Reed Hastings is wrong: A school board member’s defense

By Matt Haney, San José Mercury News, 03/14/2014 [n.b. see “Charter Schools goal: Get rid of School Boards'” on YouTube for an excerpt from Hastings’ statement]

Earlier this month, in a keynote speech before the California Charter Schools Association, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings called for the end of democratically elected school boards.

As he put it, the “fundamental problem” with school districts is that they “do not get to choose their boards,” leading to poor long-term planning and less stable governance. He then announced a goal to grow charter schools in California from 8 percent to 90 percent of all students, essentially eliminating the role of elected school boards and replacing them with privately appointed charter boards.

Hastings isn’t just doing his best impression of Frank Underwood from the Netflix show “House of Cards.” He is a billionaire former member of the California State Board of Education, and he is part of a powerful national movement to reduce the role of local school boards and rapidly grow corporate school governance.

So it is important to make something crystal clear: School boards are not an anachronistic carry-over from the years of the one-room schoolhouse. The role of school boards is inextricably linked with the very existence and purpose of public schools.

School boards exist because public schools belong to and are directly accountable to the communities they serve. That is what makes them public.

When a perspective is missing from the board, a community can elect someone to represent it. When the curriculum, budget or policies don’t reflect the values or priorities of a community, such as discipline policies that push out black and Latino students, the people can change that.

Bureaucrats or benevolent billionaires alone will never suffice. Without elected school boards, there is no accountability to the community. It doesn’t work perfectly, but that’s our collective challenge as a democracy. As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Charter boards, often comprised of the wealthy and connected, are no guarantee of sound long-term planning and governance either. Just as there is no evidence that charter schools outperform district schools, there is no evidence that charter boards are more effective, informed or strategic than elected school boards.

In fact, poor financial management has plagued countless charter boards. Even at their best, they are structured to focus on their financial or organizational interest rather than the public interest. …

read more at San José Mercury News

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