Opinion: Keep education focused on students, not politics

first_imgMembers of the Vermont State Board of Education have testified before the House and Senate Education Committees regarding the Board’s major objection to the proposal of having the Commissioner of Education named a Secretary, appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the Governor (House Bill 440). We believe such an appointment would not be in the best interest of young people in Vermont for several reasons.First and foremost, replacing the Commissioner who is selected by the Board and approved by the Governor with a purely Governor-appointed Secretary would move accountability for this public education leader from the general public to the Governor. Governor Shumlin is quoted as saying that he has a vastly different philosophy on education from his predecessor. We respect and applaud that the Governor has a particular philosophy, but we strongly believe that the decisions and actions of the commissioner of education should not be influenced by any particular person’s political philosophy, but by what opportunities to learn can be made available to all our young people.  The Commissioner’s overarching philosophy and focus needs to remain constant: to work relentlessly to ensure that all Vermont students meet or exceed high academic standards and graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in college, continuing education, careers and citizenship in the 21st century. For the sake of our children, we cannot allow that focus to be subject to the political objectives of a select few individuals.Second, if the purpose is, as has been stated, to create consistency in education leadership and reduce turnover, recent National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) data suggest otherwise. The highest rate of turnover for Commissioners, 58%, occurred in the 12 states where the Governor appoints the Commissioner. In the 24 board-appointed states, the turnover rate was only 20%. The ability to develop and implement long-range, strategic planning focused on educational success and attainment is far more likely under consistent leadership provided by a board-appointed commissioner.   Third, the Governor, with the approval of the Senate, currently appoints the Board of Education. This has been the practice for nearly a century and the mandate is clear ‘ to represent the entire Vermont public in shaping education policy for the state’s public schools. By statutory authority, it is the commissioner’s responsibility to act as Chief Executive Officer and Secretary for the Board of Education acting on behalf of Vermont’s people. The current proposal approved by the House Education Committee is contrary and even in opposition to that mandate. If Board members were to be chosen by the various groups named in the bill ‘ the Vermont NEA, Vermont School Boards Association, Vermont Principals Association, the Vermont Business Roundtable and the Vermont Superintendents Association, those appointees would be beholden ‘ by the very nature of their appointments ‘ to the interest groups they represent. The Board has and will continue to work closely with representatives from each of these organizations. They are represented at Board meetings and often provide valuable input into Board deliberations. In that role, they are strong and effective advocates for the groups they represent. But just as lobbyists advocate for their clients before the Legislature but do not create legislative policy, representatives from specific educational interest groups should not be placed in a position of creating educational policy for the state, its schools or, especially, its young people.Lastly, but most importantly, how will a change like this help in closing the achievement gap for our most disadvantaged young people or improve opportunities for all Vermont students? What level of disruption will occur in making these changes, again distracting us from our primary purpose? What voices will no longer have the opportunity to be represented in these conversations on the Board? A change in the composition of the Board and the appointment of the Commissioner raises many more questions than it solves. As stated in its mission statement, the State Board of Education is committed to providing leadership, support and oversight to ensure the Vermont public education system enables the success of each student. Shifting that oversight to the will of the Governor’s office and special interest groups will breach the intent of those in local communities who have worked long and hard to ensure that Vermont’s education system remains free from the sway of political power and influence.Submitted by Vermont State Board of Education Members: Chair Fayneese Miller (Burlington), Vice-chair Kathy Larsen (Wilmington), Donald Collins (Swanton), Robert Kelley Brandon), Judith Livingston (Manchester), William Mathis (Goshen), Stephan Morse (Newfane), Sean-Marie Oller (Bennington), Elizabeth Strano (Bennington) and Brian Vachon (Middlesex).last_img

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