Guest Column: A Board of Education education | Columnists

Twelve years of service on the Des Moines County School Board, on the Board of Directors of the National Association of School Councils and as chairman of the City Council of Education, all proved to be an excellent education for me. Initially, I was encouraged to run for school because of my commitment to quality public education as the foundation of a viable democracy and the belief that our public schools are not funded. I still have this commitment, and despite twelve years of lobbying at the state and federal levels, I am still convinced that public schools are not funded.

In the mid-1950s, they were underfunded, and they remain so, although we now spend about the same amount per student adjusted for inflation. This underfunding was exacerbated by the gradual loss of valuable subsidies enjoyed by public schools. At the time, when a woman wanted to work outside the home, she had three options: be a secretary, nurse or teacher. This gave public schools an involuntary teaching workforce of very capable women who taught, and even then they paid teachers less than male teachers, “because men had families to support.” As women became more able to pursue other, more lucrative careers, the subsidy gradually waned and was not replaced by additional funding. We’ve all heard that you don’t know what you don’t know (according to Vice President Cheney); the result: what you do not know, you will not teach.

I got more education in the board of education.

Re-segregation and desegregation in the American style

Across the country, tuition in our largest school districts has predominantly consisted of students from racial minorities since about 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. The Board of Education. This decision suggested that schools with racial segregation were inevitably unequal. They got it right. But they added a critical proviso; it was forbidden to have racial identification of schools “in the school district”. It was a gap large enough for desegregation / re-segregation buses to pass, and school district boundaries became concrete – Polk County, Iowa is served by seventeen separate school districts, the head of any of which is likely capable of controlling all but Polk County counties. Racial identification of schools in the county remains a legal requirement. The same phenomenon was replicated in every major school district of the country with predominantly racial minorities surrounded by lily-white, affluent suburbs. This re-segregation was facilitated by federal money spent on sections of the highway built from the city center to the suburbs in the “name of public safety for suburban residents to get to / from work”.

Standardized tests

Standardized tests are not designed to determine what students know; results are not included in the calculation of their estimates. The tests are designed to test the school students attend. The standardized test shows how the school works compared to other schools. That’s not all. The only result is absolutely meaningless in the “assessment” of the school. There should be at least two readings. For example, school testing in the 80th percentile may have passed the 85th percentile test two years earlier, and thus this school lost ground during this two-year period compared to other schools. A school that conducted tests in the 70th percentile may have conducted tests in the 60th percentile two years earlier, a testament to an excellent school. The first principals need to take lessons from the second director – they brag that their school is in the 80th percentile, and the townspeople are buying it.

Class size

Many parents and school board members often equate a reduced number of classes as the “gold standard” for defining a quality educational experience. Truth be told, it’s not even relevant as a quality indicator. Imagine a classroom where a math teacher asks students to move on to the next page of the textbook. If each student turns page 98, the teacher can deal with a very large class that teaches math that day. On the other hand, while some students turn page 98, others turn page 120, still others turn page 60, and still others cannot find their book, the teacher faces the challenge of teaching quality math to the whole class. . I saw it; the total number of 3rd and 4th graders did not reach the expected ideal for the class size that parents wanted, so the school district created two 3rd grade classes, two 4th grade classes and one “combined” class 3rd and 4th grades – all with the supposed ideal class size. But this combined class had a greater range of student needs and reduced the quality of education, while parents were not wiser.

Equality versus justice

I joined the Board of Education with a belief in equality; I came out twelve years later believing in fair teaching. I learned about special education programs designed for students with unique educational challenges. I also learned that there are students who initially find themselves less prepared for learning than some of their classmates in kindergarten. Preschool programs funded from the federal budget have proven effective in reducing or eliminating this imbalance, and it has never been fully funded. Never. In fact it is quite elementary, if you want comparable results, you need to invest more resources if some of the inputs have bigger problems than others. Funds should be directed where the needs are greater. Equality is more important than equality.

Respect for parents

Recently, many have been honoring the educational wishes of parents. Some such respect is appropriate, but blind respect is not. A lot of time and energy in the teaching board was spent on reassuring the parents. Parents do what parents do. I remember cases where parents categorically insisted, “Johnny didn’t do it, and ‘just to be informed,’ we have it on video.” The parents, not forgetting, replied, “Well, Johnny’s not guilty.” The Board of Education is tasked with listening to the wishes of parents. The fact is that some parents adhere to values ​​that say you can be mocked if you’re bigger and tougher; it is normal in a pandemic not to wear a mask or socially distance oneself; it’s okay to lie, cheat or steal if you’re not caught. An example is the recent example of the parents of Ethan Crambley, a school shooter who killed four people and injured others. They bought a gun for a clearly troubled 15-year-old. Then, when the school received notice that Ethan was searching the internet for ammunition, his mother wrote to him that she was not upset with him and he just needed to learn not to fall. Children learn something on a daily basis, and sometimes it is a competition between what they learn in school and what their parents teach. Blind respect for parental desires is not the right balance.

This balance can be difficult – bears are known to irrationally protect their cubs. It’s part of the challenge for school board members to achieve that balance and then hold on tight, even in the face of death threats. I was there and did it. Twenty-five years later, I still suffer from PTSD, which I received as a member of the Board of Education.

When evaluating candidates for election to the school board of education, look for people who understand the need for the right balance, people who have an agenda you agree with, and people who know how to negotiate. Remember that candidates do not apply for the position of head of school; in case of election they will become one of several members of the school board. The most important skill set is to know how to make a deal that will advance the agenda; the school board president is not necessarily the most powerful or influential member of the school board. The most important member of the school board is the one who knows how to make a deal. A seven-person school board doesn’t need to be very smart to be effective; you just have to be able to count to four.

Smart people learn from their own experiences. Wise people learn from the experiences of others. The above are some of the things I learned while working on the Board of Education.


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