"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is there really any such thing as local control?

Yesterday some Missourians went to the polls and elected new school board members. Aside from positions in your town government, this is about as local as control gets. And while we may complain about things like local property taxes or trouble with trash pick up, the decisions made by school board members affect the one most important thing in our lives, our children.  If tax payers are going to have strong opinions and want to have their voices heard on any issue, it is going to be on things that impact their kids, like school. So why are mid term elections for positions on the school board so poorly attended? Perhaps its because these elections feel like our chance to send people into Area 51.

Area 51 is in plain sight.  There are government signs all around it telling you it's there and defining its boundaries. There is historical information about it was well as public speculation regarding what takes place behind its closed doors. Officials from there tell us that things that look really ominous are really just weather balloons.  We're asked to believe the official reports. There is always some fear that they are covering up something really sinister even though the public image, an image people seem to be working awfully hard to project, is notably benign. The one thing we're sure of, because you can't miss the signs, is that the public is not wanted there. The public must Keep Out.

Your local school board may feel like Area 51. You know it exists.  It's likely got its own tab on your school district's website. There are meeting notices at least once a month so you know they do something. There are historical records or minutes of what they did but most of these are so scrubbed of any really useful information that the meeting could have as easily been about the local farmer's market as the institution your children attend, by law, for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year. Business at the meetings is conducted in an orderly, if not jovial, manner usually with 100% agreement on each vote, as if the conclusion were so obvious the vote could not have gone any other way. Such lock step agreement, far from being reassuring, lends itself to speculation about wrong doing and cover ups as it does not reflect the reality of other diverse groups functioning.

People you thought you knew when you elected them are taken behind the closed doors and emerge as a Stepford version of their former selves, participating in the mutual admiration and complete unity of the school board. They have entered restricted space and business continues as usual, without public input.  So its easy to see why much of the public has given up worrying about who gets voted onto the school board. District residents are told on the one hand that they are stakeholders, but in reality they are offered no seat at the table. The Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions reported that one school board member actually said the public meetings are for the public "to observe, not participate."

Those who are pushing back against Common Core Standards and other education reform measures say they don't want to lose local control. But if we are truly honest, do we even have such local control?  Are there procedures in place to allow public input to our schools?  Right now it looks like the answer is "No."

DESE answers to no one and signed the state up to Common Core Standards that hadn't even been written yet. The local school boards, in many cases, say they just do what DESE tells them.  That may explain their aversion to public input.  They have no mechanism to reject what the state is telling them so why listen to people complain about what the state requires. There is absolutely no pathway for public input to DESE decisions, so the local school board can't even tell people to take it up with their "boss." Even our elected officials in the state capitol appear to have no say in DESE decisions, sometimes even using them as the mechanism to do what they cannot do in the legislature.

A return to local control right now would mean turning over control to a governor appointed board with no checks and balances, and no procedures for public comment. The time to begin laying the tracks for local control is now, before the Common Core Standards kick in. We must begin by getting our local school boards to open up and become more transparent. They should adopt the open checkbook policy that other states like Alabama, Massachusetts and Arkansas have. Far from being a source of consternation for public officials, such policies have calmed public fears and even saved money.

School Boards must also begin to address the reality of public input.  I'm willing to bet it will be far less onerous and contentious than they believe. Doing this now while the list of issues they actually can address (like school policy) is relatively short will get everyone used to the process so that when they need to use it for things that matter, like standards, they can handle public input with relative ease.

Despite their promise that the consortia standards would only dictate what is taught not how it is taught, the main proponent and architect of the Common Core ELA Standards, David Coleman,  is in fact going around telling teachers how to teach reading:

The Common Core documents clearly state the following on page 6 of the introduction. (It’s point #1 of the What is NOT Covered by the Standards):
The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.
And yet, as an author of Common Core, David Coleman is now completely violating this promise. In fact, part of the only reason so many people are willing to buy into CC is expressly because the documents swear to define the “what” and not tell teachers the “how”.
And now David is telling us how? And it’s still only 2012, two years before the Standards officially hit.
How many more promises of Common Core will be broken before they finally hit our schools? There will be a real need for open communication at that point. But if we are set in our ways of school boards not taking responsibility for what happens with curriculum in the classroom and parents have no one to go to when their child's teacher admits at the parent conference that they hate teaching this way but are being forced to by the CCS, things will fall apart quickly.

The time is now to take your newly elected school board members aside, before they are led behind the closed doors, and get their commitment to changing the way the school board operates, to opening the lines of communication, to making operations more transparent and public meetings that are less of a show and more of a working opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter