Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Public" Education: Too Much Democracy; Not Enough Choice

Public Education should be serving the public.

Yet looking at the graduation rates, the skill sets of students graduating with diplomas, and the record number of students dropping out altogether, the public should start asking: are schools still public, in that are they serving students or themselves?

The politicking which has overtaken school boards especially proves that public education has become nothing but an Orwellian misnomer.

Much of what goers on in government schools (the preferred term for libertarian journalist John Stossel) is not open to the public. If a teacher harms a student, the press usually learns about it after the fact.

The parents are getting more information at a faster rate, but only because of the rising number of disturbing exposes about abuse in the schools. The Miramonte case in 2012 was the final blow. LAUSD schools are now required to report to parents if a teacher has been removed for possible misconduct against students.

In spite of these piecemeal reforms, however, schools are not open to the public. Parents can be arrested if they go onto campuses to get their children, or to meet up with them or protect them from certain issues. Individual parents who have requested information on school budgets and spending often get rebuffed.

One parent in Torrance Unified demanded more information about the final placement of the soon-to-be-built aquatic center. School board members and administrative personnel did not answer her back.

Public education suffers from little access, very difficult circumstances which prohibit individuals from getting more information as needed.

Libertarian columnist John Stossel provided this graph showing how
government spending has little impact on education
And yet government schools have elected school boards, who are supposed to be accountable to their constituents. A democratic process exists to ensure some measure of oversight.

Yet there is very little oversight, if any. Centinela Valley Union High School District fell apart under financial mismanagement for years. Even though the board recently fired Superintendent Jose Fernandez, the board remains aloof and unassailable, even while the teachers union, parents, and other interest groups protest their poor decisions and lack of oversight.

What is the problem? Lack of civic participation? School boards are ill-serving  many communities, and not just in working-class areas.

The real issue is too much democracy. Too many issues, from school leadership, to essential decisions on funding, financial, and implementation of standards, all get decided by vote, and much of the time, either very few people vote, or those voting have little knowledge, expertise, or moral suasion to make the final call on key issues.

First, the school board elections themselves. The turnout is disturbingly, depressingly low. These decision-makers will influence a number of core issues, which affect students not just during elected terms, but long afterward in terms of the quality of education and its consequences for students. How are these elections ultimately decided? A small, dedicated cadre of interest groups -- labor unions, building contractors, parent-teacher associations, as well as other private vendors, can influence school board elections in tremendous ways.

Small yet concentrated groups enjoy undue influence in the democratic process, and thus shape not only who gets elected, but what decisions they make, regardless of what may be best for the students, the school staff and resources, or the goals of the curriculum.
Teachers Union have incredible influence
in school district elections (Source: Hoover Institute)

Centinela Valley is one key example, where Telacu helped finance specific candidates in their run for office. Other elections intercede in public education, including within the labor unions of the government school workers. Who represents them, as well as the candidates whom they endorse, and the labor actions which they adopt, can frustrate or limit the actions and impact of school boards and administrative decisions. Did Balfour-Beatty play a role in passing the latest T and U bonds in Torrance, or in who was elected to the school board?

There is too much democracy, and also not enough choice. Parents do not have enough opportunities to select different districts to enroll their students. There is little input or room for parents to invest time in their children's daily lessons and long-term learning.

"Public" education, i.e. government schooling, has too much democracy, in that too many decisions must submit to final votes, whether or not all pertinent information has been assessed. The final outcomes leave out a number of contingencies, as well as ignoring the specific needs of different groups, many who cannot vote (the students), or do not vote (homeowners and taxpayers too busy to follow the internecine politics of school board elections).

Instead of reducing options to a final vote, granting families more choice, and offering teachers more autonomy, and allowing parents more involvement in their children's learning, would improve public education.

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