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A Board member dissents on school governance

Michael Kubacki, a member of the Daily News People's Editorial Board, is a crank from East Falls.

The Daily News People's Editorial Board just weighed in on the issue of school governance. I'm a member of the board, but I have to dissent from its solution, which is to change - well, nothing really. Keep the School Reform Commission and the entire top-down, one-size-fits-all system by which public education is dispensed in this city. Leave it all to the "experts" who have presided over the decline and fall of public education, here and elsewhere, for 50 years now.

The People's Board suggests putting a parent on the SRC. Are all current members childless? Even if they are, what makes parenthood a qualification for administering the public schools? Saddam Hussein was a parent. Even Michael Jackson was a parent, sort of. It's true that parents are powerless and routinely ignored by those who run our schools, but this can hardly be remedied by ensuring that at least one member of the SRC has contributed some DNA to the gene pool.

The other suggestion? A set of toothless local advisory boards.

Well, as any parent of a public-school child will tell you, there is nothing stopping a parent (or anybody else), from advising schools and teachers. I used to do it all the time when my son was in school. I advised them not to force kids to watch "An Inconvenient Truth" (with no rebuttal permitted). I advised them not to invite speakers who told students the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill black people. It made no difference, of course, because such advice is routinely ignored by those with all the power in the world of public education - the teachers, their unions and the educrats.

The problem isn't that parents can't speak, but that they aren't listened to, because they have no power in the public-education transaction. Parents and children aren't "consumers" of education because to be a "consumer," you must have market power. Rather, parents and children are "end-users," and if there is one thing the computer age has taught us, it's that if you're given a choice between being A) a political prisoner or B) an end-user, you'd be wise to pick A. You'll have more fun.

I'm puzzled by the refusal of my colleagues to even consider changing the system. For 50 years, highly centralized school boards, teachers unions and education Ph.D.'s have failed miserably to provide our children with the basic schooling that used to be every child's birthright. Since 1960, their incessant cries for "more money" and "smaller classes" have led to spending that's tripled (in real dollars) and class sizes that have been cut by a third.

And Johnny still can't read.

Even his diploma.

I don't see what there is about the last 50 years of failure that's worth enshrining in marble, and a shock to the system might be just what the system needs. We can hardly make matters worse.

School districts used to be local affairs, and school policy was made by people like you and me. Today, authority is centralized. Policy comes from people we'll never meet or talk to, and there seems to be little we can do about it. They're "experts," you see.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Instead of the powerless advisory boards suggested by my colleagues, why not give local groups a real say over issues like safety, hiring and curriculum? The SRC would retain financial oversight, but the schools would be governed by 10 school boards across the city. Board members (perhaps elected, perhaps appointed by the mayor) would meet regularly and hash out the issues that most concern parents and children in that area.

Logan is NOT Port Richmond and Port Richmond is NOT Mount Airy, and while parents and children are concerned with many of the same issues, the ability to respond quickly to local concerns is NOT something a top-heavy bureaucracy does well. An example: Would the anti-Asian violence at South Philly High have dragged on as long as it did if a South Philly School Board and South Philly parents had had some say in the matter? I doubt it.

As for curriculum, a local board might have more freedom to experiment than a citywide superintendent ever could. Want an intensive language program in Italian and Spanish? Instead of sending your child to a charter school across town, try Public School XYZ. It's not the closest to your house, but it's only eight blocks away. Musical talent? Well, we don't have a Juilliard in the district, but we put most of our music budget there (and, hey, the English teacher plays the sax).

I'm not saying these things will happen, but they might. And there's no possibility innovation can occur as long as the SRC sets all education policy and hires people like Arlene Ackerman to administer it. There are charter schools, of course, many of them wonderful, but why can't every school strive to be wonderful in its own way? Above all, what do we have to lose?