Thursday, May 3, 2012

Commission or Smokescreen?

Here's the thing. If I were going to establish an educational advisory group for New York State, I think I'd include at least one person who actually works with students in a public school setting. I might include at least one person who comes from upstate New York. And I probably wouldn't chair it with the retired chairman of Citigroup.

The New York State School Board Association is all irked because there are no school board members on the commission, but to be perfectly honest, school board members don't know anything more about education than bank board presidents do. Instead, the governor has larded his commission with the sort of people who become quickly bored with school life, get out, and establish a nonprofit so that they can talk pie-in-the-sky till the cows come home about how much better schools could be.

What's really needed are principals, who can talk about how the state's current reporting requirements force them to spend days out of each month juggling data instead of observing teachers or dealing with student problems. Maybe a superintendent or two to explain once and for all why the legislature's Good Ideas translate into lost dollars and diminished programs, and how spending 1/10 of the school year testing or grading limits student-teacher interaction and the possibility of learning.

I might include somebody from upstate to speak to the idea that establishing charter schools in small communities merely siphons needed dollars from struggling public schools, and to tell why consolidation is such anathema to people whose identities are tied to a school, a post office, and sometimes a tiny library.

But I don't think this is a real commission. I think it is sleight of hand—look over here at this cool bunch of people while back here I do what I want.

There are people on this commission whom I truly admire: Geoffrey Canada! Michael Rebell! But I think they were chosen not to act, but to talk, and I think the time for talking is probably over.

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