I’ve been struggling to winnow down the number of questions I want to submit to candidates for our state legislature. To maximize the possibility of getting responses, I set myself a limit of five, but in the end I had to allow myself two more. I tried to focus on questions that I thought other groups (for example, teachers’ unions) were unlikely to ask. I cut several questions – for example about whether our schools are inculcating authoritarian values and whether we should give teachers and students more autonomy – because I thought they were unlikely to elicit meaningful responses (which, I realize, might be true of all questions). The final seven aren’t perfect, but time’s a-wastin’, and I hope that the answers to these seven might at least give you a pretty good idea of where someone’s coming from.
I had initially planned on sending them only to candidates whose districts overlap with our school district, but now I’m feeling ambitious and thinking I might send them to all legislative candidates in Iowa. (Hat tip to John Deeth for directing me to the master list of candidate email addresses.) I haven’t yet figured out exactly how I’ll post responses, but I’ll find a way and link to the responses from this post.
Apologies to those who made good suggestions that I ultimately did not include. (Candidates, check them out!) Here’s what I settled on:
1. Opting out of testing. Many parents are concerned that important educational values are being sacrificed because of the use of high-stakes standardized testing to evaluate kids, schools, and educators. Would you support legislation to permit parents to opt their children out of such testing without repercussions?
2. Cuts in lunch and recess. In our district, the time devoted to recess has been reduced, and the elementary school students get only fifteen minutes or less to eat lunch. District officials attribute those changes directly to state pressure to teach more material and maximize “instructional minutes.” (See posts here and here.) What, if anything, should the state do to remedy the situation?
3. Local control. Because of state and federal regulation, individual communities now have relatively little control over the educational policies that govern their schools, and many parents feel that they have little to no say over what goes on in their kids’ schools. Do you think that local school districts should have more control over educational policy? If so, in what specific ways?
4. More school? Should state law require all kids to spend more time in school – either by lengthening the school day, extending the school year, or both? (See this post.)
5. PBIS. The state Department of Education wants to require all school districts to implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a program that uses material rewards to train kids to reflexively obey school rules. (See posts here and here.) Do you support requiring all school districts to use PBIS?
6. Class size. Do you agree with our state Director of Education that we should tolerate larger class sizes in exchange for programs designed to “improve educator effectiveness”?
7. No Child Left Behind. Have No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top done more harm than good, or vice versa? Should Iowa opt out of No Child Left Behind, even if it means forgoing federal funds?
UPDATE: For the candidates’ responses, click here.