Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not So Sure About Packing the Board of Ed

Deval Patrick's administration has expressed the desire to appoint four new members to the Board of Education. While I know it's frustrating to be dealing with Romney era educational hacks who'd rather eat the system than improve it, I'm not sure stacking the Board is a good idea. While I rarely engage in Slippery Slope arguments, certainly packing the board isn't a trend the Bay State will want continued into future administrations.

Furthermore, the Board has a particular balance to it. Disrupting that balance could have a negative impact on students. For example, every year a full-voting student is elected to the Board of Ed by his or her peers. When I was in high school, I served on the board that elected that student voice and vote - an important vote that even determined, at one point, the very Chancellor of Education we have now (Driscoll was appointed by a 1 vote margin, so effectively the student member made the difference).

The important thing here is that Deval Patrick has other options in dealing with some of Romney's most egregious picks, without resorting to packing it in. He could try the wait-and-see approach: maybe, now that Romney's gone and there's a different political discourse, Romney's hold outs won't be holding out so much. Maybe they'll go with the flow and allow a little real reform in the system, one where standardized testing is only a piece of the puzzle and not the Almighty.

If the wait-and-see approach fails (perhaps it already has), there's the FDR approach. When FDR was trying to pass his New Deal, an obnoxious Supreme Court kept repealing many of his most important reforms. It was the same Supreme Court that thought Child Labor Laws were a penalty on businesses and barred them. What did FDR do? He created a bill that would have 'packed the court' with so many new members that he'd easily get his way. While the bill failed, it scared the hell out of the Supreme Court - most of the old dudes left and sane government regulations were finally able to get by the courts.

Maybe, in the end, that's exactly what Deval Patrick is trying to do. It certainly seems like a better bet to try to enact change at the Board of Ed through tough leadership rather than setting the standard of packing it. Certainly, members of the Board of Education should give some defence to the sitting Governor's over-arching plans on education, at least if they're reasonable. If they view Patrick's ideas as outrageously unreasonable, they should resign in protest. Otherwise, the Board of Education becomes a Cowboy Western Movie, where there's an epic stand off... and nothing getting done.


MassParent said...

Last fall, Romney packed the board of ed on his way out the door. I sympathize with the governor's concern, and at the time of Romney's outgoing appointments, I contemplated that the governor might ask the legislature to simply dissolve the current board, and the new governor could invite back the majority of the members but replace a few, in order to give the new governor some administrative inflewence over the board and the DOE.

I tend to concur with you assessment that it is a bad precedent, and think the board has enough members to represent a diversity of views.

I didn't approve of FDR's choice to stack the supreme court, either, though I approve of the results.

Anonymous said...

What, that FDR failed?

Me, too!

Anonymous said...

So the student rep was responsible for putting Driscoll in that position? Either the other choice was Kim Jong Il, or that was one horrbile decision.

MassParent said...

An interesting letter in Monday's Boston Globe, which I copy below.

HOW IRONIC that in the article "Governor seeks larger education board" (City & Region, June 27), a Pioneer Institute representative would criticize Governor Patrick's move to expand the current board of education from nine members to 13. As noted, it was Governor Weld in 1996 who successfully pushed legislation through a Democratic-controlled Legislature to downsize the board from 17 members to nine, with the governor having immediate power of appointment over the majority of board members. This was the first time in the board's history that a sitting governor had the power to appoint a majority of members all at once.

All five of Weld's appointments were affiliated with the Pioneer Institute or a like-minded conservative think tank, thereby controlling the interests of state education policy. As a result, we experienced support for for-profit charter schools and vouchers and a focus on a single statewide test rather than on an assessment system as called for in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System .

I applaud Patrick for moving to right a wrong committed by a former governor and to restore the state board of education to a more balanced composition in the true spirit of democratic dialogue.

Executive director
Center for Collaborative Educa

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