State Ed Board Chair Bob Schaffer Boldly Speaks for Parental, Not Federal, Power

Colorado is a truly interesting place when it comes to education reform. If you follow this blog at all, you know what I mean. But seriously, how many states have a State Board of Education chair who is such a bold spokesman for empowering students and parents rather than propping up politics and the current system?

Bob Schaffer isn’t your everyday education official. Don’t believe me? Check out what the former Congressman and Senate candidate (and current charter high school principal) wrote in his latest entry of the National Journal “experts” blog when asked about the turnaround process and the U.S. Department of Education’s school improvement grant program. Here’s an excerpt for the flavor:

Only from behind the haughty parapets of Washington, D.C., would anyone consider it “good news” that taxpayers of a bankrupt government are dropping heaps more of yet-to-be-printed money on 730 failing public schools.

It’s a bizarre stratagem, unashamedly rewarding failure with billions more of other peoples’ hard-earned cash. How otherwise sane people can actually expect the long-term outcome of this audacity to be anything but more failure is beyond the rest of us out here in the commonsense parts of the country.

This week’s hairsplitting banter is no doubt interesting for lots of government plotters and tank thinkers. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the most central and essential element of the actual solution continues to be ignored.

As long as the power, importance and judgment of parents and families are absent from the debate, it doesn’t matter whether the federal government or the state governments gain a policy edge over the other. Pondering whether the feds or the states are more capable of turning around failed government-owned schools is like debating whether shoemakers or tailors would perform better heart surgeries.

Can I get an “Amen” from the congregation? A breath of fresh air, for sure. In a similar vein are Schaffer’s comments to Education Week reporter Alyson Klein about the possibilities and challenges related to serious downsizing of the federal government’s oversight of schools:

“Those who are clamoring for abolishing the agency are going to get standing ovations at tea party meetings,” said Bob Schaffer, a former congressman from Colorado who in 1996 supported Republican presidential candidate’s Bob Dole’s plan to abolish the department. Mr. Schaffer is now the chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education.

But any such effort at this time is “not what I would regard as a practical proposal unless you’ve got a president who agrees and will be working in that direction,” said Mr. Schaffer. “If the [Obama] administration is going to defend this particular mammoth, calcified bureaucracy, then it’s not going to be a fruitful effort.”

Has everyone noticed that the education reform debate here in Colorado has undergone somewhat of a shift? There’s no more taking for granted the value of federal involvement in our state’s K-12 education. We education “transformers” can begin to rest and take a break when parental power in education meets or exceeds the power of Washington, D.C.

On a related note, today is the year’s last meeting of the Colorado State Board of Education and the last meeting for State Board members Randy DeHoff and Peggy Littleton. Congratulations to them for their years of vital service on the Board, and best wishes to them in their next endeavors!