Last week, I participated in two events that challenged my ideas on one of urban education’s trickiest and most combustible issues.
Those who know only a caricatured version of my views might be surprised by both the subject and those who’ve caused my ruminations. But I wrestled with this issue in my book, and while I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my interlocutors of last week, they have valuable insights into this issue.
I’m writing about it here both because it’s important and because, frankly, I need help figuring out the right answer.
The question is, “How do we protect the ‘public’ in public education?”
On Wednesday, I participated in this discussion at the AFT’s Shanker Institute. At a conference the following day, I moderated a conversation between urban school leaders, and similar issues kept bubbling up.
There are many ways to define a school’s “public-ness” (Rick Hess expertly unbundles the issues here). But the aspect I’m most concerned about relates to governance, whether the public—the adults in the geographic area served by the system of schools—is able to shape the contours of the system.
The very specific issue I’m interested in is how this can happen absent locally elected school boards.
Per state constitutions, ensuring a system of public education is the responsibility of state governments. They, however, have created local school districts and boards, thereby delegating K–12 authority...