Monthly Archive for November, 2008

Tips for Trustees from a “failed” Candidate

While I ran for school board trustee in the last election, Nov 15/08, I kept my fingers crossed that I would NOT be elected. I dreaded having to go to interminable meetings for three years of my life.  I did run to bring to public and institutional awareness the need to seriously examine the very relevancy of school boards in this day and age.  I did learn a lot during the campaign and from my research and thus I have some insights to offer.

TRUSTEE AWARENESS #1

My HOMEWORK on school board issues during my recent trustee candidacy yields a lot of interesting information. I did not get elected, however did garner over 1/10 of votes. My website continues: http://abolish-school-boards.org

As well, I will publish on other sites as news comes in. With that in mind, I share the following:

1. Getting more money for schools. Most candidates I heard or read about said they would dedicate themselves to this effort.

In Quebec the opposition (ADQ) says they would abolish school boards to save $125 million annually. To compute for BC that would mean a saving of about $70 million annually. Instead of the savings going back into provincial coffers perhaps that money should be spread out to BC schools or for special needs. Would BC trustees consider that sacrifice worthwhile?

2. Few trustee candidates mentioned any kind of system-wide reform. Most just wanted to hunker down and improve their own district.

Meanwhile, our sister province to the east, Alberta, seems to have province-wide reviews every few years. Right now they are in the midst of a review of education for special-needs. In 2003 a Commission on Learning produced 95 recommendations with the Ministry of Education acting on 88. The Minister told school trustees Nov 19 that another review is imminent, that “he wants to get people talking about education…that could lead to changes in the legislation that governs how schools are run.” When asked if that meant abolishing school boards, he answered, “…governance is part of that discussion and if we’re not doing governance the right way, then we should be open to the concept of how we should do it.” See "Education System Could Face Changes".

These reviews, if genuine, definitely lead to greater responsiveness to what citizens express and want. For example, Alberta has had enabling legislation since 1994 to provide for greater choice through charter schools where parents, teachers and principals run individual schools. This autonomy allows flexibility in meeting accountability standards as well as providing for creative programs to emerge. This is something that BC should consider for its citizens as well.

A worldview approach has significant educational and decisional implications. BC also needs these focused conversations outside the periodic provincial elections. A commission of inquiry soon???

3. School closures due to falling enrollment seem to be a BC political no-no.

Meanwhile, trustees in Boston, even in the midst of closing six schools, are expanding in other areas to improve school quality. They expect to add more “pilot” schools which have more “autonomy than other schools over budget, staffing, governance, classroom teaching standards, and testing programs.”

4. Trustee candidates see themselves as volunteer public servants called to do good things for their community. They don’t see that they’ll be paid to do a lot of busy work and a lot of frustrating political wrangling and manipulation.

A little flavor of the jockeying and fighting that goes on and the ideological agendas at play was evidenced during the recent board elections in Langley. However, rarely do we see anything comprehensive like “Confessions and Frustrations of a Long Time School Trustee”.

Well, there is such a book, not with that title though. The 1998 book by Russell J. Edwards is called “How Boards of Education Are Failing Your Children” and available from $.33 to $1.00 plus shipping (about $5-6) from AbeBooks or Amazon. It’s a long rambling, stream of consciousness, full of insider gossip, political and personal, dirty tricks, etc. Written by a well-intentioned “Master School Board Member” who wants to tell “what is wrong with the educational process and why it is so hard to make progress and solve problems.” Highly recommended, especially for trustees who think it’s a “nice” job and think they’ll get anywhere during any 3yr term.

5. Fads come and go, yet they continue to be embraced for the WRONG reasons. What they really do is buy time for the system to carry on business-as-usual — not for any real reform.

Canada (except for Alberta) it seems is wedded to the pro forma model of consultation as noted in the OECD report of 1976 meaning — going through the motions, affecting concern that is not genuine, perfunctory…

Here is a recent gross example of such a fad from the US. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured millions, NO, over 2 billion dollars into converting large high schools into smaller ones. 8 years later, Nov 11/08, the Foundation called a meeting “to admit candidly that the new small high schools had not fulfilled their promise.” Please see "Bill Gates and his Silver Bullet"

Critics of this program show the harm done to students, 8 years of their lives lost, whole schools turned upside down…millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, good teachers quitting rather than being forced to support a plan they knew would be detrimental for their students…

I’ve been reading the 12 page promo for the Iowa Lighthouse Project that BC trustees will be considering in their upcoming training in Dec and I’m really hoping it is not being sold as another “silver bullet”. By trying to make trustees more “effective” this still consigns parents to a secondary, auxiliary role. Parents having choice and voice can move “stuck” schools and scores far better than expensive trustees and school boards.

Alternatives to School Boards

 

Continuing to add to 101 Reasons to Abolish……

14. Alternatives to School Boards

Jean Charest, Premier of Quebec, has called a General Election for Dec. 08/08. He said his minority government can’t operate with “three pairs of hands on the helm”. He seeks a majority government to tackle the difficult times ahead.

He blamed the other two parties of brinkmanship with the PQ and ADQ threatening to force votes of confidence and vote together to bring down his Liberals. He cited the ADQ plan to abolish school boards as a possible issue to bring down his government.

In the last election of 2007 the school board issue was widely discussed. ADQ claimed that by abolishing the boards this would remove this extra layer of bureaucracy, leaving governance to the municipalities, the provincial government and the schools themselves.

We shall await any discussions of this issue in Quebec in the next month