This week’s Bluegrass Beacon column responds to one particular aspect of a recent missive by Ronda Harmon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils, in which she labels those of us questioning the effectiveness of the School-Based Decision Making (SBDM) approach toward governing schools as “public school opponents.”
There’s also little evidence to support Harmon’s claim that the SBDM approach toward governing schools is succeeding in “engaging shareholders in decision-making” in a manner which “creates a climate that promotes school improvement.”
While we’ve dealt with this issue previously in the weekly statewide syndicated column, it bears mentioning again — especially since Harmon is so overt about it — is that all of the evidence points to SBDM’s failure to accomplish the primary goal stated by its supporters when it was created by the Kentucky Education Reform Act nearly three decades ago: to engage parents in the education process.
In another recent Bluegrass Beacon column, we wrote:
An analysis of state data reveals that nearly 73 percent of Kentucky’s 1,124 schools during the 2016-17 school year had only single-digit ratios of parents compared to total student enrollment even bothering to show up to vote in SBDM elections for their council representatives.
While 15 schools did have SBDM voter-to-student ratios of at least 50 percent, such a response was by far the exception.
Nearly three out of four Kentucky schools had only single-digit ratios with 101 schools having even less than 1 percent turnout in last school year’s SBDM elections.
There are limitations to such an analysis of enrollees because it doesn’t include the total number of parents in a school since some students come from two-parent homes – both of whom can vote in SBDM elections – or have siblings enrolled in the same schools.
Still, when only about one in 10 students is likely represented in the vast majority of council elections, it’s reasonable to conclude that parent interest in SBDM activities in most Kentucky schools is sparse.
Engaging shareholders? Certainly not if you’re talking about parental involvement. I can’t think of any more important “shareholder” in Kentucky’s education process than parents. Can you?
As Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky, pointed out recently on KET’s Kentucky Tonight statewide public affairs television program, the Kentucky Education Association — the state’s largest teachers’ union — insisted on muting parents’ voices on SBDM councils as a condition for its support of KERA in 1990.
“One of the conditions of KEA’s support of the Kentucky Education Reform Act was teacher control of those councils and they got it, and that’s unfortunate,” Cothran said here (at 32:15 of the program).
What’s also unfortunate is that the commonwealth’s SBDM policy prevents common-sense accountability measures from being implemented and carried out in our schools.
Why, for example, doesn’t Harmon support some of the common-sense measures in legislation filed by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, which creates a mechanism for parents to work with their locally elected school board members to address their concerns about an SBDM council, in, say, a failing school?
Schickel’s Senate Bill 55:
- Gives board members the opportunity to appeal to the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to pull the authority from SBDMs that are failing to improve a low-performing school’s academic performance or that are non-responsive to a board’s agenda.
This approach creates a process whereby parents who have specific issues related to SBDM councils’ failures in their children’s schools can work with locally elected board members to ensure their concerns are addressed.
SB 55 also means that locally elected school boards could be held accountable since a mechanism would now be in place to remove an SBDM council’s authority. No longer could they dismiss parents’ grievances with claims of hands being tied and “there’s nothing we can do” responses.
Under SB 55, a board not only will be held accountable for their district’s failure, but it also would be empowered to act with a process that includes the exercise of meaningful authority.
The fact that the KBE is the arbiter in requests to remove SBDM authority from schools provides a reasonable check-and-balance against attempts at petty or personality-driven attacks on councils.
- Why, also, doesn’t Harmon support other common-sense changes made by SB 55, including allowing locally elected board of education members to attend SBDM council meetings?
How weird is it that current SBDM policy doesn’t even allow locally elected school-board members to attend council meetings, even though they ultimately are held responsible for the critical curriculum, personnel and funding decisions in their districts?
- Doesn’t Harmon understand that there’s a real problem with this approach toward running our schools when even a former Superintendent of the Year gets reprimanded by state so-called “education accountability” bureaucrats?
This approach toward governing schools has caused considerable confusion about “who is in charge of what, and who can do what in schools in Kentucky,” Innes wrote recently.
- Why doesn’t Harmon endorse the common-sense idea that superintendents should hire principals?
Like school board members, we cannot continue to hold superintendents accountable for their districts’ performances without giving them the authority needed to hire the kay leaders in those schools.
Doesn’t Harmon recognize that most people consider it an upside-down approach for teachers to hire their own bosses?
- If SBDM councils are so critical to the success of our schools, why are hundreds of Kentucky schools not members of Harmon’s association?
When Bluegrass Institute Staff Education Analyst Richard Innes started researching parent turnout in SBDM election in recent years, he found 1,124 schools had data listed for both enrollment as well as the number of parents who voted for parent representative on school councils. Yet KASC’s own membership list reveals about 300 schools who aren’t even members of the association established to provide support and training for SBDM councils.
While we have made some progress in undoing this failed KERA fad during the past few years, such as returning some authority to superintendents, by, for example, allowing them to chair SBDM meetings, it — like Kentucky’s academic improvement — has been neither enough nor fast enough.
Read the Bluegrass Institute’s recent policy report on Kentucky’s SBDM policy here.