Do educators think Tim Cook’s qualified to run Apple?

Published 2:29 am Wednesday, August 17, 2016

State BOE, District 1

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, was born in Mobile and graduated from Robertsdale High School. He earned a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering from Auburn University and a master of business administration from Duke. Tim Cook is not a computer scientist. He is not a computer programmer. Tim Cook is not even an electrical engineer. Yet Tim Cook has proven to be one of the most capable CEOs in the tech industry by adeptly leading the world’s most valuable company following the passing of Steve Jobs. Tim Cook’s leadership has been so phenomenal that Apple is one of the Retirement Systems of Alabama’s top investments.

Despite Tim Cook’s astounding success, some Alabamians apparently think that he is not qualified to serve as Apple’s CEO. Why? Because Tim Cook lacks experience as a computer programmer. I draw this conclusion based on the stream of criticisms flowing from Alabama’s education community following the recent selection of Michael Sentance (who lacks experience as a public school teacher) as the new CEO of Alabama’s public education system.

Though State Superintendent of Education is the technical title for the position, the term CEO might be better suited. The State Superintendent of Education provides general administrative oversight for Alabama’s $6.6 billion public education system. The system employs 91,000 superintendents, principals, teachers, and support staff and is charged with the education of over 730,000 students. In light of the position’s executive nature, is it reasonable to disqualify someone from serving as the State Superintendent of Education simply because they do not have K-12 teaching experience?

The fact that Tim Cook has successfully led Apple without experience as a computer programmer should not come as a surprise. Many CEOs have little or no direct experience working in their company’s core non-managerial fields.

The CEO of the Infirmary Health hospital system in south Alabama never practiced medicine. The CEO of Alabama’s largest private sector employer, Alabama Power, is a lawyer, not an electrical engineer or journeyman lineman. The CEO of Thompson Engineering, one of south Alabama’s largest civil engineering firms, is an accountant, not a civil engineer.

Very few mayors have experience as municipal employees. Many administrators at colleges and universities do not come from the ranks of professors. In 2012, the American Council of Education estimated that twenty percent of U.S. college presidents came from fields outside academia, a ratio that was trending upward at that time. Some local Alabama public school systems have hired superintendents who have no public school teaching experience.

The belief that only a teacher is capable of successfully leading Alabama’s public education system is flawed because it assumes that only a teacher can understand the needs of educators. A state superintendent must be familiar with the education policies and practices that have worked in other states and must be able to evaluate whether those reforms would benefit a state like Alabama. The state superintendent must be a leader who can implement carefully planned, evidence-based policy reforms with support from educators and public officials.

It is difficult to imagine someone who is more qualified than Michael Sentance to serve as Alabama’s State Superintendent of Education. Mr. Sentance held the equivalent position in Massachusetts, a state with one of the top education programs in the Country. He served as a regional coordinator for the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration. Mr. Sentance has visited hundreds of schools in hundreds of school districts in states all over the country. He has likewise visited numerous classrooms and spoken with teachers from poor school systems and wealthy school systems, in rural areas and urban areas, and in states with diverse political climates.

No candidate for the state superintendent position came to the table with a better understanding of what works and does not work in different education systems. No candidate was more qualified for the position than Michael Sentance. As the only Board member who voted exclusively for Michael Sentance, my vote was a vote to say that Alabama’s children and Alabama’s teachers deserve a public education system that works. Michael Sentance is the leader who can guide the way to making Alabama’s public education system competitive around the country and around the world.