Bashing boards

School boards don’t get no respect, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which quotes Chester Finn.

“School boards are an aberration, an anachronism, an educational sinkhole,” said Finn, former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration. “Put this dysfunctional arrangement out of its misery.”

Reform is “elusive.”

My greatest problem with school boards is domination by the employee unions. Because voter turn-out is so low, any organized group strongly influences the outcome. In the San Jose area, an increasing number of school board members are retired administrators or teachers; sometimes they’re current teachers working in neighboring districts.

Via Education Gadfly

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  1. I’m not surprised Education Gadfly gave this significant play, since Education Gadfly is essentially Chester Finn’s creature, and exists mostly to tout his ideas.

  2. Andy Freeman says:

    Yes, elected school boards are a problem, but what are the reasonable alternatives?

    Yes, teachers unions typically dominate elections, but “low cost to affect” also works to the advantage of reformers when things get horrific.

    A board of directors appointed by other elected officials (mayors, county supervisors) is likely to be even more captured and resistant to change.

    And, when all of the eggs are in one basket, all of the egg-suckers get cooperative, which is already a problem with federal and state govts.

  3. Richard Heddleson says:

    I like the prescription to Get Better Voters. Someone apparently thinks the problem is that the people get the governance they deserve.

    It is also interesting that most of the complaints focus on large urban districts while no one looks at a 90% reduction in the number of school boards to ask if consolidation might be part of the problem. If there were 10 times more school districts there would probably be a lot more choice.

    If you don’t have popularly elected school boards running the schools, how “public” are they?

  4. The solution is to have education that is publicly funded but where management of the schools is outside the political process — e.g. charter schools, and vouchers.

  5. Our mayor has threatened to appoint the school board, and I wish he would. We get some real characters for candidates. We had one who made a big deal about the need to end bussing for desegration – that was done over ten years ago.

    I think the problem is apathy and low voter turnout, and the reason is that people who do not have kids in the public schools see no reason to vote in the school board elections. Actually, they have two: the school board spends their tax dollars, and they are going to grow old surrounded by the product of whatever school system they end up with.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Laura wrote:

    “I think the problem is apathy and low voter turnout, and the reason is that people who do not have kids in the public schools see no
    reason to vote in the school board elections.”

    That problem is also an opportunity for small local elections. Precinct walking in a small district is actually feasible, so a genuine grassroots campaign for a candidate can be done effectively.

    I’ve personally seen two such successful campaigns done over the years on the SF peninsula. One was Jim Warren’s (of SF Computer Faire fame) campaign for a junior college board, and the other was a local libertarian activist who successfully ran for, um, I forget, a harbor district board or something like that.

    One point is that successful campaigns are possible in these small districts with low turnout. Another point is that the really hard work begins after the activist citizen is elected.