ED100 Breakdown: Module 7

Hello all! Sorry I haven’t posted anything in awhile. However, I have been filming some home science videos with SCIFI member Chase Swerdlick that you may find both entertaining and interesting. You can find them on our social media pages; be sure to check them out! My last blog before the new year covered the sixth module of ED100, which is a free online resource that presents the issues facing public education in an easy-to-read set of ten modules.

The seventh module of ED100 covers the relationships and balance between the entities that control the public school system: state, federal, and local. I believe the main lesson to learn from this module is the importance of public engagement in the educational system. To show you why it is important that you are involved, we will discuss the various groups that contribute to the educational environment and policy. Here’s my condensed breakdown of the facts and opinions discussed…

First of all, who is in control of our public schools? Technically it’s the state government, since they are the ones who control school funding. In fact, state policy influences can be found in the state’s Education Code which basically tells schools what to do and how to do it. Schools can apply for waivers that would allow them to not follow a specific provision in the Education Code and the state has the power to grant such a waiver. The Department of Education administers and enforces both state and federal laws. The government is also in charge of collecting data on the shortcomings and achievements of schools and reporting them to the public. Educational advocates also say they should be encouraging experimentation with regards to how the classroom is run a bit more than they are doing.

What exactly is a unified school district? If a district serves all grade levels from kindergarten to 12th grade, then it is considered a unified school district. Not all CA districts serve the full range of grade levels. The superintendent runs each district, implementing policies and making hiring decisions. Most state and federal programs require that districts leave some decision making to the schools themselves. However, the district still gets input on topics like budgeting, hiring decisions, and instructional decisions. It’s important to note that county offices oversee the school districts and are crucial players when it comes to instilling change in the school system.

Another big role in America’s educational system is played by the teachers’ unions. The two major unions in the U.S. are the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Negotiations, also known as collective bargaining, set the school boards represented by local district leaders against the teachers’ unions. Critics argue that the relationship between the union and the schools board is structurally out of balance. For example, the district cannot fire the teachers it they strike. The union can also support a candidate for the school board if they pledge to allot them more funds.

We’ve mostly been talking about who does what in the system, but we haven’t talked about who keeps tabs on what schools do and alerts the public when things go bad. Most government run things are controlled by inspections. Unfortunately, the current education system does not have a clear nationally run office of inspectors. Rather, it is awkwardly balanced between the counties, states, and districts. Also, most of the things schools are monitored for are what goes into the school such as hours of schooling, class sizes, salaries, etc. Ideally, we would be monitoring outputs such as student learning and test scores. Truth be told, the entity that is truly tasked with keeping schools accountable are the parents and local communities. The “whistleblower” job has proven to be incredibly important. Once schools begin to struggle, turning them around seems to be very difficult. Some experts even argue that turnaround efforts are so likely to fail that it would be best for the students if the school were simply closed. Perhaps this is because there is currently no established “rescue team” to go save struggling schools.

Well that’s my breakdown of the seventh module. The most important takeaway from this lesson is that the public needs to be involved and engaged in the education system. It’s up to us to keep schools accountable and functioning properly. Keep on eye out for my next blog which will look at the eighth module of ED100 as well as future home science videos. Let’s make 2019 a good year!

Michael LeoneComment