Why We Should Eliminate State Boards and State Depts. of Education

By: Sandra StotskyMay, 2015

It is becoming increasingly clearer that the main groups oppressing parents, local school boards, and local teacher unions with Common Core-based standards and tests (regardless of what they are actually called) are state boards of education and state departments of education. Those in New England states are no better than those in the other states. What parents, local school boards, and local teacher unions should do is fight fire with fire.

They need to stop trying to counter baseless claims that Common Core’s standards (whatever they are labeled) are better than any standards that ever existed before in this country and that Common Core-based tests (whatever they are labeled) will provide invaluable information about student achievement that the students’ parents and teachers cannot possibly determine on their own. Parents and teachers need to eliminate their misguided if not incompetent state boards of education and state departments of education. State by state. In fact, there is no research to support their effectiveness, their functions, or indeed, their very existence. They are a late 19th century addition to state government, and grew enormously in staff and importance only after the federal government began to provide funds for public education after 1965 (with the passage of the first Elementary and Secondary Education Act).

Why eliminate state boards of education?

• Most state board members are appointed by the governor, not elected by state residents. They typically know little about K-12 education (e.g., most members of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education)
• Most state board members generally follow the party line of the appointing governor, whether Republican or Democrat. I have always been an independent voice, which is why Governor Deval Patrick set my removal in August 2010 into state statute when he re-organized the board’s size.

• Most state boards have not provided public meetings for higher education academic experts and parents to discuss standards for the K-12 curriculum in English and mathematics, before and after adopting Common Core’s standards.
• Most state board members seem to be incapable of asking meaningful questions about the education policies they are voting on. No state board is on record in 2010 for asking what college readiness meant and then exploring the question.

• No state board is on record in 2010 for asking for a cost-benefit analysis of Common Core’s standards or tests.
• No state board is on record for asking higher education academic experts in their own state for their analysis of Common Core’s “college readiness” standards. No report from higher education academic experts is available in any state, so far as I can find out.

• Most state board members seem to have believed whatever they were told by their state commissioner, state superintendent, state department of education staff, or spokesmen for organizations funded directly or indirectly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There is no state board on record asking for information from organizations or individuals independent of funding from the Gates Foundation.

Why eliminate state departments of education?

• They don’t have the level of academic expertise in them to address the most important questions they are asked to deal with. Even in Massachusetts, I had to call on external academic expertise for every set of standards I developed or revised.

• Staff members no longer see themselves as public servants in their state, accountable to parents and local school districts.

• They look chiefly to the US Department of Education for guidance and do not advocate for the parents, teachers, and administrators in their own state.

• The needed functions they address (mainly distribution of federal funds to local school districts) can be addressed by a small staff under legislative oversight.

• Most staff members are not qualified to advise a state commissioner or state board on the implications of the policies proposed by USDE. Few have extensive experience in school administration and finance, academic subject matter knowledge, or skills for sound K-12 curriculum development or effective professional development.

• Most are incapable of providing authentic “technical” help to the local schools.

Non-binding resolutions/articles for Town Meeting to vote on are one way to start getting the attention of the media—and the state’s board of education.

These boards need to know that there are many parents and other citizens trying to understand what they vote for and why. Are they worth keeping after the mess they voted to put their school systems in, when they voted to adopt Common Core’s standards in 2010?