Wednesday, March 02, 2005

In the Past, Schools Have Been Designed for Stability, Not Change

We keep hearing words like "bloated bureaucracy, monolithic monopoly" and other endearing terms being applied to public education. Here is why running schools like a business sounds good but usually doesn't play well to the public when actually attempted.

Representative democracies are messy, bureaucratic, slow, yet stable institutions. They are designed with checks and balances to provide stability for our freedom and way of life. They are NOT designed for efficiency, cutting edge innovation or entrepreneurialism.

Locally elected layman, with or without any formal training or background are elected to positions of public office. They represent the public in a democratic process and get squeezed in the vise between local public opinion, state and national initiatives and the advice of "experts" and lobbyists. It is messy and slow. They say there are two things you never want to watch being made, sausage and legislation.

If the state or nation really wants schools to run with more efficiency and to represent the cutting edge of innovation like a business, then they will have to have the structure of a business. School boards will have to model the board of directors from business by possessing management experience and understanding of the actual industry. Boards will have to have more local control. Administrators will have to be given more authority and be held more responsible for the growth of the "business."

The Indiana law book governing schools is 3 inches thick and 1,271 pages long. Not very efficient.

Our Governor, who has never held elected office, is finding out in a hurry that government in a democracy is NOT designed for efficiency, it is designed intentionally by our forefathers with checks and balances. It is sloppy, cumbersome and difficult to change. On purpose. It is designed for stability.

Gathering more power through whatever means may help get things done faster, just remember that they get "undone" faster by the same model when the other party is in control.

The reason schools haven't changed a lot is because in the past they were viewed as democratic institutions run by locally elected lay officials. Almost all educational research in this area reinforces the notion that Americans are enamored with the idea of local school boards. However, most people don't realize that local control has become largely an illusion. Presidents, governors and legislators of all stripes have hijacked local control but have left the perception of local control in place. Most school board members who come to public office, do so with dreams of making a difference and putting their mark on the school district in some way. Most of them leave slightly frustrated but with a greater understanding of how few things are really under local control. All the big decisions are made in the statehouse or Washington and they are left with the 9:00 PM call from the irate dad over the latest coaching fracas.


At Wednesday, March 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. Our system is very hard to change - by design.

Radical change in democratic societies comes only in times of obvious crisis - Sputnik, an oil embargo, enemy attack or a Depression.

We don't really have crisis now. While there is a slow shift of wealth creation away from the US to the rest of the world, arguably that is a good thing.

Americans are 4% of the world's population but control 25% of the wealth. What may feel like decline in Indiana is really raising the standard of living of poor people around the world.

Daniels is going to rant and rave about IN schools, but he won't be able to make much change - by design.

When Hoosiers see he can't deliver real change, they'll elect a Democrat as Governor in 4 years -- who also won't be able to make much change.

I don't see that Indiana's educators have much to worry about, really -- very little is going to change.

At Wednesday, March 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen! We just need to wait him out.

At Friday, March 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if local control is illusory, and applying business control principles to the school system is not the answer, what is the answer for the school board member handling the irate call?

At Friday, March 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best answer is, "Have you talked with the coach? Have you talked with the Athletic Director? Have you talked with the Principal? Have you talked with the Superintendent?"


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