The News & Observer‘s editorial board apparently has decided that classroom experience (or at least significant seat time as an educator) is essential for the next superintendent of Wake County Public Schools. Today’s lead editorial wails and gnashes over the choice of someone lacking those credentials, as retired Army brigadier Gen. Anthony Tata is likely to become the next Wake County superintendent.

Those criteria weren’t so important for the UNC system, apparently, as the editors had no problem when Erskine Bowles, a former investment banker and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, was picked for UNC’s top slot. Consider this bouquet, from February, just after Bowles announced his retirement. Or these.

Bowles did a fine job at UNC, and was not a career academic. He is an influential Democrat, for what that’s worth …

Meantime, Tata is a top administrator at the Washington, D.C. schools, working under Superintendent Michelle Rhee, lauded by many for her kick-butt-and-take-names approach as she attempted to turn around what may have been the nation’s most dysfunctional (and yet expensive) public school system.

The general’s role was largely administrative, but that hardly disqualifies him from taking the top leadership role at WCPSS. Just ask U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who was superintendent of Denver Public Schools before his appointment to the Senate and was recently elected to a full term. Bennet, like Bowles, had an extensive career in investment banking. He also was chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (another Democrat) before Bennet took over DPS in 2005. Hickenlooper recently won election to become Colorado’s governor.

As Carolina Journal‘s Anthony Greco reported in June, many large public school systems across the country have brought in people outside the education establishment to implement reforms.

Anthony interviewed Bennet’s successor in Denver, Tom Boasberg, whose background also was in investment banking before he became the chief financial officer of DPS under Bennet.

(Full disclosure: I got to know and respect all three as an editorial writer at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver from 2006-09.)

At DPS, Bennet hired a chief academic officer from the New York City Public Schools ? led by another Democratic reformer, Joel Klein ? to handle curriculum and instructional matters, so he could focus on administration, staffing, and finances. DPS under Bennet made a dramatic turnaround. He was on President Obama’s short list to become U.S. education secretary and was appointed to an open Senate seat at the end of 2008. So the notion that only career educrats are worthy administrators is so 20th century.

Finally, the section of the editorial mentioning an online review Tata wrote praising Sarah Palin’s memoir Going Rogue ? and questioning Tata’s judgment and qualifications to serve as superintendent because he’s a Palin fan ? is a head-scratcher.

The N&O frets that Tata’s perspective might be tainted by “partisanship” ? but we’ve seen no similar concerns raised by the editors about partisanship from Democrat-appointed superintendents at Wake schools, or other educational institutions (Bowles, or his successor, Tom Ross, at UNC, anyone?) that should be managed in the interests of all North Carolinians regardless of political ideology.

But maybe that’s just me.