John Deasy is denying there's any connection, but many people in the education community will continue to wonder whether the Prince George's County superintendent would be moving on if there hadn't been a dust-up in the past several weeks over how he got his doctoral degree.
Deasy, who is widely viewed by education leaders in the state as having started significant reforms in the county since he arrived, announced this week he will be leaving in February. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been a growing presence in funding education reform in the country, has hired Deasy to be deputy director of its education division.
Last month, the Courier-Journal in Louisville reported that Deasy had been awarded a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Lousville in 2004 although he had only completed nine credits, or about a semester, there. He had completed more than 70 credits at other universities, according to published reports.
Typically, a doctoral candidate would have to be at Louisville for one year and complete twice as many credits while in residence there to get a degree.
Deasy's academic advisor at the university was the dean of education, Robert Felner, who is now under a federal investigation, the paper reported, for his possible misuse of federal funds.
After the information surfaced about Deasy, the university started an investigation into the awarding of the diploma. The Washington Post then picked up on the story reporting that Deasy said he hoped the university would rescind his degree if it was given improperly. The Post reported that in 2001, several years before he got his doctorate, Deasy, as superintendent of a California school system, recommended that a national education center Felner was running should get a $125,000 contract from the school system.
Felner's group received a total of $375,000, the Post reported. Deasy said there was no connection between the contract and the awarding of the degree.
Leaving the controversy aside, the departure of Deasy will once again leave Prince George's County looking for a new superintendent. After years of turmoil in the superintendent's office, it looked as though the school system might have gotten some calm with Deasy's arrival.
The Gates Foundation press release said Deasy has "earned a national reputation for his leadership in significantly narrowing the achievement gap between low income and minority students and their peers." He also shook things up a bit, most recently starting a pilot pay for performance program for teachers in the county.
Deasy, like his fellow superintendents in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., had become a superintendent to watch in the area. It seemed for awhile as though the different approaches taken by the three superintendents would provide an interesting experiment in which reforms work and which ones don't.