Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kill all the School Boards

Some serious truth in the following paragraphs from Matt Miller at The This is what any candidate for school board is facing.

Incompetent school boards and union dominance. “In the first place, God made idiots,” Mark Twain once wrote. “This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.” Things don’t appear to have improved much since Twain’s time. “The job has become more difficult, more complicated, and more political, and as a result, it’s driven out many of the good candidates,” Vander Ark says. “So while teachers’ unions have become more sophisticated and have smarter people who are better-equipped and -prepared at the table, the quality of school-board members, particularly in urban areas, has decreased.” Board members routinely spend their time on minor matters, from mid-level personnel decisions to bus routes. “The tradition goes back to the rural era, where the school board hired the schoolmarm and oversaw the repair of the roof, looked into the stove in the room, and deliberated on every detail of operating the schools,” says Michael Kirst, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University. “A lot of big-city school boards still do these kinds of things.” Because of Progressive-era reforms meant to get school boards out of “politics,” most urban school districts are independent, beyond the reach of mayors and city councils. Usually elected in off-year races that few people vote in or even notice, school boards are, in effect, accountable to no one.

Local control essentially surrenders power over the schools to the teachers’ unions. Union money and mobilization are often decisive in board elections. And local unions have hefty intellectual and political backing from their state and national affiliates. Even when they’re not in the unions’ pockets, in other words, school boards are outmatched. (Page two)

It's true. As BOE financial disclosure forms clearly indicate the unions, the employees of the system, exert the most financial power in these district races. Next up is the business interests. Many of whom don't live in the districts or system and so don't suffer the tax or societal consequences of their actions. Waaaay down the political food chain are busy moms and dads with barely enough time to earn a living and ensure the children have clean clothes. If they had the time and/or money to advocate for their children they rarely have the political skills and connections to really make a difference. And, frankly, it's often their children that desperately need some differences to occur.

Those that run the public schools in our nation aren't looking for bright, articulate people who bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to school board meetings. They use every tool and trick possible to keep their power unto themselves and keep this adult jobs program going. They're looking for folks who are of their ilk or compliant and willing to quietly rubber stamp and cash their paychecks. It's assumed that any retired teacher is better qualified than any successful business person. Never mind that the system resembles more of a corporation than a classroom when you consider that transportation, in school clinics, human resources, purchasing and food service take up a huge portion of the system's resources.

Further, the Metro Council that approves the budget for the school system has absolutely no control over how the money is spent. They, essentially, get a request from the school system saying we need $X 'for the children'. There is no actual requirement to account for money spent. Any attempt at pointing out the failures in the system is met with a visceral "kill the messenger".

Get a warm cup of something on this dark rainy day and read all three pages of Mr. Miller's article. You won't agree with it all, I absolutely disagree that nationalization is the answer, but you will come away more enlightened.

If you agree that nationalization isn't the answer, get involved in a local school board race and ensure that the next board actually works for the children, your children, our children. Send your council representative some specific questions about expenditures for them to ask when the BOE comes before them asking for money. If we can't actually hold them accountable for the money let's at least get the waste out into the light of day.

1 comment:

JJ Ross said...

Inexcusable waste of education resources comes in human form too, not just dollar form.
And is, perhaps, the greater cause of all we can't seem to overcome. . .