Welcome to Board’s Eye View. The blog name comes from my location at ground zero of educational governance: member of the board of education. Though I know that some see such boards as a shredded remnant of the 19th century, they remain, 14,000-plus strong, the default governance clutch of the 21st century American public school engine. Love ‘em or leave ‘em—they are in the driver’s seat. Endangered species or albatross, to change metaphors, school boards pose the central question for America’s education future: Do “the people” dictate education policy? And if so, how?
I first ran for school board in the late 1990s. It was a treat, since I had not run for anything since high school. Some of the old political instincts returned and I won. But I soon learned that it was more like high school than anything I’d seen in the adult world and I resigned after just six months, head spinning. (I recounted my experience for Education Next, (called “A Board’s Eye View”) in 2005.)
Seven years later, when I noticed that there were no official candidates on the school board election ballot—a new low in our little district’s slide to dysfunction—I decided that I had a chance to make amends for my quitting ways and mounted a stealth email campaign: I won again, with 92 write-in votes, a shock to a board that had not moved the achievement needle at all and with whom I had continued to battle—from the audience at board meetings, in the letters column of the local newspaper,
A fascinating story in the New York Times about schooling in India has a few things to teach American educators; mainly, that the poor really do want a good education. (I have had extended discussions with colleagues about the question of educating the poor (see here, here, and here) and Kathleen Porter Magee’s The “Poverty Matters” Trap is a must-read for anyone investigating the subject.)
As it turns out, public schools in India, like many in the U.S., are apparently lousy – “in many states,” write Vikas Bajaj and Jim Yardley about India, “government education is in severe disarray, with teachers often failing to show up.” But unlike the U.S., where charter schools and vouchers have begun to offer alternatives, In India the poor have turned to a network of private schools to educate their children. It is much as James Tooley described it in a 2005 story in Education Next (and his subsequent book, The Beautiful Tree), recounting amazing stories from around the world:
[T]he poor have found remarkably innovative ways of helping themselves, educationally, and in some of the most destitute places on earth have managed to nurture a large and growing industry of private schools for themselves.
Checker wrote about this phenomenon in India in 2008:
I confess: I was impressed--and slightly sheepish, too, considering I've lived and traveled in India and other "third world" countries over
The controversy over the recent New York Times front-page slam of K12 Inc. was ostensibly about the company’s inability to deliver online education (see CEO Ron Packard’s reply here), but one of the more interesting parts of the ensuing debate was not about computers and education but about delivering education for profit – which is what Packard’s company does. (Full disclosure: I have done some editing work for K12.)
This morning Walt Gardner, who writes the Reality Check blog for Education Week, penned a letter to the Times editor that seems to sum up the anti-profit school of thought pretty well:
Agora Cyber Charter School [the K12 school that was the Times’ whipping post] serves as an instructive case study of what happens when schools are run like businesses. The profit motive always assures that the education of students takes a back seat to the enrichment of investors.
Nevertheless, free market advocates have managed to exploit the frustration and anger felt by taxpayers over the glacial progress of traditional public schools to advance their agenda. In the end, it will become clear that it’s impossible to provide a quality education and show a profit at the same time.
This is a brief but concise compilation of some of the misguided beliefs about business and education, and it reinforces a working theory of mine: that many education establishmentarians lean far to the left on governance issues other than those affecting education.
This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power.
Terry Ryan said it well, praising The Mind Trust’s Indianapolis school reform plan, Creating Opportunity Schools, as a “bold and dramatic transformation of public education akin to what has taken place in New Orleans and New York City." And it's true that “the most controversial part of the reform plan,” as Terry writes, “calls for neutering the role of the current IPS [Indianapolis Public Schools] school board, while turning governance over to a new five member board appointed jointly by the mayor and the City-County Council.” This is indeed a bold consolidation of power. But the plan also calls for turning Indianapolis into a district of total choice, in which all schools would compete for students — a bold diffusion of power. By combining mayoral authority and parental choice, as Paul Peterson suggests in his masterful 2010 book Saving Schools, The Mind Trust proposal would create “a marriage made in heaven”:
Theoretically, the excellence movement’s two central thrusts — accountability and parental choice — are complementary strategies designed to enhance school quality: information supplied by an accountability system can be made available to parents, who can then make intelligent choices among schools.
But Peterson warns that
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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