Mike Petrelli at Fordham’s Flypaper posted yesterday on the unwillingness of teacher unions to make concessions on salaries and benefits during the current economic ennui. The blame rests equally, however, on local school boards who “should drive a hard bargain with unions, but they don’t, because their members are so often elected with the support of those very same unions.” He continues,
So where do reformers go from here? One option is to be even more radical: To go after not just collective bargaining but school boards too. Make all of the key decisions at the state level. Negotiate with the teachers around a statewide approach to pay and benefits, the whole kit and caboodle…That’s an attractive long-term strategy, but voters—averse to big, sudden changes—will need some time to get used to the idea.
Dr. Diane Ravitch responded to Petrelli’s post in an email that she cc’d to various education luminaries including Michelle Rhee, Andy Rotherham, Joann Jacobs, Stephen Sawchuk, and RiShawn Biddle (who kindly posted the email here).
Gosh, Mike, it sounds as though you have identified the real problem that “reformers” face: democracy… I thought that conservatives supported local control. It’s pretty radical to go to the extreme of eliminating 15,000 school boards and centralizing everything in the big state bureaucracies in the hope that this will suffice to silence the teachers’ unions.
Then RiShawn Biddle, in today’s article in Dropout Nation, “Diane Ravitch Doesn’t Deserve to be Taken Seriously,” argues,
Where Ravitch’s argument really falls apart is when she declared that any move to relegate school districts to the ashbin of history — and the precious concept of local control she defends — would mean the end of “democracy” and ” public education as we have known it for the past 150 or so years…”
The myth of local control has become more mythical since the 1960s as states have passed laws requiring school districts to bargain with affiliates of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers; thanks to school funding suits and property tax revolts (along with federal education policy, which began recognizing the rightful role of state governments in shaping education policy), states have begun providing the lion’s share of school funding. These days, states, on average, provide 48 percent of all school dollars spent by districts on the ground.
It actually makes sense to rid the nation of school districts and require states to handle the full funding of schools. Why? It would allow for both the expansion of school choice (especially in turning school funding into vouchers that families can use for any educational option), allow for families to actually be lead decision-makers in schools, force schools to regard families and children as (shudder the thought) real customers who deserve to be treated with respect, and, ultimately, help children get the high-quality teaching and curricula they deserve. It would also eliminate the very central bureaucracies that NEA and AFT locals have worked with to restrict the ability of principals to be real managers in schools with actual ability to hire and fire (and also, in the process, force real improvements in school leadership).
So we eliminate local school districts and parents can voice their concerns and wishes to Messrs. Christie, Cerf and Duncan* in what forum???
*as if they care to listen.
P.S. Does RiShawn Biddle understand that the “State” is “Us” and that property taxes still provide the bulk of school funding in NJ?