Archive for the 'Education Reform' Category

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.

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

“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.

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.

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.

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)


Precious Cartoon for Back-to-School


With ever more demand for choices in education– from parents, students, teachers — here is a CARTOON which says it all.

Print it out in full color, post it on your bulletin board, fridge. Pass it on!



Free-choice Educational Experience with Multi-age Children


Ottawa East Summer Project was designed at the outset as an educational experiment where multi age children would interact, learn and play together in a free-choice atmosphere.

Upon obtaining a $10,700 grant from the Federal Government Opportunities For Youth (OFY) program in the summer of 1971 five staff were hired as “enablers” to work with 200 students, ages 4 – 11 years. The main criterion for hiring was the stated intention of the university students to pursue teaching careers.

Using the freely offered facilities and grounds of St. Patrick’s College in the east end of Ottawa the activities set up included sculpturing, painting, puppets, sewing, acting, woodwork, gardening, sports and writing.  During the first stages the children were able to mix-and-match their activities and were able to thus acquaint themselves with all the staff and the rest of the children of the neighborhood who during the school year attended three different schools (French Catholic, English Catholic and English Public).

The ongoing stages saw the children initiating their own projects, giving them the opportunity to expand their talents and leadership abilities.  Older children helped teach and supervise younger ones.  Parents and grandparents and local teen-agers developed into a volunteer force to help the children.

The experience was considered a tremendous success and substantiated the growing move in educational circles towards more of a community concept in education – children learning from other children, parent involvement, using the children’s own interests to teach skills as reading and writing. This, combined with the use of the total neighborhood as a learning environment, provided a meaningful setting for educational outcomes.

The children, brought up in such a setting, it is felt, develop more in the areas of independence, resourcefulness and creative thinking than children brought up in the more traditional, desk-oriented schools.

I had just graduated with a teacher certificate from Ottawa Teachers College (’71) and did the main conceptual work in preparing the proposal for the grant and coordinated the project. 

Tunya Audain

Public Education on Trial

At the 1987 Future of Freedom Conference in California we discussed education malpractice. I was involved with pursuing the topic: Public Education on Trial.
Below are some excerpts from our brochure:
The world is very much as described in Orwell’s 1984.
However, on a small secret island, SANOS, live several hundred people, mostly of the libertarian persuasion. Having detected – as if in an unraveling Greek tragedy – the world’s inexorable, irreversible move to totalitarianism, these people hived-off, with few belongings, to this island. Perceiving the impossibility of resisting the inevitable, they resolve to be the “last man” – the guardians of the human spirit.

They live there quite peaceably. Only rarely, under great danger, do they make communication with the outer world, and only then to rescue some family member.
Very few in the outer world are aware of SANOS. However, an urgent appeal is received, and to the best of their ability to verify, it is a genuine appeal:

Help us to reverse, if possible, our self-destruction.
Have mercy on us.

We are losing the power of intellectual effort to even keep doublethink straight.

We will abide by your judgments and your controls.

The people of SANOS have convened a commission of enquiry to probe the nature of the problem and consider means for solution. The commission has narrowed-down the source of the problem to the public school systems in the outer world.

Having determined the source of the world’s self-sabotage, then the starting-point for reversal (if not too late) is this system – reform, restructure, dismantle ? ? ? The following “crimes to humanity” have been perpetrated by public school systems.

  1.   erosion of the family
  2.   dumbed-down public
  3.   killing the joy of learning
  4.   atrophy of democracy
  5.   growth of obscurantism & mystification
  6.   depletion of choice
  7.   habituation to experts
  8.   dependence on the state – the “free lunch”
  9.   economic sluggishness
  10.  reduction of individualism
  11.  destruction of voluntarism & good samaratinism
  12.  extinguishing introspection

    “School has become the planned process which tools man for a planned world, the principal tool to trap man in man’s trap. It is supposed to shape each man to an adequate level for playing a part in this world game. Inexorable we cultivate, treat, produce, and school the world out of existence." – Ivan Illich, 1971

Our panel to discuss the problem included a Judge, a Prosecutor, an Anthropologist, a Philosopher, a Psychologist, and a Family Advocate.  The responder was the Attorney to the School District.