Thursday, July 19, 2007

The real lessons to be learned from the Barbara Erwin episode

There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from the Barbara Erwin debacle. Erwin was the short-lived Kentucky School Commissioner who never even served her first day because she was run out of town for padding her resume. Among these lessons are:
  • It's a good idea for a school board to hire a search firm that actually does background checks of candidates
  • It's a good idea for a governor to appoint a school board that acts swiftly when it's clear it needs to cut its losses
  • It's a good idea for the governor to exercise his will over his own appointees
In regard to the first, the search firm simply didn't do its job. Fire them, and hire someone else. In regard to the second, there seems to be a lack of firm leadership on the board. Hopefully, the board has learned a lesson and will know better next time. In regard to the third, the Governor needs to start being a little more directive with his appointees. He didn't do this with his university trustees on the domestic partner benefit issue (as his opponents have rightly pointed out), and he apparently failed to do it with the State School Board on the Irwin issue. He needs to start doing it before more people start noticing that it isn't being done.

But listen to this somewhat less than perspicacious observation from the Courier-Journal:
It [the Erwin episode] leads one to believe the speculation that Gov. Fletcher was focused on appointing a board that would quietly share a right-wing fundamentalist school agenda, not one that could function properly.

To say that this observation comes from outer space would be an insult to extra-terrestrials everywhere. How could you possibly derive this observation from what has happened? In fact, how could you conclude this from anything the board has done?

The only action the board has taken that could be considered evidence for this thesis is its vote against a state education document that changed the traditional AD/BC dating designations to the secular CE/BCE last year. But the only reason they voted to do that was because they voted to approve it in the first place.

What other evidence is there that this is a "right-wing" board--in the Erwin episode or anything else?

The real problems with the selection of state school commissioners are these:
  • The State School Board that appoints them is not directly accountable to any elected official
  • There are few if any candidates available who are willing to shake up the establishment anyway.
Yes, the members of the State School Board are appointed by the Governor and rubber stamped by the General Assembly, but after that they serve out their terms far from the reaches of anyone who can rein them in. And even if this weren't a problem, where exactly is a board supposed to find a person in the current education establishment willing to defy that same establishment--the only way any real improvement will ever be made?

The only thing appointing a new state school commissioner accomplishes is leading people to believe that the public education establishment is doing something meaningful when, in fact, it's just shifting chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

No comments: