Should small local school boards be done away with?

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(KPLR) – In Tuesday's Jacology, Charles Jaco looks at public schools.
The business of running public schools has not changed much since the 1830's. Public schools then were 100 percent local affairs, supported strictly by local communities. There was no federal role and almost no role for the states. In 1830, Horace Mann became Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts, and instituted a plan where statewide standards were first set for teachers. But the governance model stayed the same, local control was the rule.

But it seems local control isn't all it's cracked up to be. In the unaccredited Riverview Gardens district in north St. Louis County; corrupt school administrations overseen by local boards stole millions of dollars. In the St. Louis city schools, public school board meeting were high theatre, with everything from fistfights to one board member putting a voodoo curse on the mayor.

In small towns and rural areas school boards are often the vehicles for local fat cats to grab power, whether it's the local bank president or the local car dealer. Since only around 20 to 30 percent of eligible voters bother to cast ballots in school board election, groups with ideological agendas find it easy to put people on school boards. That's why so many boards have climbed on the creationism bandwagon.

Given all that, maybe small local school boards and school districts are not the best way to run the schools. Every nation that's outstripping the United States in education standards from Japan to Singapore, have a huge government role in the schools, from setting teachers standards to selecting a curriculum. Maybe they're on to something.

Whether it's common national standards or common national subjects or larger regional school districts; it’s probably time to take a hard look at changing our love affair with strictly local school districts. You can't fix dysfunctional families or the kids they produce. But maybe you can create schools with the kind of governance that leads to better outcomes for them.

I'm Charles Jaco and that's Jacology.

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Email: charles.jaco@tvstl.com