Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dismantling Democracy in Public Ed

I'm afraid I've been negligent in posting my newspaper columns on this blog site, and have missed several of the most recent.  Here is my "All In Perspective" column from the week of December 12.  "All In Perspective" currently runs in the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star Ledger print newspapers.  

Americans have long believed that providing education is essential to a successful society. The Constitution leaves education to state and local governments, and typically public school administrators answer to parents and voters via the democratic process. Now, however, it seems there is a determined effort to dismantle voter control of public schools.

Control of curriculum content has been very much in the news in Texas for several years now. Elected State Board of Education members review and approve content for public school textbooks, and work to ensure that our values are reflected in the curriculum. In response, many left-wing advocates have called for curtailing SBOE powers or even abolishing the SBOE altogether.

Now, however, the political Left is working to circumvent SBOE curriculum oversight via a program called CSCOPE. Created by educrats at Texas’ enigmatic Education Service Centers, CSCOPE is not an acronym; apparently the term has no meaning whatsoever. CSCOPE is presented not as ‘curriculum’ per se, but a “curriculum management system,” and therefore does not require SBOE review. Furthermore, the Texas Attorney General has stated that while CSCOPE is subject to the Public Information Act, it is a copyrighted product, and public review would give competitors an unfair advantage. (Never mind the ‘advantage’ wielded by a government entity creating and selling product to school districts.) Teachers must sign contracts preventing them from sharing CSCOPE content, and parents and taxpayers have been denied the right to review elements of the program now used in more than 70% of Texas school districts.

Last month the Texas SBOE did hold hearings on CSCOPE that included testimony from numerous teachers and parents concerned about the content and usability of the CSCOPE program, but it is unclear as to what state agency has jurisdiction. While CSCOPE may very well have educational merit, as implemented the program severely limits public scrutiny of curriculum content.

Voter control over public school districts is also being limited from within the districts themselves. Although voters in each community elect a board of trustees to govern the local school district, school superintendents have been pushing rules to limit trustee authority. In the Round Rock ISD, elected trustees are not permitted to visit schools without the superintendent’s permission and are not allowed to conduct investigations into school district matters. Earlier this year, the RRISD also implemented a new rule requiring that a majority of the seven board members agree before even taking up an issue for discussion. Since the RRISD superintendent sets board meeting agendas, an unelected bureaucrat wields disproportionate power over the elected board.

Even more disturbing were comments made regarding public information and transparency at a recent Round Rock School Board meeting. After denying an elected trustee data regarding attendance, RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez stated that he had the right to determine what district information was given to the school board. (The trustee was also censured for pursuing the question.) Chavez’ attitude may come as a shock to voters and parents who thought that the school superintendent was the employee of the voters via the trustees. Voters should be aware, however, that newly elected trustees are sent to ‘training’ by the Texas Association of School Boards, where they are admonished to always defer to the superintendent.

There is a prevailing attitude amongst education ‘elites’ that they alone know what is best for children, and that they must work to disentangle education from voter and parental influence. Unfortunately, these elites are ever finding new and creative ways to manipulate education and evade scrutiny. Parents and taxpayers should be paying very close attention to the activities of educrats at both the state and local level.

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