Monthly Archive for November, 2009

Abolish School Boards – a movement?

 

Abolishing school boards would release intended education dollars to their intended targets – students.  At the moment far too much of that earmarked money is skimmed off at the school board level for: a) junkets and expensive conferences/professional development for trustees, administrators, consultants, etc. many of whom have little direct relationship with students; b) professional services such as public relations advice, legal services, and other non-student related fees; c) entrepreneurial businesses and recruitment of foreign students meant to add income (profits) to the budget but which may actually yield serious expenses and costs; d) misspending due to faulty accounting and reporting procedures; e) etc., etc.

I also have a dedicated website on the topic:  Abolish School Boards – help eliminate the redundant bureaucracy – a self-serving barrier between parents and their childrens’ education.  http://abolish-school-boards.org/

This is my essay “Abolish School Boards” published on the blog Report Card, a production of the Education Reporter, Janet Steffenhagen, for the Vancouver Sun.

Abolish School Boards

(by Tunya Audain, 091122, published in Report Card blog of Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun Education Reporter on story, “Trustees have tough job but no power, columnist says” 091122 http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/reportcard/default.aspx)

“District’s new decals a sign of poor management”. That’s the title of a letter to the editor by Craig Johnston to the North Shore News, who, in true whistleblower fashion, alerts us to what he perceives as misconduct of the school board and a waste of taxpayer dollars.  This self-aggrandizement, he says, is “nauseating”.  (This item was discussed in a previous blog story.)

Were it not for citizen watchdogs alerting us through media channels I fear that the public would never see how public institutions such as school boards are abandoning their intended mission – that of serving the best interests of children instead of their own perverse needs.

It’s no wonder that there are increasingly more calls for abolishing these twisty and twisted school boards of today.

Coincidentally, in the same issue of the North Shore News as was Craig’s letter, a regular columnist, Bill Bell, has some very harsh words regarding school boards as pretenses of local government.  In a previous article he calls “School trustees Victoria’s puppets” and this state exists regardless of the political ideological regime, whether NDP, Social Credit or Liberal. http://www.canada.com/northshorenews/news/viewpoint/story.html?id=95b2a310-5421-43b5-9646-f975e8883d78

In his latest column as reported above, Bell, a well-know media person, ramps up the “Abolish School Boards” movement.  From citizens in this education blog ever more frequently calling for the demise of this dysfunctional and counterproductive structure, to school board candidates (I was one last fall whose main plank was to work to abolish school boards), to an ex-superintendent, Doug Player, arguing for dissolution of the boards, we now add a media voice to the call.   http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/reportcard/archive/2009/10/11/dissolve-school-boards-and-move-education-to-municipal-councils.aspx

It is definitely time for more citizens to add their voices to dismantle the present inefficient model of education delivery.

In the cause of liberating education dollars away from the vested special interests – and there are dozens of categories here (teacher unions, administrator groups, teacher training institutions, burgeoning legal outfits, public relations consultants, early childhood education lobbies, etc., etc.) – and bringing commonsense and local autonomy back to the grassroots, we must challenge this cancerous behemoth that suffocates. No wonder they call themselves “stakeholders”.  The “stakes” are indeed high!

More citizen voices need to be raised against those powerful groups who insidiously and consistently block needed reform out of selfish greed. Yet, and we see it all the time, they say they do it for the children!

A philosophy that trusts local parents and local teachers to produce educational results is a far better and much simpler form than central control and thousands of middle men and suckers who feed off the opportunities so easily exploited. The present school board model invites misspending, corruption, diversions and adventurism.

It is downright unethical and immoral what is going on under the cover of school boards.  The Detroit public school scandal is a cautionary tale of just how evil this can become.  Look it up.

The model school board that HAS proven most successful over time is the one that exists at the local school.  That has stood the test of time – the one room school house, the private independent school, the parent-participation pre-school, the charter school.  The dollar already is supposed to follow the child.  Bring it back to the local school instead of channeling it through the school board offices where it is mercilessly skimmed before reaching the classroom. Whether it be vouchers, charters, tuition tax credits or some other model, we need to recover those precious dollars that are needed for our precious children and grandchildren – FOR THEIR EDUCATION AND SPECIAL NEEDS.
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Nobel Winner, Elinor Ostrom, Offers Hope for Responsive Schools

 

Responsive Schools Key to Good Society: Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Winner

Can citizens effectively and efficiently manage their own affairs?  Their own schools? Can self-governance work in education? YES, there is this hope for schools — provided there is limited central state interference and provided powerful special self-interest insiders don’t dominate.

That is the message Elinor Ostrom, a co-winner in this year’s Nobel Economics prize, passes on to help empower people at local levels to 1) challenge outsiders and self-interests, and 2) confidently evolve the procedures, rules, and oversight which serve their interests.  She cautions against any one-size-fits-all model. Local people, local governance.

She and others of her school of thought challenge the usual dichotomy in seeking solutions – state or market.  Should there be state finance, control and provision of services and resource management OR should the markets prevail?  There is a third way – shared ownership.

While Ostrom’s work has usually dealt with user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, she has also been embraced by development workers, especially in third world countries.  Her general principles apply to any area where citizens manage their own projects — without the heavy fist of the state or the invisible hand of the market.

Ostrom distinguishes the three methods of provision:  public, private, and civil. She sees more citizens becoming involved in policy analysis and application if they are to avoid becoming “the objects of an authoritarian regime” or exploited for profit.

Self-governing, adaptive organizations follow these principles:

1.  Balance power at many levels within the structure (checks and balances)
2.  Monitor performances and hold designated persons accountable
3.  Accept conflict as healthy, indicating need for mediation or more problem-solving
4.  Empower citizens and communities with enforceable rights to check abuses of authority

Regarding the education field she comments that simplistic solutions can go “amok”.  Amazing word to be used by an academic — "berserk, demoniacal, possessed, insane, characteristic of mental derangement” (Wikipedia)! 

After studying 70 years of school district consolidations in the name of efficiency and equity she found that these “top-down, command-and-control solutions” did not result in better achievement or lower per-pupil spending.  She concludes that “policy makers are reconsidering the consequences of past reforms and recommending charter schools, voucher systems, and other reforms to create more responsive schools.”

In other words, she concludes, “state control has usually proved to be less effective and efficient than control by those directly affected” and sometimes even “disastrous in its consequences.”

What applies to common-pool forests and fish-stocks applies to people services as well.  That is why school-based management, independent schools, charter schools, parent participation preschool cooperatives, etc. work so well.  Unfortunately, today, they are often resisted and blocked by powerful self-interests. 

Fortunately, however, we now have a more prominently revealed social science to help those who seek shared ownership solutions to social services. Change activists in education could gain a lot of tips from studying the works of Elinor Ostrom.   (See: “Policy Analysis in the Future of Good Societies” by Elinor Ostrom) http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/good_society/v011/11.1ostrom.html

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