Sunday, March 6, 2011
I can't believe I did this
The topic of the moment on C-SPAN is education -- who should control it? Feds? State? Strictly local? If we were a sane nation (and we all know we're not), it would be the feds. Why? Consistency, both in content and in quality. A national common curriculum would help ensure that a kid graduating from high school someplace out BFE, Idaho, would have the same basic set of skills and knowledge as a kid graduating from high school in Tampa, Florida, or Portland, Maine. That definitely isn't true now. There are regional accreditation organizations, but how well they function is debatable -- and, unlike almost every other country on the planet, accreditation agencies are nongovernmental. States do set basic standards for accreditation, but those standards can vary widely, depending on who happens to be on the state school board in any given year. In some states, school boards are elected; in others, they're political appointees of the governor. Both are methods guaranteed to produce boards that can swing wildly from one extreme to the other when it comes to what it gets taught and how.
And then when you get down to the local level, which is where schools are actually controlled in the United States. . . local school boards are notorious for stupidity. Because members are elected, it is quite possible for one particular faction in a community that has an ideological agenda of some sort to end up packing a board. End result? School boards can be appallingly incompetent or ideologically driven, either one being a litigation magnet. Even when examples are trotted out, like the Dover case, to explain why a particular idea, like teaching creationism, is going to do nothing but provide job security for attorneys, the ideologically driven will plow right ahead and insist that the school do it anyway.
And then there's the dumb stuff growing out of wanting to do someone a favor. One local school board back in the UP, for example, decided to hire a former supermarket manager as its new superintendent rather than go with any of the candidates who actually had some experience in education. Why? He was local, he knew the guys on the board, and he was at loose ends because he'd recently sold his business. Of course, then the school district had to pony up the money to pay for the guy to pursue the graduate education and various certifications the state requires for school administrators or risk losing the district's accreditation -- but, hey, why shouldn't someone who's supervised baggers be able to tell teachers what to do?
Then when you get into what actually is or is not being taught in the classrooms. . . One of the reasons I decided there was no way I was ever going to let my kids attend school in a particular district in the UP was I found out the board had decided to razor-blade out all the chapters in science text books that discussed human reproduction or evolution. Yep, ignoring evolution is really going to help the kids from that district a lot when they get into their first college biology class and discover there's a huge hole in their basic education. As for the eliminating the human reproduction material. . . I know correlation isn't causation, but that same district has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
In any case, having moved around a lot and as a parent witnessed multiple school districts, from the huge (Los Angeles metropolitan district) to the small (Houghton, Michigan), one thing I know for sure is there is absolutely no consistency in what gets taught, when it gets taught, or how. Local control as currently practiced obviously isn't working, so maybe it's time to try something different.