March 21, 2001

March 21, 2001 | WebMemo on Education

President Bush Nominates Eugene Hickok as Undersecretary of Education

President Bush has nominated Eugene W. Hickok, a former Bradley Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, as Undersecretary of Education. As Pennsylvania Secretary of Education since 1995, Hickok has been one of the nation's most reform-minded state education leaders. Among his achievements:

  • Governor Tom Ridge's "Teachers for the 21st Century" program, approved by the Pennsylvania Board of Education in 2000, requires all high-school teacher candidates to major in the subject they plan to teach and to obtain at least a 3.0 GPA in order to graduate. The program also includes testing all teachers at least once every five years, professional development for teachers based on subject-matter mastery, and alternative credentialing to widen the pool of qualified and eligible teaching candidates.

  • Pennsylvania's "Education Empowerment Act," enacted in 2000, allows low-performing school districts to privatize staff and services, hire uncertified instructors, and fire failing teachers pursuant to state law. If, after three years, student performance has not improved, then failing districts are taken over by the state.

  • Creation of nearly 70 charter schools. Secretary Hickok has made charters a priority for the Ridge administration. Though the law was first passed in 1997, there are now 22,000 children enrolled in charters across Pennsylvania and an additional 12,000 on waiting lists. If all these students were admitted, charter enrollment would constitute the state's third-largest school district.

  • Monetary incentives for districts that adopt performance pay for teachers.

  • Posting of school profiles on the Internet that receive more than 400,000 hits per month, containing information on student test scores, academic improvement, and teacher characteristics. See http://www.paprofiles.org.

Recently, Hickok has contracted with Standard & Poor's to evaluate the cost effectiveness of school-district spending. S & P will use a wide range of data to evaluate the impact of spending, and to determine how funding is allocated. The plan aims to establish objective, neutral benchmarks of performance for all Pennsylvania school districts.

On three separate occasions since taking office, Hickok and Gov. Ridge have strongly supported voucher legislation that would have permitted parents in low-performing school districts to send their children to the public, private, or religious school of their choice. However, each time the legislation was not enacted.

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