William J. Moloney
Seven people remain in the hunt to become Florida's next education commissioner. Next week, the State Board of Education will trim the list further. Leading to that Sept. 18 meeting, the Gradebook will provide mini profiles, one each day, on the candidates. Today, meet William J. Moloney.
William J. Moloney is all about accountability. It's been his guiding philosophy for the entirety of his decade-long tenure as Colorado's education commissioner. He helped create and implement the state's 1998 Accreditation Accountability Act, the 2000 School Accountability Reports and the 2001 Coalition to Close the Learning Gap.
One needs only review his own writings to learn how important the issue is to him. Moloney began a March 16, 2006, column in the Rocky Mountain News like this: "If you asked the question, 'What one thing has changed public education more than anything else in the last 20 years?' there could be only one answer: The rise of state accountability testing." He followed a year later with a column calling for a national test. And he suggests in a USA Today piece that if our students are failing these tests, it's the fault of American culture.
For almost 10 years, his viewpoint carried the day with Colorado's GOP-dominated government. He didn't have to do much to convince leaders to continue down the path. And according to news reports, he didn't reach out to education leaders around the state for support. Superintendents often complained that Moloney did not work well with the state's school districts. Moloney responded that it wasn't his job. (See story here.) By 2006, the superintendents were calling for more interactive leadership in Denver. (See story here.)
Soon after, a newly elected Democrat-dominated State Board, Legislature and governor were listening. (See stories here and here.) State Board member Karen Middleton, one of Moloney's most vocal critics, tells the Gradebook, "I felt that his philosophy and his approach to working with the education stakeholder community was inadequate. He wasn't much of a team player. ... I think his approach to managing a huge education enterprise ... is dated at best." She granted that Moloney is passionate about making sure every child is pushed to his or her potential. She simply questioned his leadership style. In the meantime, a state audit criticized the department's oversight of online education. (See story here.)
Moloney tells the Gradebook the time was right for him to leave. It wasn't about the criticism, he added. "If you're seeking to bring change, inherent in that drive to bring change is an implicit criticism of the status quo," he said. "I always found those who were in favor of change happily outnumbered those who were not. ... If I ran for the hills every time someone said, 'That test is terrible' ... I'd be gone long ago."
Looking ahead, Moloney said he sees the achievement gap between demographic groups as the biggest problem facing education. "There's a grant irony, or paradox, here. We know exactly what is wrong. We know exactly what works. The question is, do we have the will to do what works?" he said. Moloney views the commissioner's position as a "bully pulpit" to get community leaders headed in the right direction to help children. And he considers Florida as the prime place to make a difference. "Florida is on the right track," he said. "Florida is a landscape that glitters with opportunity for positive reform and change."
Tomorrow: William Harner