Beyond Public Education, Myron Lieberman, 1986, Praeger
Fact and Fiction of Education Reform
Lieberman's book could be the starting point for anyone concerned with our public schools. He says that all the reform efforts of the last few decades are unrealistic and even "harmful" to education. His book largely refers to the American scene, but from what I've read most of the insights apply to the Canadian scene as well.
If you've ever been frustrated by the system, the following insights from a long-time insider since the 50s are revealing. The major obstacles to educational reform include:
Audience for Whom the Message is Addressed
One of my major objectives is to help parents reject cosmetic changes in education that leave the status quo essentially unchanged. My analysis is intended to explain how and why parent participation in school affairs is usually futile – Lieberman
Of course, all the myriad policy-makers and players are enjoined to read the book: unions, school boards, legislators, media, business people, etc. From my experience, the analysis in the book equips the status quo for greater resistance to parents than to assist parents. Now, 20 years after the publication of that book and after my first reading of it I think that is true. The status quo persists. (Example: 7 of the 9 trustees at the Vancouver School Board are teachers, ex-teachers, or in the education system one way or another and one member is an ex teacher union official. Isn’t that conflict of interest? One board member has been there for over 20 years! Now that is status quo! Should there be term limits? How effective can parent voice be before such a body?)
Whatâ's to Be Done?
Lieberman states repeatedly that the purpose of the whole effort is an educated citizenry, not the apparatus that has grown up around the effort. He makes two suggestions for real improvement in education:
- Improve Family Choice Since parents have no voice in educational governance or quality control, at least if they had a choice of schools, their "consumer" activity would trigger competition, improvement, etc. The vehicle for this would be tuition tax credits or vouchers.
- Entrepreneurial Schools Either founded by businesses or educator entrepreneurs, these schools would be more efficient, relevant, innovative and responsive to their constituents (parents and students). Their emphasis would be on results, marketable skills, jobs, and personal pride.
For the first time ever, a complete un-masking of the education industry by an ex teacher, ex teacher union negotiator and a university professor and now chairman of the Education Policy Institute.
[This was written 28 years ago when I was still optimimistic. Parents still have little choice. TA]