I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What About School Boards?

While commenting on New Jersey's new tenure law, a superintendent in Passaic County makes a very good point: 
William Petrick, superintendent for the Little Falls School District, and principal for School No. 3, said the bill promises no real change.
"The bill does very little to change any superintendent who is uninspired, unmotivated, and/or too weak to exercise the means that have always been within his or her authority to document cause for termination of a bad teacher or administrator, tenured or otherwise," Petrick explained. "And it promises no real change because it's a compromise bill that waters down the original intention of the governor. But that doesn't matter because no law, not matter how well-written and intended it might be, will ever be able to address the dysfunction that plagues public education, in my opinion." [emphasis mine]
Whoa! Nice to see an administrator say what's really on his mind for a change.

Despite the hyperbole about a plague of disfunction (I really don't have to point out all the evidence that New Jersey has great schools again, do I?), he makes a compelling point: superintendents have always had the power to document poor teaching practice. If they haven't done it up until now, why assume they will start? Where is their incentive?

(Or could it possibly be that there isn't as much poor teaching as some would like us to believe?)

Continuing directly:
Petrick also commented on the legislation's easing costs for districts when it came to blocking tenure.
"Yes, it has been a very challenging and costly endeavor in the past, however, it was already our job before the legislation passed, and more of us need to do it better, sooner and more often," he added. "And many of us would if the intention of this reform legislation addressed the real source of administrative authority in every school district across the state." Petrick also referred to training school boards in what he called "methods of competent, authoritative, appropriate oversight."
"Authoritative and appropriate oversight by a well-run board of education is, I believe, the only thing that could and would ultimately improve public education in our state, because it's the only thing that can consistently inspire and compel superintendents to live up to their charge," he remarked. "I've yet to see any initiative or legislation that directly addresses the dire need for improving the training of boards of education in New Jersey. It seems to me that they are being completely left out of the equation."
Sorry, but I wouldn't say that school boards are being left out: they are at the heart of the debate about local control. The fact is that both Governor Christie and Education Commissioner Cerf do not trust urban school boards to do their bidding, which is why they are taking away as much power away from them as they can. And even though they've run into more push-back in their suburban base than they counted on, they clearly want more influence over policies there.

Cerf is an autocrat; I think he sees school boards as little more than annoyances that must be dealt with on the way to a reformy utopia.

All that said, I still think Petrick is on to something: a fish rots from the head down, and the ultimate head of a school district is its board. But charter schools and state/mayoral control and parent triggers  are moving the power that used to rest with boards to new places: unelected bureaucrats, insulated charter school boards, and partisan politicians.

Can anyone make a compelling case that this will make administrators more accountable? Is there compelling evidence that giving up the governance of democratically elected school boards leads to better educational outcomes? If so, I haven't seen it.

I'm all for better school board training, and I'm all for boards holding superintendents accountable. Petrick is correct in saying that we've spent a lot time talking about better teachers and better principals and very little talking time talking about better school boards.

But maybe that's because the reformy plan is to supersede those boards anyway.


Norma Ray said...

I think school boards are the important missing link in education reform. I say 'missing' because I think many in the suburbs are woefully unaware of what's coming out of Trenton, let alone Washington.

As a frequent speaker at my local BOE meetings, I get blank stares from many members when I question them about some of the reform movement's hot button issues. And what's worse is that some of the administrators & supervisors simply shrug and tell me there's nothing they can do about it. They blindly go along and accept whatever is thrown at them without fighting for our children!

I try to talk to other parents, but at least where I live people don't want it & they don't want to know about it. Problem is... it's HERE!

I think if more school board members spoke out against this nonsense, more parents & community members in the suburbs would start taking notice.

But I fear at least in my very Republican leaning community, they will say nothing.

And the cow will be long gone from the barn before anybody notices.

Galton said...

google the following; Chris Cerf School Governance.
You will find a link to a speech from the great confused one decrying local control.
Watch it and decide for yourself.