-income students. The Fund’s portfolio includes many of the nation’s largest charter school organizations, such as KIPP, Aspire and Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools. Before the nomination came to light, Mitchell told EdSource he had recently moved to the Washington, D.C., area after his wife accepted a job at the University of Maryland.
The position requires Senate confirmation. However, sources told Inside Higher Ed “that Mitchell might be named to a position that did not require Senate confirmation, given the difficulty of getting anyone through that gauntlet these days.”
Current state board president Michael Kirst, who taught Mitchell at Stanford University, said he got wind of the nomination several weeks ago and thinks it could only help California if one of Duncan’s advisers “understands how the California government works in K-12 education.”
“Part of our concern, whether it’s justified or not, has been that we’re so big that people don’t really understand our problems due to our size and our diversity,” Kirst said. California has 6 million public school children – more than the population of some states.
A key area where California could use an advocate in the administration is the contentious battle over a state waiver from No Child Left Behind. Duncan rejected California’s first application for failing to include a teacher evaluation process, and then touched off a political spat in Sacramento by approving waivers to the federal law for eight districts in the California Office to Reform Education.
“The whole NCLB waiver will continue to be an issue because we don’t have (a statewide waiver),” Kirst said. “(Mitchell) would understand, I think, what we’re facing here.”
Beyond his political acumen, Mitchell has solid academic credentials. He was president of Occidental College, a small liberal arts school in Los Angeles; President Barack Obama was an undergraduate at the college for two years before Mitchell’s tenure. Prior to that, Mitchell was dean of the School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA and chair of the education department at Dartmouth College.
Mitchell gave a strong indication of what he believes ought to be the role of the federal government in education during testimony before the U.S. of House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce in February 2011.
He urged Congress to support the growth of high-quality charter schools, to fund professional development for teachers in the new Common Core State Standards, to hold states accountable for improving education for their most at-risk and underserved students, and to provide federal incentives, like Race to the Top grants, to spark innovation that frees states to serve as “experimental laboratories.”
“It’s hard to think of a place where (innovation) is needed more than in our education system,” Mitchell told the committee, “which in too many important ways remains a relic of the 19th century system from which it stems, rather than a reflection of the 21st century world it aims to serve.”