Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No good reason to have state Education Board

Posted on Tue, Dec. 18, 2007
THE INITIAL REACTION to the State Board of Education’s decision to elect a home-schooling mom as its next chairwoman at times has bordered on hysteria.

We admit we have some concerns about the selection of someone who supports vouchers and campaigned so actively against the election of the education superintendent with whom the board should work closely. But while the way Kristin Maguire has chosen to educate her own children does raise questions about her commitment to public education, that alone should not disqualify her from the position.

Ms. Maguire is by all accounts a smart, hard-working member of the board. And just as parents and non-parents alike pay taxes to support a public education system for the benefit of the entire state, rather than anyone’s particular children, state education policy is about how the public provides that education, not about whether individuals choose to avail themselves of it.

Still, Ms. Maguire’s election reminds us of a question that doesn’t get asked nearly as often as it should: Why, exactly, is it that we have a State Board of Education?

The controversy over South Carolina’s status as the only state in line to have a home-schooling chairwoman isn’t the board’s first. It was also in the spotlight when:

Board member Henry Jordan attracted international ignominy by countering objections to posting the Ten Commandments in public schools by saying, “screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims.”

Local legislators appointed to the board Ron Wilson, who was on the Anti-Defamation League’s and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s watch lists for, among other things, selling books to home-schoolers that espoused the view that Jews are trying to take over the world; and working to purge heritage buffs from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, indicating that he preferred that the group become a political movement backing white separatist views.

In fact, it’s hard to recall a time when the board has made news over anything related to education policy.
That might be because the board too often attracts would-be politicians who aren’t quite ready for prime-time. Or simply because there’s not much reason to pay attention to the board when it comes to education policy, which is set primarily by the General Assembly and the state superintendent of education.

There probably was a time when having a State Board of Education made sense, a time before the state Education Department had a staff of professionals who could more efficiently and effectively perform the board’s duties. It is these professionals who craft the policies and regulations that govern our state’s day-to-day operations, under the direction of the Legislature and the superintendent. Although Ms. Maguire was appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford, the other 16 board members were appointed by the same legislators who send over the orders it carries out, which makes the board at best a redundancy.

These occasional flare-ups that thrust the board into an unflattering spotlight aren’t the reason we need to question our 19th-century education governance system, but they should focus our attention on the issue.

To the extent that the board serves a purpose, it’s to diffuse the accountability of the elected education superintendent who in turn diffuses the accountability of the elected governor. And those are bad things. Even if we never let the governor appoint the superintendent (and we should), we at least should eliminate the board, and make education policy a bit more accountable to the public.

No comments:

Blog Archive


Subscribe Now: Feed Icon