Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Questions for legislative candidates?

As much as I think local school officials bear more responsibility for their choices than they would like to accept (see this series of posts), there’s no denying that state and federal lawmakers are at the root of a lot of the problems in our schools that have been the focus of this site. Legislators decide a lot of issues, of course, so educational policy plays less of a role in voters’ decisions (which is one more reason to give more control to local school boards, in my view). Nonetheless, this is the moment to come up with questions to ask our legislative candidates about school policy. As I did last year with school board candidates, I’d like to come up with a relatively concise list of questions that I can send to all legislative candidates, state and federal, seeking to represent the Iowa City area.

Suggestions? I’d especially like to formulate questions that are hard to squirm out of with noncommittal platitudes, though that’s a tall order.


Unknown said...

Here's a good question preface:

"Will you voluntarily resign if"

KD said...

Once when I was still a naive parent, I contacted one of our state legislators expressing concern about the ease of getting information from the school district. The legislator wrote back, but didn't seem interested in taking any sort of action.

I'm thinking this was 6 or 7 years ago...doesn't seem like much has changed in the school district.

I appreciate your blog, and that you continue to write about public schools.

KD said...

I guess I didn't actually suggest a question did I?

I guess my question would be "How can we make it easier for citizens to access information from the school district?"

Chris said...

Billy -- No point in asking questions we already know the answers to...

Maybe I should have a contest for the best parody of the type of answer we're likely to get.

Chris said...

Thanks, KD. I do wish it was easier to get information. One problem is that, no matter what system is in place, a school system can always wear a parent down by being unresponsive -- most people will stop short of actually instituting a formal information request. It would be great if we could change the culture of the school system to make it more open to community input and influence.

Right now, it's too easy for school administrators to respond to every complaint by saying, "the state requires us to do that, so there's nothing we can do about it." At that point, most people throw up their hands -- it's one thing to try to persuade a principal or a superintendent or a seven-person school board, but a very different thing to try to persuade 150 legislators to change state law. And even then the state legislators blame the federal the federal government. If you were trying to design a system that was more impervious to public influence, and more likely to create a culture of passing the buck, it's hard to know what you would do differently.

Mandy said...

I think I would like to know if the state legislators understand the atmosphere in the schools. Aside from a photo op reading a book aloud to a group of kids, I don't think most have any idea what the enviornment in most schools is like. PBIS, 10 minute lunches, very little creative freedom for teachers to teach and meet the needs of individual students, and on and on. I guess I want them to answer why legislative control is better than local control just like you do Chris. Of course I have no suggestions as to how to ask that without getting some answer full of talking points.

Karen W said...

If it isn't too late, here are a few suggestions (based in part on my best guess for likely issues to be raised in the next session):

Would they vote to require a longer school day or school year?

Would they vote to switch from Iowa Assessments to the Smarter Balanced Assessments?

Do they support the NCLB waiver application package [new teacher and administrator evaluations, grading schools, Smarter Balanced Assessments]? Would they vote for making these changes to support another waiver application?

Do they support DE plans to require PBIS in all Iowa schools [see NCLB waiver application]? If not, what are they willing to do about it?

Would they vote to require districts to adopt a four-tier teacher compensation system?

What role should the state play in community schools? What decisions, if any, should be reserved for local communities?

Would they vote to expand the Iowa Core?

Do they support any alternative education options (home school, private, magnet, charter, online)?

Looking forward to seeing your final list and responses from the candidates.

Chris said...

Mandy and Karen -- Those are great topics to ask about. It's almost hard to know where to start. Of course, I want to explore the issue of local control. At the same time, though, if the state is going to dictate so much, I'd like to know why they make these particular choices about what to require. More soon . . .

Chris said...

KD -- Thanks. I have to admit, it feels pointless even asking these questions of legislators. No one's vote -- not even mine -- is going to be determined by their answers. Education is just one issue among many that I care about, and I can pretty much already tell you who I'll be voting for without even knowing what the candidate's answers to my questions are. (That's made even easier by the fact that my local legislative candidates are running unopposed.) That's what frustrates me so much about the state's usurpation of local control -- it effectively removes educational issues from any meaningful democratic control.

As for access to information, I suspect the candidates will point to the newly created state board to enforce the open records law. The sad fact is, it's the rare parent who will push an issue that far. The real problem is that the culture of the school system discourages parents (or other citizens) from making waves or persisting with pesky questions. I don't really know if that's something the legislature can change.