Posts Tagged ‘Local control’

Better Local Control – Triple the School Districts

A few years ago, Brett Moulding, the state director of curriculum invited me into his office to chat with me. He started off with, “Oak, you’re very involved in your children’s education. How do we get more parents involved like you are?” I replied, “Easy, just implement Investigations math statewide.” However, I think there is a better way than ticking off tens of thousands of families. :)

It seems like these days everyone likes to use the phrase “local control of schools,” especially those who find it a convenient war cry against any state legislator trying to inject their voice into the education system. Does anyone truly think we really have local control of schools? What would local control even look like?  We’ve come a long ways from Little House on the Prairie, but who should be setting policy and curriculum at the local schools? Parents? Teachers? The district? The state office of education? Legislators? Children? :) I would like to propose an idea for consideration (thanks to Jed Norwood for his assistance in pulling these numbers together).

This chart shows the population of Utah over the last 60 years. We have quadrupled in size from about 700,000 citizens to about 2.8 million. Yet over that span of time we have only increased the number of school districts from 40 to 41, and that 1 has caused a lot of controversy.

Utah Population vs. Number of School Districts

This graph is basically a duplicate of the first but the Utah population is divided by the number of school districts to calculate the average number of citizens within a school district.

Utah Population per School District

Just for sake of comparison, lets look at the predominant religion in this state. The LDS church over this same 60 year period has grown from just over 1 million members to almost 14 million. Instead of amassing power in the 180 stakes that existed back then, they divided it out to over 2,800 stakes.

LDS Church Population vs. Number of LDS Stakes

Look at the effect. Instead of a rising population per stake, the number of members per stake actually decreased somewhat significantly over that time span. This decentralizing of power allowed the members of the church to have better local control, local representation where members can communicate with their leaders easier, and the church still maintains economies of scale by having stakes associated with each other.

LDS Population per Stake

What would Utah look like if the education system followed the LDS church’s program of splitting its power to maintain local leaders and close contact with its members? Interestingly, about the same number of students per district compared to members in an LDS stake.

 

Current System What if Scenario
Utah School Districts 40 116
Residents/District 67,412 23,827
School Board Members 205 580
Students/District 13,228 4,561
LDS Members/Stake 4,825

Obviously changing anything involves pros and cons and figuring out the details of such a transition. For some smaller districts, they might not even be affected because they may only have 1 high school. Big districts like Alpine, Jordan, Davis, Granite, could see themselves broken into 8-10 districts, dramatically reducing the size of the district, and bringing local control back to the people.

Pros

  • Current board members in ASD (Alpine School District) spend 15-20 hrs/week on district work. If the district split into several pieces, each board member of the new districts may only spend 2-3 hours/week on district work opening the door for greater public participation instead of only those who can make such a huge time commitment.
  • One board member in ASD is over 24 individual schools due to the geographic size of the district and will be getting 2 more schools soon. How is that fair to the board member or the public who expects their board member to be responsive to their school needs? Splitting districts brings the public better representation.
  • Because of the time commitment and being stretched thin, board members are reduced to “yes-men” because they just don’t have time to dig into anything more than at surface level.
  • Instead of 7 board members in ASD there may be 40+ depending on if the new boards had 5 or 7 member compositions. That means you’re electing someone who is truly local to you and you wouldn’t need a partisan election where you choose neighborhood delegates to go vet candidates for you. Right now, with the size of the district, we’re electing people who we don’t really know where they stand on anything.
  • To run for office would be much easier in a smaller area. It would be far less expensive to cover a couple precincts rather than a dozen or more.
  • By cutting the size of the district, we could probably eliminate completely the staff at district offices and give teachers a modest raise. If we gave principals of the schools their own budget to control and they worked with the School Community Council to set school policy just like charter and private schools, we could run very efficient, lean schools and increase teacher salary.
  • Privatizing busing and maintenance would then allow districts to focus on education and contract out for those services.
  • School community councils should be given more power to serve as a local school board at the individual schools. They should be given power to hire and fire the principal based on community feedback, and to deal with discipline problems with students or teachers at that school. That way we actually wind up with 300 or more school board members in a district the size of Alpine. The schools are always saying they want more parental involvement, this would finally do it. Give the schools to the parents and let them own them. That includes curriculum and content. Let them decide if they want 9th grade English to be filled with reading books on diversity and tolerance or else classics of literature.
  • Parents finally have to look into curriculum choices for themselves and be more involved at the schools.

Cons/questions

  • The big one deals with the tax base and figuring out how to split it. Initially splitting the districts, they could just share the pool of the same district money on a per student basis. After that there could be a plan worked out for a conversion to where parents with children in school pay for their education like they used to, and other citizens without children in school stop paying in property tax to cover the education of other people’s children. This will also greatly incentivize parents at local schools to make sure their children are getting the best education because those parents will be writing the checks themselves.
  • With that last point, some people are shouting for joy and others are screaming “what about the poor kids?” Those families who haven’t the money to attend school could rely on generous people in the community to donate to aid in the education of the children. If you don’t think this will happen, then you have no hope in the charity of others. I believe good people will step up and donate rather than pay a tax that takes money from them. Disagree? Look at the LDS church’s Perpetual Education Fund which has been very well funded by generous people all over the world. Surely we can believe there are generous people in our communities that will step up and help educate children. Giving comes from the heart and when it’s done this way it benefits the giver and the receiver is grateful instead of our current system where the “giver” hates paying taxes and the “receiver” believes it’s an entitlement.
  • How do you then set up a new high school somewhere and have it pull some of the population from surrounding area middle and elementary schools? This could be done similar to the way a charter school is set up. It would also help make sure the parents were ensuring administrators were held accountable for the costs of that development because it’s coming out of their pockets.
  • “What about economies of scale,” I hear everyone screaming. The LDS church has plenty of economies of scale because it has agreements with large companies to provide for its wards and stakes. The Utah state office of education could do the same thing. I also do not think charter and private schools suffer much in decreased purchasing power.

There are certainly more pros and cons and I invite you to list them in the comments. These were just the primary items on my mind while writing this article.

Legislative input?

Now for the really sticky issue. I have had a few people ask me over the last week that if this is a good idea (and they have said it was), then what about the legislature stepping into things that affect local schools? This is not a clear cut issue.Yes I favor local schools as outlined above. However, right now many are currently under the control of individuals who I question their common sense and/or associations. District implementations of programs by fiat like Investigations math has destroyed thousands of lives. Even after we got the state office of education to review the program and remove it from their approved curriculum list along with Connected math, ASD has continued to fully use both of these harmful programs. This requires the intervention of the legislature to set programs into place using common sense and get the curriculum scales balanced before they hand control over to the parents to have true local control. At least that’s my opinion.

King for a Day

If I had to say how I think things should play out it would be as follows:

  1. Immediately implement partisan school board elections at the state level and temporarily at the district level
  2. Keep state board terms at 4 years since they cover twice the geographic area that state senators cover, but reduce district board member terms to 2 years since they have areas more comparable to state representatives.
  3. Legislature appoints citizens review boards for strong academic curriculum and standards to remove garbage programs like Investigations, Connected, and Interactive math for which there are no studies to support them
  4. Shatter the districts into fragments as described above
  5. Turn over control of curriculum to the locally elected boards and make parents accountable for their children’s education
  6. Leave district school board elections partisan, but have local schools have non-partisan races since you should be familiar enough with people in your area that you can have that be non-partisan.
  7. Allow schools to compete for students and their money based on performance. Allow teachers to teach more students if they can handle it and the students want in that class because of the superior job that teacher is doing. Those teachers get paid more.
  8. Those that have children in the schools and actually pay to have their children schooled there are the only ones that vote on board members for the school and district.

Incidentally, this would be closer to what Jefferson envisioned as a way to correct problems that arise when you don’t have local republican government.

“The article… nearest my heart is the division of counties into wards. These will be pure and elementary republics, the sum of which taken together composes the State, and will make of the whole a true democracy as to the business of the wards, which is that of nearest and daily concern. The affairs of the larger sections, of counties, of States, and of the Union, not admitting personal transactions by the people, will be delegated to agents elected by themselves; and representation will thus be substituted where personal action becomes impracticable. Yet even over these representative organs, should they become corrupt and perverted, the division into wards constituting the people, in their wards, a regularly organized power, enables them by that organization to crush, regularly and peaceably, the usurpations of their unfaithful agents, and rescues them from the dreadful necessity of doing it insurrectionally. In this way we shall be as republican as a large society can be, and secure the continuance of purity in our government by the salutary, peaceable, and regular control of the people.” –Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Cyclopedia, Pg. 213

For those saying “how can Oak use a quote that contains the word democracy!?!?” please visit this page of quotes on Republics and Democracies which was one of the first posts on this site.

Weigh in and let me have it below! :)