Saturday, December 12, 2009

Who Should be Responsible for Determining What is Taught in a Public School?

I saw this poll on Facebook recently and thought it was worth sharing with people. The poll asks who should be responsible for determining what is taught in public school. As you can see by the results, an overwhelming number of people (well over 50%) believe that parents of the children attending the public school should be responsible for determining what is taught in a public school. The Federal government, State government, and Local government were about equal (16%, 16.2%, and 13% respectfully). More data would be needed to see what exactly these numbers indicate but it is clear that the people who responded to this poll felt that parents have a better sense of what should be taught than the local Board of Education, the State Department of Education, the Mayor, the Superintendent, the numerous Supervisors in a district, those people in State government who establish content standards, the teachers, the principals, etc....

More than anything, this probably speaks for the fairly low regard people have for educators in our society- clearly there appears to be little belief that there is an expertise involved in being in education or in the science of learning or in making curricula or instructional decisions.

These number are important to Board of Education members who are elected into office. Clearly, parents vote and especially when it involves their own children. This tension between populism and professional expertise in making educational decisions is an essential tension in public schools around the country. I became very aware of this while serving for 2 years as an Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools in Hoboken, NJ.

It makes me think that if I wanted to really impact education and learning, rather than getting degrees from Columbia University, Vanderbilt University, a 2 year post doc at the University of Wisconsin and a tenured faculty position at The University of Texas at Austin (all top 10 universities in the United States according to US News and World Report)- I would have been better off having a couple of children. Then, I'd be able to have a say in determining what should be taught in the public schools.

Imagine for a moment if the same logic was used in law, medicine, engineering, accounting, pharmacy, etc....

-Dr. Petrosino