We enter the conference room. The school district superintendent and the school board president are casually seated at the end of the table. The Superintendent is laughing at something the board president is saying. As other board members come in and take their seats at the table the superintendent greets each by name and makes some small comment of familiarity. I look at the Superintendent, a man with a Doctorate in Education and years experience in the classroom and as a school principal, playing the part of a snake-oil politician, obliviously grabbling in supplication to this group that will, in the future, be asked to renew his contract.
I am sitting on the periphery of the table with two other principals. We are there to report to the board a summary of the month’s accomplishments at our schools. One of the school board members has a son at my school that was not eligible for a basketball trip because of his grades in language arts. I already know that I will have to defend the teacher for maintaining her standards for achievement.
The meeting starts and past minutes are read, old business is discussed – usually to do with money issues, or curriculum and testing issues which everyone on the board listens to intently and pretends to understand. There is a small discussion that perhaps the teachers have too much free access to the copy machines and that they should be limited to a certain number of copies per week. For new business it is suggested that an electronic key card could be employed to determine who uses the machine most, and controls the use. The Superintendent immediately agrees.
Next the principals are asked to report. I give a watered down version of the testing preparations that the teachers and I have spent hours discussing and planning, and a brief description of a cooperative learning field trip that involves archeological research at a traditional Native fishing site on the river. Everyone listens attentively; then I ask if there are any questions.
Immediately my board member states that a number of parents have complained to her about a particular teacher who seems to have the goal of preventing students from engaging in extra-curricular activities. I defend my teacher and her academic autonomy to set standards in her classroom. The rest of the board enthusiastically joins in, unanimously convinced that students should be allowed to play basketball regardless of grades. I stand by the policy of eligibility and come just short of telling the board member that her son is a pain in the ass in class and thinks that because his mother is a board member he doesn’t have to meet the requirements of the rest of the students. I look over at the Superintendent and he is frowning. The board is heated and I am aggravated but maintaining control; but refusing to capitulate. The Superintendent steps in and says that perhaps the board should consider reviewing the standards that exist among all district schools for sports and other activity and set uniform standards.
A motion is made and passed and the principals are asked to provide an in-depth report of eligibility requirements at each of their schools for the next board meeting.
Elected school boards are the other bane of education. Like politicians, there is no competency test to qualify a person for the school board. Members are mainly composed of activist mothers or fathers who readily inform you that they are qualified for the position because they are parents. (In reality the only qualification for being a parent is the ability to fuck and conceive.) Other members of the board will be business persons looking for local recognition, and special interest activist (usually religious) looking to insert their agenda into the school. Occasionally there is a retired school teacher, but as a whole the board is woefully unqualified to set education policies and totally ignorant of the day to day problems involved in educating children in a classroom.
We don’t have civilian elected boards intricately controlling doctor’s protocols and emergency room or operating room procedure; nor do we have elected civilian boards manipulating law firms, psychiatric medicine, physics or chemistry labs, and other disciplines. Yet, we feel perfectly justified in ‘electing’ non educators to regulate and control the education processes of our school districts.
Congress mandates the curriculum through standards and testing requirements and school boards interfere with the way schools are run on a day to day basis with frivolous and uninformed edicts via their ability to hire and fire school administrators.
We will never improve American schools unless we remove the control from politicians and local school boards and place education professionals in charge.