How many divisions does he have?
Joseph Stalin, 1935.
In a few days President-elect Obama will nominate a Secretary of Education. The drum roll resonates across the op ed pages of major dailies and the blogosphere is reaching a crescendo. From David Brooks, the conservative columnist in the NY Times to Dan Brown, a Huffington Post blogger and Charter School teacher in DC.
What self-styled sages fail to comprehend is that the Secretary of Education doesn’t appoint any of the fifty State Commissioners of Education, or, any of the school board members on the 16,000 schools boards that spread across the breath of this nation. He or she doesn’t negotiate teacher contracts, or vote on school budgets.
Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee are the exception, they run school districts in cities without school boards, as long as they satisfy the mayor who appointed them, they do as they please. For the rest of the nation ordinary citizens serve on school boards, as they have for hundreds of years. There is something to be said for the Wisdom of Crowds, those folk on the 16,000 school boards.
Louis Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM calls for the collapsing of the 16,000 school districts into seventy districts. There is a better chance of the National League adopting the designated hitter. There is certain irony, schadenfreude perhaps, as we listen to the CEOs prescribe for us, and wonder how they failed so badly in driving our economy into ruin.
For better or worse the founding fathers left education in the hands of the locals. Ordinary people, neighbors, parents, tax payers, make policy for our school districts. The Bushes, the Kleins, the Rhees are entranced by “no nonsense” business models … the thousands of school board members around the country reject Joel, Michelle and friends, and, are sharply critical of the punitive aspects No Child Left Behind.
I would expect the President-elect to nominate a “non-controversial” Secretary. Sweeping policy pronouncements make headlines … education improves in the classrooms, teacher by teacher, kid by kid.