Saturday, February 4, 2012

Local control and education

So now I read that the members of the Douglas County School Board have endorsed Mitt Romney for President. It's a puzzling message on at least two levels.

First, they took pains to say that this was not an official board resolution. That part's good; by statute, school boards are non-partisan, and have no official role in influencing voter selection of national political candidates. But board members also took care to point out that this was a unanimous decision by all of them.

So ... is it a school board action, or not? Clearly, it violates the spirit of non-partisanship. While I staunchly support free speech, particularly about political issues, I have taken great pains through the years to make it clear that I speak for myself. Here, the attempt seems to be to give the appearance of institutional action.

Second, the reason they articulated for endorsing Romney was that he will help "get the federal government out of education." They're entitled to that opinion, too. But it's tough to defend.

The premise seems to be this: local experimentation, the application of market pressure to public education, will result in swift improvement in academic achievement. That improvement will then be adopted by others.

But of course, it hasn't, doesn't, and won't work like that. Everybody knows that when you move from state to state, or from district to district within the state, or from school to school within the district, or even from the same grade's class to class within the school, there is wide variance of both curriculum and instructional approach.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but after all this experimentation and "local control," the United States isn't even in the top twenty internationally for math and science. (See the Programme for International Student Assessment.)

Who IS in the top twenty? Those educational systems that adopt a uniform national curriculum.

In other words, the tenets of our school board and the educational philosophy of Mr. Romney have already been contradicted by decades of data. Our local Board and their preferred presidential candidate support a failed approach, and reject the likeliest path for improvement.

The issue, apparently, has nothing to do with evidence. It has everything to do with politics.


Unknown said...

I feel that this blog is just a bit left slanted. Unless you have your head in the sand you can go to any school district and find out what side of the political fence they sit. Littleton is 100% Progressive. JeffCo has Liberal issues and Denver well let's just say their BOE is the Devil and has no interest in making kids smarter.
So to before you show disappointment in DCSD BOE maybe you should look around the state. Politics have been in our schools since they started. This is just the first time conservatives joined the race. Welcome to the future.

Jamie said...

The future is people who (a) are anonymous and (b) don't care about evidence? I can hardly wait.

Mark said...

Dear Unknown - Thanks for using your real name. It lends strength to your well-articulated position that liberal and progressive should be elevated to proper noun status, just like "Devil." However, I am concerned that you think so little of "conservatives" that but a small "c" is warranted. Perhaps you too are a product of the public schools, so forgiveness should be given.

Unknown said...

Sorry I did not realize that it did not post my real name. I did notice that none of you had anything to say about my undisputable facts about other Large BOE that flaunt their political positions. They are in bed with the Unions that help them get elected.
As for you Jamie if you cared about kids, books like "L8R G8R" and "What my Mother Doesn't Know" would never be on a bookshelf for a child to read. But you did nothing about the sexual indoctrination of our children. You Sir are part of the problem!
A very concerned and involved parent Brad M. Wann.

Unknown said...

Mark I am a product of Public Education and I am not concerned about my grammar on the world wide web. I am concerned about the content. To me this blog is weak on content and is factually incorrect. It is just vomit on a page. Brad M. Wann

Jamie said...

OK. Enough of the name-calling, and I'm sorry if I started it. I know it's tempting. 

I was trying to make two points here.

First, I think that any school board, whether trending Democrat or Republican, is supposed to focus on improving student performance. The Reoublican party targeted the Douglas County school board, and made a clean sweep. That's a political victory.

Will it be an educational one? We have data before. FYI. If performance IMPROVES, then that's to their credit. It if DROPS, then that's to their blame. Fair?

Second, the Democrats haven't endorsed a federal curriculum either. It's not a partisan issue.

Here's my own proposal:

* launch a national website, with clear national standards. Like the GED. Make it internationally competitive. Make it the best in the world.

* get teachers, as part of their jobs, to write and upload textbooks to support that curriculum. Hint: check out the Japanese model. They do short chapter books. These would be free downloads for anyone who wanted to learn.

* allow any student of any age to take a national graduation test at any age. 

You know what? I think that would do more to transform education than any proposal I've seen.

Unknown said...

Jamie you have been placed on a pedestal by your liberal friends. It's my job to remove you... I and a team of parents have just figured out the consequences of having a person like you in a position like yours. We will not stand for it any more. If I had my way you would be working for Mc Donald's wearing a paper hat. Sorry Mc Donald's!

Jamie said...

Mark, I'll ask you the question I have asked before: so the problem is that your children are reading too much?

My professional and personal belief is this: the more you read, the more you understand. As the father of a 24 and a 17-year old child, I KNOW that knowledge is a better strategy than ignorance.

Unknown said...

So Jamie you expect to compare apples to oranges when the old BOE experienced no or very little State Budget Cuts. Old BOE spent money like a drunken sailor and saved almost nothing for a rainy day. So the current DCSD BOE has to repair the largest bloated administration in the history of the state of Colorado. Attempted to get children like mine Choice and now has every liberal in the state shaking in their boots.
I predict that the next two years will be ugly with cuts as the collection of property taxes are two years behind. This BOE will have their hands full with screaming blue shirts in every meeting as the BS's are so out of touch with what is going on in the real world. I think everyone is at fault at this point. The community for allowing the past BOE to damage education in our district the way they did. Decades of "social justice" and not teaching kids how to do things with our a hand out. When was the last time we taught a child how to go to College without going into debt. When? It is possible to go to school without government help you know.
We no longer teach kids to work with their hands. Out of all the kids that got to college only 10% do what they went to school for. That means that 94% of all kids that go to public schools will fall back to working with their hands. I feel that we fail most of the kids by not teaching them how to make a living. We crating very few taxpayers anymore. So as we as a nation have 46% of all people getting a check from the government, and that number growing every day. We play wag the dog with local education and never address the issue. Failure!

Jamie said...

Interesting that this went from an exchange of ideas to a witch hunt. So it's not enough to disagree with me, to talk about, on my own personal blog, our difference of opinion, to (it seems) launching some kind of campaign against my employment.

There's a word for that: bullying.

Here's another approach: I'll buy you lunch. Email me at jlarue @ We'll talk.

Jamie said...

Correction: I responded to "Mark" when it should have been "Brad." Brad wrote, "So the current DCSD BOE has to repair the largest bloated administration in the history of the state of Colorado." Would Brad be so kind as to cite his source? Specifically: can he prove his allegation? That's a pretty heavy-handed assertion. Is there any evidence at all?

I will say, as I say so often these days, that evidence matters. Corrections of fact should be accepted with grace. We all make mistakes. But we can't just make things up.

Lynne said...

Jamie, Thank you for this article and the information it points out. Thank you also for your ideas about how to improve our schools. I appreciate that you are able to look past the bullying and attempt to have a conversation.

emhansen said...

Jamie - Once again you have eloquently expressed the thoughts in my head with your words. Thank you for that.
My question is how do we begin working toward this "Big Picture" view of education? The task seems nearly insurmountable? Even changing standards at a single state level gets bogged down in ideology and bickering (from both ends of the spectrum.)
I am also intrigued by your comment about letting anyone take the graduation test at any age. I would not have thought of this but it is a brilliant way to potentially educate those who may not have the maturity, drive or support to reach the standards on a typical timeline. It also has some interesting possibilities for continuous learning and updating our knowledge as we age.
Of course my thoughts also go to how much this may cost and how funding might work especially if there is always an open door (my interpretation) to the graduation test.
Well I could go on and on and on, asking questions and brainstorming about changing the structure of the U.S education system across the board.
Thank you for sharing your critical and creative thinking skills with us and thank you for keeping your comments open despite the fact that they sometimes get hijacked by other subjects.
All my best.

Jamie said...

Lynne and Emily, thanks. I envision something like a big concept map: here's the course of K-12 education, building and linking like a college catalog. Go to the website, and click under each topic for a thoroughly tested text (tested in terms of comprehension tests using that text, or ranked upon completion by the students). This curriculum, this course of instruction, would be our national birthright. Born poor? You still have access to a world class education. Homeschooling? There it is -- you don't have to shell out another $1,500 a year for curriculum. Charter school? There are all your text books. Public school? So now you really dig deep, enriching that content with hands-on activities and community connection. And when you're tired of whatever structure that doesn't fit you (because NO structure fits everybody), you take the test. I think it would work.