Friday, August 13, 2010

NCA Problems Bigger than Meets the Eye

I understand that there is vigorous debate here in Idaho about whether or not Nampa Classical Academy (NCA) should be teaching the Bible as literature and history. Frankly, I can very easily see both sides of the argument, but that is not what I want to focus on in this post. Instead, I want to look at what I see as a much large structural problems with the Idaho Public Charter School Commission (IPCSC). These structural deficits, I believe, have lead to the issues facing NCA.

First, the staff at IPCSC have always been, in my experience, very professional and accessible. I have not personally had much in the way of interaction with the individual Gubernatorial appointed commission members, which I suspect puts me in the majority of most Idahoans. A brief review of the commissioner's backgrounds on the IPCSC website would suggest a minimal emphasis is placed on understanding the education profession relative to other factors. That is neither here nor there and I since I don't personally know each of the commissioners, it would be unfair to attack their credibility.

However, what I do find troubling about the the structure of the the commission is the aforementioned notion of Gubernatorial appointment. Due to the politically connectedness to the governor, commissioners (if political science research is any indication) are likely to side with what is in the best interest of the Governor, not necessarily what is in the best interest of the institutions (the individual school or the commission itself).

Now that I've stated the obvious, what does it have to do with the issue at hand? Well, simply stated, due to the fact that individual commission members are not personally accountable to those that fund their activities (the taxpayers), there is no oversight to their actions. To compound this, any appeals of a decision by the IPCSC are referred to another unaccountable group of Gubernatorial appointees, also known as the State Board of Education (SBE). The current case surrounding NCA proves the point. Clearly there were differences of opinions, as was stated at the outset. However, the process that was followed left a lot to be desired on both sides of the debate.

I think that is pretty clear to anyone watching this from the outside (which is where I am on this one) that the SBE has been put under some serious political pressure to overrule the IPCSC. Whether or not they should or shouldn't isn't the point. The point is that when it is all said and done, the people of Idaho will not get an opportunity to let their views known as it relates decisions that have been made by holding the decision-makers accountable.

The solution, in my view, is to completely change the structure of the IPCSC (you're surprised, right?). To do so, I would first eliminate the Gubernatorial appointment and replace it with an election. Commissioners would serve four and two year terms that would rotate so as to always have a core group remain (similar to the way county commissioners are elected). The commissioners would be elected from conglomerations of counties known as regions that are created based upon population size. As for the appeals process, that is a bit more tricky. I would prefer to have the SBE also be elected and for the same reasons. Given that is even less likely to happen, I would also remove the appeals process from going to the SBE and instead direct it the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Now, I can hear someone saying, aren't you making the problem worse by making it even more political? The answer to that question is only yes if you believe that elections aren't useful. That is, if you believe that elections don't offer the public an opportunity to hold decision-makers accountable then doing what I suggest is without value. However, if you believe, as I do, that elections do matter and they can serve as a vehicle to manifest public preference, then I do think the modifications I am proposing make sense.

Ultimately, something has to change. My proposal may not be the panacea to the problem, but I do believe it would yield better outcomes and provide more transparency and accountability than the current guarded process that we are watching slowly unfold before us.


Isaac said...

While I agree 100% about the need to change the structure and lines of accountability of the PCSC, their power must be checked and their employees such as Ms. Baysinger must be kept in check and not allowed to do work on behalf of the PCSC.

One area you are wrong and perhaps it is just a wording issue is that NCA did not, and was not every going to teach the Bible. The only wanted it use it as a source material for literature and history.

I hope other law makers agree and something can be passed this year before this unelected and unaccountable body does this to another Idaho school.

Isaac said...

By the way, what about other Idaho public schools, including charter schools, that are still using the Bible? No one has said a word about them? Why single out NCA over the use of the Bible when other public schools use it unchecked?

Anonymous said...

Mr Durst is correct that there needs to be oversight if everyone is appointed to the Governor and no one answers to anyone after that appointment, what check and balance is there. If the goal is improving our educational system nationally every level of authority needs specific and direct oversight.

Mr Isaac
Your second statement is not at issue. These other schools answer to OTHER oversight committees who do not interpret the state constitution in the same way. There is no argument you can win by crying 'foul' in that way. Without a state specific interpretation to that amendment, the interpretation of the law is in the eyes of the person with the most authority.

Isaac said...

Anonymous we have a piece of paper called the Federal Constitution. While I know this pesky document gets into the way of most people, it is still the supreme law of the land even if barley. The Constitution guarantees equal application of the law to all.

The Idaho Constitution provide for the same equal application of the law. If other local authorizers will not interpret the Idaho Constitution the same as other authorizers, then that is a violation of both equal protection clauses. The PCSC represents the SBE. If the SBE will not enforce the PCSC interpretation and apply it to all school districts, then the PCSC has no authority or right to create its own interpretation and enforce a different law and application. Regardless, charter schools are public schools and the law must be applied equally.
There will never be justice until the law is applied to all public schools. Either prohibit religious text in all public schools per the order of the SBE or all schools be allowed to use it. A prohibition against the use of religious text as a part of a secular education is a violation of previous supreme court orders so that is another problem in its self.