Recently I posted about the requirements of the new Race to the Top grants for school districts. The federal Dept. of Education has doubled down on the emphasis on standardized tests by moving to use them not only to judge schools, but also to judge teachers and administrators. Even more disturbing is the new requirement that tests for schools boards be developed. Is this just another way to end democratic control over public education?
The slow ceding of democratic control began with the charter school movement. The only thing public about charter schools is the money that funds them. A charter school’s teachers aren’t public employees nor are their governing board members elected. Those governing boards spend public money, but aren’t accountable to the public. No one votes them into office and parents can't vote them out if they don't like the way the school is governed. Their only option is to vote with their feet.
Another anti-democratic "reform" element is mayoral control. Using the mantra of "accountability" the public has given autocratic control over schools to the mayors of New York and Chicago, for example. Mayors are elected at large by voters who for the most part aren't public school parents. It's extremely difficult to wrest control of a city from a mayor because his education policies are defunding classrooms and closing schools to turn them into charters. Term limits may be the only way to remove an incumbent mayor and many cities don't have them.
This new RTTT evaluation requirement for school board members is a backdoor effort to control local school boards without having to change city charters or state law. What would a school board have to do to get an "A"? A system could be created that gave high grades only to those who support certain policies or implement certain measures of "reform" for their districts. Pressure could be put on trustees to vote a certain way so that they get a good grade. A poor grade on a standardized test wouldn't look good at re-election time. That is a bad way to judge a school board member just as it's a bad way to judge a school or a teacher. Any evaluation of school board members who make local education policy and direct the spending of millions of taxpayer dollars school boards should be left to the voters.
In recent years Sacramento area elections for school boards have been trending more democratic not less. Six years ago, Sacramento City Unified moved from at-large elections to by district election with voters choosing a representative who lives in their district. After a huge community effort, Twin Rivers Unified voters just approved such a system. A recent California voting rights court decision says that at- large systems must be scraped if they prevent the election of Latino representatives in Latino majority districts. This is a good thing. School districts are a form of local government that has a huge influence on the lives of children and their parents. With district elections the public has the power to "right the ship" if school governance goes off course. Isn't that what the Fourth of July is all about?
The "education reform" movement is inherently undemocratic. Charter schools, mayoral control, federal top down education policies all have the end result of taking local control of public education from taxpayers and parents hands. The public is little by little giving away its power over public schools and public money. This doesn't have to happen. Parents don't have to choose charter schools. Voters don't have to choose mayoral control. School board members don't have to cede their power and vote to join RTTT. Let's fight to keep our schools democratic.