Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My State Superintendent is ...... elected.

Fourteen of the 50 states choose their State Superintendent of Schools by election. The superintendent is appointed in the other 36—appointed by the governor or various boards or otherwise. Appointed state superintendents tend to be professional educators; elected state superintendents are more likely to be politicians.

My State Superintendent is most certainly a politician. In Arizona, the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction is the third highest elective office in the state—after governor and attorney general. Not surprisingly, the Superintendent office has attracted the attention of ambitious politicians who view it as a stepping stone to higher things. The result is that the office has frequently been abused, and the public schools have been the victims.

Perhaps no one has been more abusive than one Tom Horne, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for Arizona from 2003 to 2010. Horne has a law degree from Harvard and prior to his superintendency, he served for four years in the Arizona House of Representatives. During his superintendency, the large Latino contingent of the Arizona public school population came in for some hard times. Horne opposed bi-lingual education at every juncture, and even arrogantly made a point of "learning" Spanish in three months to demonstrate to bi-lingual advocates that they should quit whining about needing special treatment of non-English speaking children.

In 2010, Horne was elected State's Attorney General. His political star was soaring. That star crashed ignominiously a couple weeks ago when Horne was charged with a hit-and-run class 3 misdemeanor when two FBI agents, who were following him in connection with a potential indictment for election fraud, witnessed him crashing into the rear fender ($1,000 damages) of a parked car while exiting the parking garage of his chief assistant's apartment house at mid-day. The FBI had concluded earlier that his assistant, whom he had brought with him from the Department of Education—one Carmen Chenal—was more than an assistant. Public opinion has sided with Horne's wife. Horne is accused by local newspaper columnists as having dragged a retinue of cronies into the Department of Education, and subsequently having dragged them with him to the Attorney General's office.

Horne's legal troubles did not start with his having left the scene of an accident in 2012. Back when he was elected State Superintendent in 2003, a colleague and I received an email from a friend at Boston College that read in effect, "You guys elected Tom Horne?!" According to this friend—who was a fellow student of Horne's at Harvard Law School—Horne was nearly indicted for stock fraud while in law school and did in fact receive a lifetime ban by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the last 15 or so years, Horne has received six speeding tickets including one in a school zone.

This man's future is unclear. His string of political victories in Arizona may have run out. He recently contributed an op-ed piece to the Arizona Republic. He wanted to list his achievements in office to counter what he considered unbalanced negative coverage of his unfortunate contretemps. His defense reminded me of a possibly apocryphal court case. A young man was accused of having murdered his parents, all four siblings, and the family dog. In the accused's defense, his lawyer produced the dog in the courtroom, alive.

Aren't there already enough pure politicians trying to run public education?

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University


  1. We've seen a disgustingly similar appointment in Iowa... I think it has always been appointed but now that we have a Republican governor, policy is dictated by ALEC. Fortunately we continue to have a Senate controlled by Democrats which provides some protection for public education.

  2. Yes, "appointed" rather than "elected" won't solve all problems of politicization; but it is often a start. According to my informants, Iowa has a particular problem this time around. Governor Bransford appointed Jason Glass--no relation--to the directorship of the Iowa Dept. of Education in 2010. In the summer of 2011, Connections Inc. (since acquired by Pearson publishing conglomerate) took Glass to Brazil to inspect the Brazilian education system. Connections Inc. was attempting to enter the Iowa education market with cyber schools at the time. Glass subsequently reversed his predecessor's ruling and allowed Connections to operate 100% online schools in the state.
    Yes, appointed state superintendents can be craven cronies of politicians as well as elected superintendents.

  3. hi, gene -- what's the source for the appointed/elected state supes figure you give?

  4. Alexander. Wikipedia does it again. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superintendent_(education) And this link includes a list of all the states and whether or not the state superintendent is an elected official.