School Boards came into being in the United States in the 1870’s to 1890’s. Their creation was an attempt to control education at the local level. The effort was judged widely successful and the notion took root. People took charge of building schools and facilities and chose the education focus including curriculum, teaching materials, created libraries and taxed themselves to fund their preferences and views.
Fast forward to 2016…146 years later…what are school boards today and do they still serve a role?
We’re going to suggest the answer is ….NO…School Boards may no longer be relevant. Why do we say that?
The federal government, through the US Department of Education (USDoE) has increasingly been “suggesting” certain educational standards, human rights guidelines and doing so by using purse strings. The Federal government provides about 10% of education funds to states/local districts. Originally this money was provided to help develop programs with no strings attached. Over time the Feds started hinting that they might withhold monies if their “guidance” wasn’t followed. The most recent example is Common Core. The Feds said they would award HUGE amounts of money to “some” states but only IF that states agreed to impose Common Core Standards. Most recently, under the ESSA (which replaced No Child Left Behind) districts have been told that if they do not achieve a 95% participation rate in the SBAC/PARCC testing they will lose funding. (This flies in the face of the ESSA which says parents have the right to Opt-Out of testing). What’s really strange is that, by law, the Federal government is prohibited from influencing or controlling education…so they use money instead.
In the School Districts zeal to get the 10 pieces of silver they adopted the Common Core Standards (CCS’s) WITHOUT having any written standards to read and evaluate. A few states got some money but most got little or nothing (even though they adopted the CCS’s). It’s amazing how education “leadership” will do almost anything for the promise of money isn’t it?
Recently the Feds provided “guidance” that “transgender students” MUST be allowed to use the bathroom, locker room and shower facilities of the sex they “self-identify” with. In Alaska a male, who thought of himself as female, participated in the State track and field championships and won multiple medals (real girls were NOT happy with him). The “transgender” guidance (it does NOT have the force of law) was issued with a stern warning from the Feds…do it or we will withhold funds.
At the State level unelected appointees on commissions have issued “opinions” and “rules” that have the force of law requiring school districts to allow access to “facilities” based on gender “self-identification” rather than using the “equipment” they have. The State of Washington, in the 2017/2018 school year, is telling school districts to teach transgenderism to Kindergartners and if districts refuse they may lose funding.
School boards hire Superintendents to run the district. Virtually every school board does what the Superintendent suggests. Every school board in the State of Washington has a set of Policy’s that are almost always the same. School board directors are elected by the voters to oversee the budget, hire/fire key personnel and to oversee curriculum (which is dictated by State and Federal governments).
In the State of Washington, under the McCleary Decision, there is ongoing debate as to whether local levy’s are legal or not. They are discussing wiping out all (or most) local levy’s and instead having the State tax, collect and then redistribute monies to districts based on a formula. Is that a good thing? We suggest it is NOT. Why not? It gives the State even more power and control. The State says jump, sit, wag your tail or no biscuit! If the school board has little say over anything other than minor decisions why have them at all?
How often do school boards refuse to follow federal or state dictates? We can’t find any data. Indeed local school board records may be written or they may be recorded or there may be little or nothing kept. Accessing those records requires a Public Information Request which may take up to four (4) weeks to receive (and that assumes you ask the right question(s)).
School Boards belong to a State organization called the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA). They pay an annual “fee” or “dues” to belong ($18,000). There are 296 school districts so the WSSDA generates about $5.3 million dollars per year. This group lobbies the State Legislature on education related topics. Several times a year representatives from each school district can gather to discuss issues the WSSDA should focus on for the coming year. The representatives vote on which items to prioritize. So, in essence the work is done by an organization on behalf of the boards. There is no reason the same effort (if needed and valuable) couldn’t be done without the input of local school boards….unless….you judged that the input from the local school boards is relevant, useful and valuable.
Here’s a list of school board activities that could be done at the state or federal level that are currently done by school boards:
1) If school boards monitor budgets that could be done by professionals.
2) School boards will recommend capital bonds to build or update schools but in Washington State that would come from the State in the future.
3) The school board is supposed to be in charge of curriculum decisions but under Common Core the students take “standardized” tests. The companies who write the tests sell the text books and curriculum. In order to be prepared for the tests (after all, scoring high on tests is the principle measure of a school and districts performance) it’s best to buy the curriculum that fits the tests. Of course, in following this path the school board ends up losing control.
4) Disciplinary decisions could be done by anyone anywhere.
5) Hiring of a Superintendent can be done by anyone.
6) Passing/revising policies – almost every district has the exact same policies so make them uniform and administer them from on high.
7) Contract negotiations and ratifications – those can be done anywhere by anyone. Centralize the whole state.
The more control over local decisions that come from the Federal and State governments the less control locally. If one wants to have school board directors that are figure heads and make minor decisions that could just as easily be made by a bureaucrat at the State or Federal level because it feels good then so be it.
As school boards have given up control of decisions their relevance has slipped away. School board directors should be activists. They should represent the values of their voters. They should continually seek voter guidance and implement education the way their constituents want rather than being sheep lead by the State/Fed shepherd.
When you look at the activities and responsibilities of school boards it’s virtually impossible to find anything that couldn’t be done at the state or federal level…heck…that’s already happening and the boards are merely window dressing.