What Exactly Does the Superintendent of Public Instruction Do?

The Survey: This month, the California Alliance for Arts Education conducted a survey of candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction. It asked candidates to respond to go on record about a variety of issues related to arts education, including access, assessment and workforce preparation. The survey is intended to provide voters with information about how these candidates might impact arts education policy and implementation as superintendent. As we work to get the word out, many people have asked us, a little shyly, what does the State Superintendent of Education actually do?

California’s Education leadership is set up a bit differently than many other states’ and bears explanation. In most states, there is one elected official who oversees policy and administration, but in California there are two separate offices:

The Superintendent of Public Instruction is elected on a nonpartisan ballot for a four year term, runs the Department of Education and reports to:

The Secretary of Education, who is appointed by the Governor and serves as his primary education advisor and a member of his cabinet. The Secretary of Education works with the State Board of Education to develop the Administration’s education policy initiatives and is responsible for spearheading all Administration-sponsored legislation for education. The State Board of Education has eleven members, including one student member, all appointed by the Governor.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is elected on a nonpartisan ballot for a four-year term, runs the Department of Education, which implements education policy, overseeing California’s more than 9000 schools. As such, the Superintendent and the Department of Education are closely connected to what actually happens in classrooms.

As the highest elected education official, the Superintendent brings a mandate from the public on education issues, with broad powers to intervene in failing schools, set and enforce curriculum standards and interpret education law. Their leadership on particular education issues can help pave the way for their successful implementation and success in local districts.

The Superintendent also serves as an ex officio member of governing boards of the state’s higher education system. The current Superintendent of Public Instruction is Jack O’Connell.

The Election: The primary will be held June 8, 2010. Assuming there is a runoff for this office in the November election, the Alliance will continue to raise arts education as a priority issue in this election in a variety of forums. We will keep you informed as we move forward with those efforts.

More Questions? If you have a questions about the survey, the SPI or the election, post them below and we’ll do our best to answer them.

One Response to “What Exactly Does the Superintendent of Public Instruction Do?”

Victoria Says:
May, 27, 2010

Thank you for this very helpful information as well as the comprehensive survey of State Superintendent candidates. I reviewed the rather complicated set of answers by quite an array of candidates and I found that I still really don’t know how to decide who to vote for based on thier answers.

Is there some sort of criteria by which I can judge their answers to help me decide which one will get my vote? Many said they support arts education – what’s a discerning mind to do?