I experienced very little “local control” when I served on the Duluth School Board except from my fellow school board members. As George Balach said of me when I was elected to be the Board Chair in 1998 I was only one of nine members. As Chairman I was pretty much the prisoner of all the other school board members. Before that I had been one of two newly elected board members and the seven longer serving members took little notice of me.
The year I was elected Chair I leveraged the support of four newly elected School Board members who did not trust me or the other four incumbent Board members. They had all run elections based on the theme that the incumbents were bums for bringing the Edison Schools to Duluth. The four remaining incumbents, including me, had all voted to bring Edison in and to add insult just after the newcomers were elected we voted to protect Edison from the possibility that the new Board could prematurely scuttle the Edison experiment. Because I got the anti-Edison newcomers to vote for me with my vote providing the five-vote-majority on our 9 member board my old colleagues didn’t trust me either.
It was all very humorous for about a week until the new board had to begin the process of choosing a new school superintendent at the same time as the teacher’s union tried to give the Board the bum’s rush and threaten a teacher’s strike to win a crippling contract. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the drama trying to keep my balance just like I’m trying to balance my bum on an exercise ball as I type this. (I’ve been at the typewriter a lot lately and its been tough on my back. This WDIO story inspired me.)
I only served four months as Chairman before resigning the leadership to go back into the huddle. I insured that George would take my place. I had defeated him for the position in January with the help of the newcomers. I figured his famous hard-ass reputation would give us the best protection from the Union and the four newbie school board members who showed up to a meeting wearing the same red t-shirts that 300 angry teachers were wearing when they flooded a school board meeting.
So, after choosing our new superintendent I had to settle down to cope with a state mandated nightmare of bureaucracy called Outcome Based Education. I loved the theory of it but to oversimplify what it was all about it was the product of hundreds of teachers across the state who created teaching units that were to be implemented by the tens of thousands of teachers all across the state. To say it would limit teacher independence is an understatement. OBE (Oh-Bee-Ee) became a flashpoint in state politics (Republicans especially hated its goody-two-shoes bureaucracy) and any hope I had of pursuing some interesting things for the Duluth Schools pretty much vanished as we mobilized to put the damn thing into effect over the objections of many of our teachers.
And it wasn’t just teachers who objected. I was a parent, reconciled to dealing with the damn thing, as the District completely re-engineered its curriculum so that it was all but impossible to understand. If my independent minded son had any hope of enjoying high school OBE pretty much quashed it. He quickly hated half a dozen things it forced him to do and it didn’t help that his teachers conveyed the message “We hate this but don’t blame us.” My wife could never understand the theory behind OBE but she could sure see her unhappy son and we all had to puzzle out the obtuse rationales for an entirely new set of graduation requirements. I was on the school board and I barely understood all the edu-gibberish.
No sooner did the GOP help scuttle OBE in Minnesota than George Bush got the Congressional Republicans to force No Child Left Behind on the nation. It was sort of an OBE for the 50 states except that instead of telling all the teachers what to teach they now had to test the hell out of kids to make sure they weren’t falling behind. We had gone from a hellish Alan Bloom world of throwing manure on our children’s brains so that they would, er, bloom, to a hellish Drill baby, Drill – Test baby, Test.
Now the nation is abandoning this great Republican educational initiative as happily as Minnesota’s Republican’s abandoned OBE. This story in the Trib does a reasonably good job explaining the difficulties of leaving behind No Child Left Behind.
What a mercy that Duluth could go from OBE to NCLB to the Red Plan shuffle. What a mercy that someone else beside me filed to run against Judy. I’m tired of handcuffs.