The Best of (Super)Intentions

Say this much about James Guthrie, whom Gov. Brian Sandoval recently appointed as Nevada’s superintendent of public schools: The man’s got some imposing credentials.

He’s earned a slew of degrees, honors and accolades, including a B.A. from Stanford University in physical anthropology, an M.A. from Stanford in educational administration, a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University in economics and education, a postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford Brookes College in England, and a Ph.D. in educational administration from Stanford. He was the director of the Peabody Center for Education Policy at Vanderbilt University, editor of the Peabody Journal of Education, the dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and an education specialist in the U.S. Senate. Most recently, he was director of educational policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas. Under the weight of all of that education and experience, Nevada’s perennially low graduation rate should be toast in no time. In the last decade, the state graduation rate declined 15.6 percent, and only half of the state’s high school students complete 12th grade, according to a study by America’s Promise Alliance, another think-tank, this one founded by Colin Powell.

Sandoval has picked one of the most educated men in America to fix the problem of education in Nevada. And Guthrie’s plan, according to what he said on KNPR’s State of Nevada during the selection process, is to let the local superintendents fix the problem.

“One of the first things I’d do is simply get out of their way,” he said, singing the fight song of think tanks that believe that, like the free market, most every social challenge will correct itself. Guthrie has long opposed the notion that teachers are underpaid, and he supports the No Child Left Behind Act. Nevada, however, recently requested a waiver from NCLB’s national test-taking standards. Although he vows to get out of local leaders’ way, Guthrie has cautioned against dropping the principles of No Child Left Behind entirely. So the future, alas, won’t be conflict-free.

Surely politics and bureaucracy won’t muck this up. Surely Nevada is poised to right its long-suffering educational system. Surely …