It is difficult to find a more patriotic day than the 4th of July. While many problems face the country, and there are plenty of differences, most of us look forward to celebrating the birth of our nation. While we are free to hold different beliefs, Americans enjoy waving their flags and they love their country.
Our public schools are supposed to be very American. They should reflect democracy at its finest. Public schools are free and they open their doors to everyone. No one is turned away. All religions, races and those with disabilities are free to attend our public schools.
Yet public schools, while ever evolving, have always been controversial because everyone has their ideas how they should be run, what they should teach, and how it should be taught. But that is alright, because built into this “education for all” idea is the local school board.
Through elected school boards, communities across America bring together individuals to debate with each other: curriculum, school structure, and planning for the future. School boards provide an important avenue for parents and citizens to express their concerns. They can participate in group protest or speak individually. And any American can campaign to be on the school board.
Back in May, billionaire Reed Hastings of Netflix said that we should get rid of school boards. He is a supporter of charter schools and was speaking at a charter school meeting. Since more and more charter schools run on their own, they don’t require the voice of the people, your voice or mine. Hastings is on the board of Rocketship charter schools.
This criticism of school boards is not new. Those who want the privatization of public schools, don’t want school boards. Back in 2003, Chester Finn, former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, said: “School boards are an aberration, an anachronism, an educational sinkhole.” See here for the full article. This is certainly not a vote of confidence in the American people.
Along with that, school boards of late, cash-strapped and vulnerable to corruption, have turned to outside groups with money. They have permitted various individuals to reshape the American school in their own vision, often with a particular ideology.
Some of these individuals, while perhaps well-meaning, essentially push aside the voices of the community. For whatever reason, they don’t respect those voices or they believe their ideas about how to run schools are better. No longer do you get great debate, and when you do, it is often ignored.
In many places now, the school board is nothing more than a conduit for big business to move in and run schools the way they see fit. Schools are no longer American schools. They are corporate schools and they are run with a tight fist. There is a sense in most schools that there has been a real loss of freedom. Here are the examples:
1. Charter schools are run by businesses. There is little sense of community. Many are for-profit, homogenized schools that run pretty much the same. No matter how a charter school might make it look like parents are valued, they are not provided with input into the school. Parents and teachers are given rules to follow as to how they and their students must behave. They certainly don’t have a real voice in how the schools are run. “Like it or leave” it might as well be the motto. Teachers in charter schools usually have fewer credentials.
2. Common Core State Standards are another way public schools display a loss of freedom. What children learn is now designed by a privileged few, many of whom have few, if any, credentials or understanding about how children learn. The individual differences that should be valued in America, are cast aside for mundane objectives that, while meant to put everyone on the same page, lead towards commonality, not innovation. It cheapens and devalues what public schools could have been.
3. Race Relations are not enhanced with today’s schooling. Until Brown v. Board of Education, schools were separate. African-American students were taught in their own schools and were not welcome in white schools. But America said no through the courts. And for awhile, children of every race were rightly welcomed into America’s schools together. For years, school administrators and teachers struggled to help bright young people from all races and colors understand, not only schooling, but each other. Now, charter schools look like the old separate schools again. There appears to be little effort to bring races and cultures together.
4. Students with Disabilities educated in public schools also began with a struggle. For many years these children were housed in institutions. But Public Law 94-142, which later became the Individuals Disabilities Education Act, made it possible for all children, no matter the disability, to attend public school. The challenge to instruct children with differences through Individual Educational Plans, gave many hope, that all differences were good and every child had value. Helping children with disabilities, not just fit into the world, but be legitimate contributors, was a tremendous accomplishment for America. Now students with disabilities are rejected from many charter schools, and in traditional public school they are pushed to master the same material as everyone else.
There are grave problems facing America and the world. It will take bright students to tackle those problems and find solutions. It will require cooperation and understanding. It will demand education excellence. This can only happen through the collective voices of Americans, through well-run, decent school boards, who legitimately place their trust in the community and the children who live there—America’s future.
Happy 4th of July! Be careful out there!