Deputy Secretary of Education Gene Hickok resigned from the U.S. Department of Education effective at the end of January, after four years of efforts to bring historic changes to the culture of American K-12 education.
In his resignation letter to President George W. Bush, Hickock said it was rare in public life to get the opportunity to work on an issue that could “change everything, forever,” but “I have had that chance” for the past few years.
“I will be forever grateful that you asked me to contribute to this noble cause,” he wrote in his December 2, 2004 resignation letter. “I have come to know hundreds of students whose lives will be changed forever because of your determination to put the interests of the children above those of the system.”
Conversation Has Changed
Hickok credited the president with changing the character of the conversation about education in the United States through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
“Today, we talk about accountability and results,” he said. “We confront the achievement gap instead of closing our eyes to it. We talk about making the promise of America real for all of America’s children.”
Outgoing Education Secretary Rod Paige thanked Hickok for his tireless work on behalf of America’s children, “ensuring that they are part of a system that gives each and every one of them the attention they deserve and academic tools for success.”
Paige also credited Hickok’s earlier service as Pennsylvania’s education secretary, as having been “enormously valuable” in helping take NCLB from idea to law and in shaping subsequent implementation.
“He has also been a talented leader in the fight to introduce other important types of reforms that increase choices and empower parents, such as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and charter schools,” Paige added.
Tells Chicago: Obey Law
The short letter of resignation was not the only missive penned last December 2 by the departing U.S. deputy education secretary. Hickock also wrote a longer letter to Illinois State Board of Education officials, reminding them that school districts identified as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act could not serve as tutoring providers.
It had “come to this Department’s attention,” Hickok noted, that the City of Chicago School District 299 was classed as needing improvement and yet was functioning as a tutoring provider.
Hickok directed Illinois State Board Chairman Jesse Ruiz and Interim State Education Superintendent Randy J. Dunn “to investigate these matters” and take steps to ensure District 299 complied with the law.
Five weeks earlier, Dunn had complained the state board had requested guidance from the U.S. Department of Education but was still waiting for clear direction. Hickok politely set the record straight.
“My staff and I have had numerous conversations with the former State Superintendent [Robert Schiller], as well as Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Arne Duncan regarding this issue,” noted Hickok. “I can, of course, provide the dates and substance of those conversations with you if you would like.”
Served State, Private Organizations
Hickok served as under secretary of education from the beginning of the Bush administration until July 2003, when he was named Paige’s second in command. Before being called to Washington, DC, Hickok served as secretary of education in Pennsylvania for six years under then-governor Tom Ridge.
Before joining government service, Hickok was a political science professor at Dickinson College, where he also served as founding director of Dickinson’s Clarke Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Contemporary Issues. Hickok earned his bachelor’s degree from Hampden-Sydney College and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.
George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is associate editor of School Reform News.