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School Regulations, a Necessary Evil?
By David W. Kirkpatrick (July 24, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

         There is legitimate concern about school laws and regulations that are  unworkable, unnecessary, or otherwise in need of revision or repeal.  An interesting inconsistency in this regard is how the states treat the K-12 public schools, for which they are constitutionally responsible, but where much of the management is delegated to local school boards, compared to their oversight of state colleges and universities which they own outright.
         K-12 school codes are often lengthy and complex -- reportedly nearly 9,000 pages long in California.  These range from fairly major areas, such as the requirement for certified teachers and the mandate for a school year of 180 days, give or take a few, to points so minor that many states leave them to local option.  Yet state colleges and universities, which spend far more money per pupil, are left largely free to go their own way.  They not only hire uncertified faculty but do so for the education professors who prepare potential public school teachers for the certification requirements. That is, the uncertified teach the uncertified to become certified.
         In this debate the emphasis is often on the negative, the harmful effects or the outright ineffectiveness and uselessness of the regulations.  To a large degree this is appropriate since whatever else they may do, regulations increase the costs of operating the public schools by many billions of dollars annually, much of it wasted.
         It isn't sufficiently recognized that the public school establishment is responsible for the creation of most of the regulations to which it claims to object.  Educators regularly complain about regulations while at the same time they promote additional ones, as can be shown by a review of bills introduced in any legislature.  While only a legislator can introduce a bill, most of the suggestions for them come the education establishment.
         Some time ago, John Gardner, then a member of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin School Board, had the unusual suggestion that consideration be given to regulations that might be needed. This doesn't mean a total of more regulations since he strongly agrees that most of the existing ones should be eliminated.
         Here are Gardner's suggestions for four regulations he says are needed. They are:
         1.  Public, verifiable, comparable data on what happens to graduates of schools after they leave their respective schools, whether by graduation or some other reason.  This is a basic question and we don't even look at it -- largely because it would tell us we're doing far, far worse than anyone in the education establishment wants publicly acknowledged, or admitted.
         2.  Public, verifiable, comparable data about enrollment, attendance, academic skills, and promotions/graduations across all education sectors -- public (governmental); private (non-governmental), no matter how they are funded; religious (what we should arguably be calling "parochial" schools); independent (non-governmental schools committed to the goals of public education); and home.  Many "private" schools are more "public" in terms of real results or value than their governmental counterparts
         3.  Clear, consistent statements of what academic skills are considered proficient, and how students can demonstrate proficiency and pass beyond them.
         4.  How much money, from all governmental sources, is actually spent, per student, per year, per school, by a consistent, GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) reporting method.
         Not to overlook that much that is in place is unneeded and/or unwise, he provided the following summary of  what we don't need:
         1.  Teacher licensure requirements, conditions, and restrictions.
         2.  Curriculum specifications, including numbers of hours of instruction
         3.  Building codes beyond health, safety, and access.
         4.  Just about anything else.
         He concluded by writing:  "I think you may well want to think about not only how stupid are most of the regulations we currently have, but how they systemically avoid dealing with the ones we really need for authentic public oversight and visibility of what should, after all, be public education.
         "A contrarian piece on regulations we do not have might raise the embarrassing question of why we don't have them.  I believe I already know:  Because we don't want them."
         Finally, if we must have board members more of them should be like John Gardner.
         Sadly, since he and I discussed these issues, he has ceased to be one.

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         "Taken together, American public education is a massive, complex, and cumbersome system designed not to change." p. E36, Denis P. Doyle, Endangered Species, Children of Promise, A BusinessWeek White Paper, 1989

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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