Experience isn’t everything, but it’s curious that the nominees for U.S. secretary of education and New Hampshire commissioner of education have so little of it. Apparently, in the minds of their Republican supporters, ideology will fill the gaps.

The editorial is referring to Betsy DeVos, the Michigan billionaire tapped by President Trump to be education secretary even though she never went to public schools nor sent her children to one, and is seen by critics as supporting the privatization of public schools.

And it is referring to Frank Edelblut,  a businessman and one-term state representative in New Hampshire who home-schooled his seven children and who has been tapped by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to be the state’s education commissioner.

The selection has to be approved by the Executive Council, a Republican-controlled panel, so he is expected to be confirmed in the job.

Edelblut has staked out strong positions on key education issues: He is a vocal critic of the Common Core State Standards, a 180-degree change from the outgoing commissioner; he isn’t sure, the Concord Monitor reported, that full-day kindergarten is good for kids; and he supports funding programs that use public dollars to pay for private school tuition. He supported, in 2015, members of the Croydon School Board who challenged orders from the state school board to stop paying private school tuition with public funds because it was against the law.

Why does Edelblut think he can do the job given his lack of experience in education? He told the Monitor:

“Who better to bridge that gap between the workforce and education system than someone who knows the workforce really well?”

Who better indeed.

The notion of hiring people with no education experience to run public schools is hardly a new one; districts have been hiring people from outside the education world as superintendents for years.  What seems to be missing from these decisions is that over time, non-educators haven’t done any better in improving schools than educators — and in some cases do worse — and that many educator see it as an affront when their boss doesn’t have a clue about the work they do. The notion that people in the business world would understand how to run public schools, which are civic institutions and not businesses, is central to the corporate school reform movement that has failed to systemically improve public school districts in recent years.

Here is a letter to the panel that will vote on EdelBlut’s nomination, written by Wayne F. Gersen. Gersen is an educational consultant who served six years as a high school administrator in Pennsylvania and Maine, and 29 years as a superintendent of schools in districts in in Maine, New Hampshire, Maryland and New York. He was an adjunct professor at SUNY New Paltz and Vermont College, and has had several articles published in Education Week. This appeared on his blog and he gave me permission to publish it.

Dear Executive Council Members,
I am writing to express my unequivocal opposition to the appointment of Frank Edelblut as Commissioner of Education. As a former NH Public School Superintendent of 11 years (SAU 16 from 1983-87; SAU 70 from 2004-2011), a Superintendent with 18 additional years of experience in other States, and one who has worked as a consultant for the past six years in Vermont and New Hampshire, I have a great understanding of and great appreciation for the work performed by a chief school officer in a state. I also know that overseeing a state department of education requires an in depth knowledge of how public schools are governed, how they are managed, and the challenges employees in public schools face. It is evident from what I have read about Mr. Edelblut that he possesses no knowledge of the workings of public schools. Mr. Edelblut asserts that his skills as a private businessman are transferable to overseeing a complex public agency. The experience of other businessmen with no public sector experience who take over schools shows otherwise. Mr. Edelblut also asserts that his experience as a CEO provides him with an understanding of “what kids need to be successful.” While he may know what a HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE needs to be successful IN HIS BUSINESS, I do not believe that gives him any sense of what a Kindergartner needs to be successful in Colebrook, Concord, or Contoocook.
Most troubling to me is his lack of experience in dealing with public schools as a parent. If Mr. Edelblut was a successful businessman who ALSO served on his local school board, or who attended his child’s PTA meetings or back to school nights, or who had any children who attended public school I might be open to an assertion that he has some sense of the challenges of public schools. The fact that he chose to homeschool his children instead of working with his local school board or local principal or his child’s teacher experience speaks volumes about his commitment to the cause of improving schools. Parents who are engaged in public education soon gain an appreciation for the hard work required to educate all children and find ways to improve their local schools through teamwork.
To offer another perspective on Mr. Sununu’s appointment, I’ve pasted a copy of the Lebanon Valley News editorial from Saturday, January 21 below. It eloquently expresses their concerns about Mr. Edelblut’s qualifications.
In closing I want to make certain that each of you has an appreciation for the excellent leadership Dr. Virginia Barry provided New Hampshire schools over her tenure as State Superintendent. She was an excellent communicator, a visionary leader who was willing to push back for as long and as hard as she could against the testing regimen that dominated the agenda of previous Presidents, and she developed imaginative and creative ways to personalize learning so that all children had a positive experience in school. It saddens and disappoints me to think that her work and the work of those in the understaffed State Department of Education who helped realize her vision will be pushed aside.
Thank you for giving careful consideration to the appointment of Mr. Edelblut. I urge you to reject his appointment and insist on the appointment of someone who can build on the foundation Dr. Barry and her staff have put in place.
Wayne Gersen
Etna, NH 03750