Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hang Fire

There's a big debate raging over at Kay Brooks' blog about the school board candidate's controversial views on including Intelligent Design (ID) in science curriculum, on requiring school uniforms for students, and on publicizing her home-schooled children's test scores. I do not know where she has had her ammunition for this campaign stored, but she's not getting clean shots off in the local culture war she's championing.

There is a way to allow ID to be taught in public schools without threatening scientific method or promoting religion: as a social theory in a philosophy or a civics class. However, she does not seem to grasp the difference between social theory and scientific theory, so she does not seem to be persuading parents who want their children to be taught serious science, and thus, stay cutting-edge and competitive with the rest of the world.

The subject of school uniforms seems a grayer area, but I agree with the comment:
[With school uniforms] you'd have administrators with an additional "discipline" issue to deal with and enforce. They'd be with kids in the office more rather than observing teachers, helping their classroom management and instructional effectiveness, and accumulating evidence for the dismissal hearings before the board.
Or it means additional tax money to pay for extra staff and/or time to pay for policing the uniform policy. But Kay has already argued that public schools get too much money for things she claims are not directly related to education:

  1. "transportation, feeding, discipline, health and counseling"
  2. "Pre-K classes"
  3. "afterschool programs"
And now she would promote a potentially expensive uniform program that in her words "isn't really education"?

Finally, Kay seems too defensive about publicizing her children's test scores so that voters can judge her in the same way that she has asked them to judge Gracie Porter in light of the scores of children in Porters' charge. This gets to the heart of the problem of a home-school mom running for office: unless she has some kind of demonstrable track record in education or in local public school culture, she seems to have no business running for office. Kay has entered the public square as a candidate for school board. Her primary qualification is that she is the sole administrator and educator responsible for her children's academic performance. She subscribes to the idea that testing is the primary means of judging whether teachers, principals, and public servants are doing their jobs. Even so, she still will not publish her children's test scores so that the voters can decide whether she is doing a better job than her opponent?

I'm not saying that home-schooling moms in general should be required to advertise their children's test scores, but once they step out of private life in order to run for public office and once they skewer opponents on test scores, shouldn't they be expected to give voters some idea of how they have performed themselves as educators? Kay doesn't seem to think so. She wants to have it both ways. And thus, the problem of a home-school mom without experience running for office.

07/30/06, 5:30 p.m. Update: See the first comment below for the best evaluation that I've seen of the problems facing this school board and the inability of either Kay Brooks or her critics to address the real issues of education beyond the symbolic ones of culture wars. Particularly insightful is the criticism of those who speak of Kay Brooks as some kind of true agent of change (or in A.C. Kleinheider's starkly symbolic and practically vacuous terms "the definitive agent of change" in contrast to "the candidate of the system."). We are indeed guilty of allowing the culture wars to distract us from the real issues of education policy. So, by all means, let's get back to reality.

1 comment:

  1. Both ID and uniforms seem a bit off track to me--for both sides. Seems like those would be the things to discuss after you figure out how to improve test scores, the dropout rate, school safety, facilities maintenance, staff morale, labor relations, etc.

    ID and evolution constitute what, maybe 1 day of instruction for the year? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to address AP Biology enrollment and the pass rate on the College Board exam before wasting time on a ridiculous culture war issue that constitutes approximately 1% of the materials taught during the year?

    Same with uniforms. Considering the number of successful school systems out there that aren't wearing uniforms, maybe we ought to be looking at what they're doing to help students succeed before deciding to help bolster the khaki pants industry.

    Instead of wasting their breath (or 10 point font) on piddling issues, Brook's critics ought to be going after her lack of concrete reforms. At the last board meeting, she quibbled for a good 10 minutes over whether Dr. Garcia had achieved "significant" or "major" improvement in improving school facilities during his tenure (in her opinion, he had achieved neither, despite the massive investment in facility improvements in District 5). This doesn't seem like the sort of major "outsider" reforms promised by Brooks and her GOP backers.