Obviously, it’s way too early to know how Governor Gina Raimondo’s newly appointed education commissioner, Ken Wagner, will fit into the education debate in Rhode Island. Reports headlining him as “a uniter” are not encouraging. Here’s Linda Borg in today’s Providence Journal:
Rhode Island’s new education commissioner is described as a good listener, a peacemaker and someone who doesn’t toe a strict ideological line.
Ken Wagner, who was considered the face of public education in New York after the departure of state education commissioner John King, was introduced to the public Wednesday by Governor Raimondo. The governor said Wagner has all of the qualities that educators and community leaders are seeking: he’s a good listener, an inspirational leader, someone who treats teachers with respect. …
Carl Korn, spokesman for the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers, said, “Ken did his best to walk a fine line between a governor who wanted a greater reliance on standardized tests and a test-and-punish teacher evaluation and the concerns of major stakeholders who said, ‘This isn’t what’s best for students.’”
The problem is that the education establishment — with emphasis on the teachers’ unions — is ideological and focused on their own interests. If Rhode Island lacks a governor who is pushing hard for reform, then which “sides” will Wagner bring together?
Judging from Borg’s article, it sounds like the “sides” are teachers and students. In New York, that apparently meant teachers who didn’t want challenging evaluations and students and families who didn’t want difficult standardized testing. That seems a bit more like one side, to me.
He’s apparently a strong advocate for the federal Common Core standards, so perhaps the two sides are the local interests who want to keep control over education and the federal bureaucracy and ideologues who want to take it over. But I don’t find that possibility any more encouraging.
Strange Coverage Note
As an indication of strange interests, Borg gives the following as non-career flavor from Wagner’s biography:
Wagner grew up on Long Island, New York, is married, and has two poodles, Rocco and Stella.
Some might respond to that sentence by wondering whether Rocco and Stella are adequate to give Wagner sufficient empathy with the parents of the children whose educational experience he’ll now be directing. A more immediate question, though, might be why it’s important for us to know the names of his dogs rather than that of his wife.
A spokesman for the Dept. of Education tells me it’s Christine Marra, and she’s a psychologist.