Perestroika and the Illinois public school system

Kevin Killion of www.illinoisloop.org reported it this way:

As expected, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s engineered takeover of the ISBE [Illinois State Board of Education] is now a reality. Robert Schiller is out as the Illinois state superintendent, and little-known Randy Dunn is now the ‘interim’ superintendent.

The report from the Chicago Sun-Times included this:

Schiller has been sparring with the governor since January, when Blagojevich went after the board, likening it to a ‘Soviet-style bureaucracy.’

The Governor’s comparison is actually a good one, as it fits not just the ISBE, but the entire inefficient and ineffective public K-12 education system in Illinois as well. In fact the change in leadership at the ISBE is reminiscent of when the USSR brought in a new General Secretary almost twenty years ago.

Mikhail Gorbachev took over the reigns in the old Soviet Union in 1985 and then set about trying to find a cure for what ailed communism.

Almost from the start, he strove for significant reforms, so that the system would work more efficiently and more democratically. Hence the two key phrases of the Gorbachev era: “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (reform). — cnn.com

Gorbachev’s efforts to fix communism were doomed due to one simple fact — a fatally flawed system can’t be fixed.

Many will be offended by the comparison of Illinois K-12 public education to communism, but there are fewer apt analogies if you look at the economic parallels and terrible results.

Like communism, the participation of taxpayers, parents, and students in our public schools is compelled by the power of the state, and all three groups are ill served. Like communism, government run schools are immune from free market competition, the very thing that produces efficiency and excellence. Command and control rarely works well with human nature.

The huge irony, of course, is that if there’s one word that can be used to describe the global economy in this new century it is competition. The rising generation cannot be adequately taught about the harsh realities of competition by teachers who are insulated from it.

The continued existence of tenure and the protection of politically powerful teachers unions provide this wall of insulation. The unions maintain their monopoly by spending millions in political campaigns every year. This scares off any discussion of real reforms by candidates and legislators impacted by those contributions.

What we do hear from a scattered few is reminiscent of Gorbachev’s “perestroika” — attempts to tweak how the government school system works. We only hear about things like the length of the school year and school day, or complaints about the school funding formula.

Runaway spending is ignored. Taxpayers, however, are becoming ever more familiar with this problem and researching teacher and administrator salaries. They’re also comparing them to real world market-based salaries at www.salary.com. Soon, more will be learning that Illinois public school teachers and administrators enjoy wildly generous pensions.

Fortunately, just as freedom was on the march during the decade leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of reform minded professional educators and education researchers around the world are laying the groundwork for school choice. Even socialist Sweden is now experiencing the benefits of public school choice.

Forget the arrogance of the educationists who treat the rest of us like rubes. The “glasnost” of the No Child Left Behind law is slowly going to unmask their mediocrity. Already the information on how the rest of the industrialized world kicks our butt in math and science is easily found with a point and a click.

And forget the rhetoric of those calling for empty reforms or ever more money; you can’t fix the unfixable, even with more money. The good news is that their failure, like Gorbachev’s, can lead to the coming down of the wall.

Today, Illinois children, parents, and taxpayers are much like those trapped behind the iron curtain of yesterday. They cling to the hope that the current public school system will someday join communism on the ash heap of history.