Nationwide and in Nevada, there are those who would like to do away with elected school boards and replace them with appointees. Those appointments allow for greater opportunities to do business behind closed doors. After all, appointees don't have to be responsive to the public.
Make no doubt about it, public education is big business. Billions of dollars are spent each year nationwide on K-12 education. Those dollar signs have caught the eye of politicians looking for contributions, as well as business people trying to make back room deals to get their hands on some of this money.
During the last two legislative sessions, laws have been passed to strip the elected State Board of Education of its authority. That authority was then shifted to appointed bodies. To gain the power of the appointment, some legislators did their best to try and make the board look useless or inept. The reasons for this usually range from poor student performance to board members debating policy publicly.
The game-playing in Nevada has resulted in the creation of a number of councils, committees, commissions and boards that regulate parts of public education. There is no way for the average citizen to know who is responsible for what policy decisions.
For example, teacher licensure falls under the purview of the Professional Standards Commission. The Council to Establish Academic Standards determines academic standards. The state board, in turn, is responsible for selecting the exam to measure those standards and determine the passing core. The state superintendent of public instruction has to respond to nine different groups - often with very different agendas. Even the Legislative Committee on Education's emphasis changes after each session as the Republicans chair the committee one year, followed by the Democrats the following session.
It would be nice if these groups had the same philosophies. They don't. It's not realistic to raise academic standards for students if the teacher licensure requirements do not adequately address the content knowledge of teachers to teach those standards.
The Council to Establish Academic Standards created new standards for all students knowing full well that new standards could not be taught with the current 180-day school year. The state board is then left with dealing with a teacher shortage, low licensure requirements, more material than can be taught in a school year, and they have to come up with a fair test to measure students' knowledge of those standards that determine graduation.
Some legislators are more concerned about their ability to pay back political favors than with the education of your sons and daughters. They will tell you they need more authority to appoint a board. Simply stated, they would like to take away your right to vote.
Unfortunately, the folly of all these creations won't be felt until the fall of 2001 when I predict only 10 percent of the students will pass the new high school proficiency exams on the first attempt. Parents will find themselves shaking their heads in disbelief when they find out their kid has earned enough credits to graduate, was accepted to a university, received a scholarship, then cannot pass the graduation test based on the new standards.
Nevadans deserve the right to vote for their school board, whether it's a state or local election. Elected officials are required to debate policy publicly and the public should hold the people making the policy decisions that affect our kids accountable. And most importantly, the public should be aware of who's making what decisions.
Special interest groups and political consultants who have access to politicians want elected school boards to go away so they can get their own people appointed. That way back room deals can be made. That's how they make money. A politician who does not trust you enough to choose your school board representatives should not be trusted with your vote in November.
Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a former member of the Nevada Board of Education. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.