The way forward for public education was on the mind of numerous voters on Tuesday. Candidates for national, state, and native offices take their education programs in the forefront because they appealed for voter support. Statewide and native contests for education-related offices drew campaign donors well outside their direct constituencies. This higher level of attention may be the result of the ongoing debate about the way forward for public education, including the way it should be organized and governed.
Years of struggle and vast amounts of dollars have been invested. The differences are not solely about educational strategy, the nature of curriculum or teaching philosophy. A larger struggle takes place concerning the core purpose of public education and it is societal role.
For some, improvement will result from \”creatively destroying\” the standard type of public education and replacing it with one that maximizes parental choice within an open education marketplace where private interests predominate. They see education as a very individual process, measured by each child's progress. For others, the near future should be created to honor the public's shared interest in education, viewing schools and academic organizations as more than buildings for that delivery of educational services. They see education like a communal project that builds and supports the nation's democratic ideals because they teach the ABC's. Education's relationship to the public, and how education is governed, are in stake.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris assert that \”public governance in our schools matters for the health of our democracy. The general public school was designed to serve and promote the common good; it's paid for by the public, and it belongs to the public, not entrepreneurs.\”
From their perspective, the at-times messy work of elected school boards is a necessary component of schools remaining integral to the communities they serve. They cite Amy Lueck, who, inside a consider the historic role of the public high school recently published in the Atlantic, is concerned that \”as Americans face a new era of educational reform and broad societal change, they might do well to heed a lesson from the first two centuries of public education: As an institution, the fate of the senior high school can't be detached in the community which it's a part. Like several educational institutions, it's inextricably ended using the goals and values from the town, city, and nation in which it is located, reflecting and perpetuating them.\”
From this perspective, public schools do more than educate each child individually; they assist build vibrant communities and underpin the nation's task of making a shared future. The vista from the other side sees the community-based and governed type of education as less important, even harmful, towards the school's sole purpose of educating each child. The type of public governance and accountability is inefficient and too susceptible to a fickle public which could and will vote in new leadership and disrupt plans and programs.
Four years ago, Valerie Strauss described for the Post the way the social-entrepreneurial view of public education looks to a different method of governing public education as answer to its vision of the future. In a speech to the California School Boards Association, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, an advocate of market-based reform, said, \”The fundamental problem with school districts isn't their fault. The fundamental issue is that they do not get to control their boards, and also the importance of the charter school movement is to evolve America from the system where governance is continually changing and you can't do long-term planning to a method of large nonprofits.-The most important thing is they constantly improve every year; they're getting better simply because they have stable governance-they do not have an elected school board.\” Operating public education more like a private corporate concern than the usual public organization, they say, will allow these wise leaders to produce quality public education.
This debate isn't limited to public education. Nonprofit organizations face exactly the same challenge of balancing the of broad stakeholder involvement against the \”messiness\” of democracy. Chao Guo asserts that \”wider constituent participation in nonprofit governance will not only help citizens develop civic skills and democratic values but additionally boost the capacity of nonprofit organizations to work better using their constituents and also the larger community.\” If this is true, we have to be very careful our desire to improve education doesn't take away the public from our nation's educational system.