Friday, October 29, 2010

Some thoughts on the South Bend School Board elections - part 2

Don Wheeler
In the background piece, I tried to set the local stage to where we are now.  Complicating matters, lurking on the periphery is one Tony (or is it toney) Bennett.

This Tony Bennett is not the renowned singer; rather, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Indiana.  His conduct would seem to indicate he aspires to higher office than the one he holds, however.

Mr. Bennett is full of righteous indignation about the state of public education.  He blames local school boards and teachers unions for gross dereliction of duty and characterizes their decision making as being self-serving.  He claims he can swoop in and make all things as they should be.  His forums are characterized with catch phrases and zingy one-liners.  They are just for show.

The State of Indiana has many policies which make things very difficult when it comes to educating our young.  I’ve written a lot about this in the past.  As evidence, compare Indiana’s student outcomes with those of other states and it is pretty clear that our local challenges are not unique in the state.  But Mr. Bennett never discusses anything the state legislature can do correct this situation. Instead (as far as state policy goes), he’d prefer to distract us by screwing around with teacher licensing and things of that nature.

Mr. Bennett would have us believe that if his department takes over management of our High Schools on Probation, dramatic improvement will occur as a result.  He doesn’t explain how this magic will occur, but since he’s not a particularly imaginative fellow and pretty representative of the Daniels administration, he’ll likely pick an approach which is considered fashionable.  The most likely:  He will retain a for-profit management company to run the schools.  (This would be consistent with the Daniels strategy of privatizing seemingly everything).   Less likely, but possible, he’ll appoint some Hotshot who reports directly to him.

There’s a lot that could be discussed about these types of approaches – they’ve been attempted many times in recent years.  For an exhaustive analysis, I’d refer you to The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch.  Anyone who cares about public education - what works and what doesn’t - should read this book.   Spoiler alert:  The approaches described above have (up to now) not benefited children’s overall education.

There are two aspects shared by imposing these outside management strategies I think people need to consider carefully.  The first is that both are top-down concepts which, for the most part, leave the people actually working in the buildings out of any role in policy making.  Secondly, these typically make operations nearly opaque to citizens and the people in charge don’t have to answer to anyone locally.

I think it very likely Mr. Bennett will intervene.  My guess it’s in his political interest to do so.  So it becomes important to consider who sits on our school board in this context.

More to come…

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think it symbolizes?