John Kasich on Language: Educators, Superintendents and Politicians
by Denis Smith

Ohio Governor John Kasich has a way with words. Without resorting to understatement, let’s just say that with his practice of oral communication, he is certainly no Prince Charming.

In January 2011, just weeks into his term as the state’s chief executive, he gave a speech to a group of state employees in which he described an encounter with a police officer in 2008. Kasich used the word “idiot” three times to characterize the officer who ticketed him for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle.  Following an uproar, his spokesman, Rob Nichols, said “The governor, of course, respects the important work of law enforcement officers and regrets his poor choice of words…”

Of course.

Last week, Kasich was at it again when he described school district critics of his school funding formula and budget as being “irresponsible.” According to the Columbus Dispatch, the governor said “We need more superintendents who are educators, and less superintendents who are politicians.”

Kasich’s observation is laughable at best. But it also shows the flexible meaning of terms like educators and superintendents that are used by him and his allies as they promote an alternative or parallel public education universe known as charter schools.

State law directs that the head of an Ohio school district must hold a professional school administrator license to serve as a superintendent. According to the Ohio Department of Education website, a superintendent must “Earn a master’s degree from an accredited university; Complete an approved preparation program; Receive a recommendation from the dean or head of teacher education at the institution where he or she completed the preparation program; Complete the Ohio Assessment for Educators licensure exam #015, Educational Leadership, prescribed by the State Board of Education.”

In addition to all of these requirements, Ohio professional administrator licensure requires that a school superintendent “must have three years of successful experience in a position requiring a principal or administrative specialist license.”

So if an educator can complete this program of professional formation and run through all of these hoops, they can obtain a license and serve as a school superintendent. The key descriptors here are educators and superintendents, words that Kasich used in the same sentence on February 10.

How then is it that when it comes to the subject of “public” charter schools, Kasich and his friends have different definitions and understandings for terms like educators and superintendents?

Under Ohio law, there are no education or professional requirements for an individual to serve as a public charter school superintendent or principal. None. As Woody Allen might have put it, if 80% of success in life is just showing up, you’ve got a good chance of becoming the top administrator of a charter school just by showing up, with a new start-up school proposal in hand, at the offices of a charter school sponsor.

And yes, governor, let’s say it again: there are absolutely no administrative licensure requirements in charterdom. You don’t even have to be an educator in order to open and become a superintendent of a “public” charter school.

But there was a third word that was used for effect in that sentence. In addition to “superintendents” and “educators,” Kasich used the word “politicians.”

Not everyone can become a licensed school superintendent. But nearly everyone can act like or even become a full-time politician just by continually practicing the craft. Note, there are no education or professional requirements to enter the practice of becoming a politician. Certainly, John Kasich certainly knows that.

Now there’s just one more thing: Governor Kasich, after reading one horror story after another, would you agree that we need more charter school superintendents who also happen to be educators? Would you support this requirement – and other needed “public” charter school reforms – in the various reform proposals floating around the Ohio legislature? For other true reform ideas, please read this short article that details needed changes that would clean up Ohio’s underperforming and challenged charter schools. It would certainly be nice if we had more licensed professional administrators serving as superintendents of Ohio charter schools.

And what about that third descriptor – politicians? Please charm us with your answer, governor. Thanks.


Denis Smith is a retired public school administrator who has worked as a charter school consultant for an Ohio charter school sponsor organization and as a staff member in the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools.  As such, he is a charter school watchdog and has also served as a director of communications for several organizations.