Zais Appointed as Deputy Secretary of Education

Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation

Former South Carolina Superintendent of Education Mick Zais was appointed by President Donald Trump as Deputy Secretary of Education.

The White House announcement reads:

Mitchell Zais of South Carolina to be Deputy Secretary of Education.  Most recently, Mr. Zais served as South Carolina’s elected State Superintendent of Education.  During his term in office, the department’s budget was reduced while on-time high school graduation rates increased every year to an all-time high.  The number of public charter schools increased 78 percent, the number of public charter school students increased 155 percent, and the number of students taking online courses grew 130 percent.  Prior to that, he served 10 years as president of Newberry College in South Carolina.  The College was recognized for the first time by U.S. News as one of “America’s Best Colleges.”  He served 31 years as an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army.  He retired as a Brigadier General.  Mr. Zais holds a B.S. in engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, an M.A. degree in military history, plus M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in organizational behavior and social psychology from the University of Washington.  He served as South Carolina Commissioner of Higher Education and is a recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, the states’ highest civilian award.

Zais campaigned against Common Core when he was first elected. A year into his term he appeared to make some headway rejecting one-time federal education dollars including Race to the Top funds.

“We don’t have a shortage of dollars in South Carolina’s schools, we have a shortage of accountability, competition, and incentives,” Zais said to Ben Velderman in an interview.

“If South Carolina had accepted its slice of the Race to the Top pie, it would equal $2.22 per student per year, for four years,” Zais said. “The idea that $2.22 would make a big difference is just nonsense. That’s not even a rounding error.”

He said he wanted to fight against the “education industrial complex.”

That sounds good. Unfortunately, in 2014 the South Carolina Legislature passed a rebrand of Common Core instead of a repeal that was signed by then Governor Nikki Haley.

The rewrite process was sketchy, and Zais oversaw a rebranding of the Common Core even though he claimed that was not going to happen.

I’ve not seen one independent analysis of South Carolina’s standards showing they are significantly different than the Common Core State Standards.

He was also an advocate of education as workforce development and didn’t have a problem accepting a federal workforce development grant.

He did, however, reject the Next Generation Science Standards so I’ll give him that.

He may be better than some of President Trump’s other picks for the Department of Education, but we can’t call him an anti-Common Core warrior. His rhetoric doesn’t match his record.