Saturday, September 14, 2013

Who We Represent, and other 9/10 Highlights

It was mostly a routine meeting this week; we discussed some business matters, such as approving the new union contracts, and the staff presented on the various measurements they are planning to judge success according to the strategic plan    I also discussed my efforts between meetings to follow up on the Dual-Language opt-out issue; in addition to reiterating the points I have already mentioned here, I pointed out that many parents have reported negative interactons with school staff on this matter.   When the district's current decisions aren't working well for their child, parents should never have to feel afraid or guilty about asking for something different to be done.   We need to make sure the staff treat all parent concerns with respect, especially at the stressful times when their child is having problems in school.

The most interesting part of the meeting was the beginning of a discussion on charter schools, triggered by my suggestion that we consider a resolution to inform the community that Hillsboro is no longer hostile to the concept, and we want charter schools to apply to open in our district.    The discussion was mostly a rehash of things I have already mentioned in this blog.   There were three main anti-charter arguments that came up, none of which seems to me to hold much weight:

  • "I support public education.   Why don't you?"   This is a classic strawman argument-- supporting public education is perfectly consistent with supporting charter schools.   The defining characterstic of public education is that any child can attend, regardless of wealth or social class, and that is just as true of charters as of traditional schools.
  • "Charters like City View have an unfair advantage due to small class size."    This argument seems kind of odd to me: class size, like most other aspects of a school, is a result of how it manages its resources within its budget.   So maybe other schools have something to learn from City View.   Supertintendent Scott fairly pointed out that charters are subject to fewer regulations than the traditional schools, so there is no way he could manage the other school budgets to allow such a small class size.   But this just makes my larger point-- if in the current regulatory environment, charters can offer significantly smaller class size, and we think small class size is a good thing, shouldn't we be demanding more charters?
  • "No real business would hand over customers to its competitors, so why should we?"   I guess this is true on some level-- if a real business was able to get legislators to grant it a geographical monopoly, it probably would like to keep it.   But the reason businesses in our nation have been so successful and productive is that customers are free to choose which ones they want to patronize.      Amusingly, fellow board member Glenn Miller came up with an answer to this argument on its own terms:  "Haven't you seen those Progressive insurance commercials?"
Reflecting on this discussion after the meeting, though, I realize there was one major point I failed to make.   Often in this conversation, board members used the pronoun "we" when discussing the current traditional schools and district structure.   But were we elected to represent particular current institutions, or the children of the district?   As board members, out of necessity, the majority of our energy is spent overseeing the operations of the traditional schools.   But  I believe we are there to represent the people of the district-- the customers-- not the current institutions.   

Our goal should always be that every child's needs be properly fulfilled, whether or not it's by some employee directly reporting under Superintendent Scott.     We should be strictly neutral with regards to whether a child we are representing gets educated through a traditional school, a charter school, a homeschool, or even through a transfer to another district-- as long as the child's family has had the opportunity to make an informed choice.   When we on the board think of ourselves as representing a particular institution, rather than the children, we are doing a disservice to the people of Hillsboro.

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