Time to de-politicize public education

Is there a more political state in America than Texas? We elect everyone. We entrust all kinds of public policy decisions to politicians.

It’s not that politicians are inherently bad people. Some of my better friends are politicians.

But is it truly the right thing to have politicians deciding public education policy? I’ve long had this problem with asking politicians to perform the critical task of setting public education curriculum used to educate our children. Many of these individuals have zero experience as teachers or educational administrators. They all have opinions on what they believe is best for our kids and in recent years in Texas they’ve been fighting furiously among themselves over their philosophical differences.

The Texas State Board of Education comprises 15 individuals representing distinct districts around the state. District 15 includes a huge chunk of West Texas, including the Panhandle. The race this year is between Republican Marty Rowley of Amarillo and Democrat Steve Schafersman of Midland. And the contest is boiling down apparently to the men’s differences over whether to teach “intelligent design” in the classroom alongside the theory of evolution.

Here is where the politicization of the SBOE at times has gotten out of hand.

My concern about the SBOE is that it’s going to continue down that rocky path of argument and division among its members who, along the way, are going to lose sight of their fundamental mission, which is to educate children. Sure, these pols all say they put the kids first. But they demonstrate instead a desire to protect their own reputations. Which is why the sideshow politicization of the SBOE has at times overshadowed the panel’s critical function.

In the 1980s Texas experimented with an appointed SBOE, but then returned to the elected body. I always thought the appointed panel – which was a gubernatorial function – would have worked just fine if given enough time.

But instead we’re handing this SBOE job to politicians who see it as their duty to fight like the dickens among themselves. Other collective political bodies do that very thing as well. And the performances in recent years of the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress demonstrate the folly at times of putting a bunch of politicians together in the same room.