The Wisdom of Crowds: Why 16,000 School Board Members Are Wiser Than Any Secretary of Education.


The Pope,
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.

2 responses to “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why 16,000 School Board Members Are Wiser Than Any Secretary of Education.

  1. Despite six years of the Klein administration’s misinformation to the public, there is sufficient data to prove that his reforms have been basically ineffectual and have produced no significant improvement in student achievement.

    The Klein administration claims of a 12 percent increase in Reading and a 19 percent increase in Math scores on the New York State Assessments are inflated. These results include the scores obtained in 2002-2003 well before the implementation of Klein’s reforms. Without the 6 percent increase in Reading and the 15 percent in Math in 2002 – 2003, the figures read a dismal 6.4 percent rise in Reading and only 4.2 percent in Mathematics.

    The only independent check on student achievement in New York City also shows a completely different picture from that claimed by Klein. The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress administered by the US Department of Education, considered the gold standard in testing, show that student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003 with virtually no improvements for Black, Hispanic and low income students.

    We need real accountability and transparency, not Klein’s version of it. Mr. Klein’s public relations team has made sure assessment information is not accurately presented to the public. The failure of Klein’s reforms become all the more evident when we consider all assessment measures – declining SAT and High Schools Advanced Placement Subject Tests, one of the worst graduation rates in the country (43rd out of 50 large US cities), a 50 percent drop in students attending gifted programs in NYC, etc.


  2. Pingback: Bloomberg as James Madison: Is Mayor Bloomberg an Originalist, Fending Off the Passions of the Unreflecting Multitudes for the Benefit of the Masses? « Ed In The Apple

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