Task forces have not fixed education and it’s obvious why

Wayne Hoffman Articles, Education Leave a Comment

Allow me to get prophetic. Within weeks or months, the latest state education task force will conclude: Only more taxpayer money will fix Idaho’s schools.

Much more money.

We’ve seen this movie many times before, with other governors, Republican and Democrat, and the ending is always the same. Lawmakers throw money around. They start ambitious new programs. Schools continue to flounder, and students fail to get the education they deserve.

Then, officials commence another task force. Results underwhelm. It goes on and on.

In 1991, Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus commissioned a task force with the aim to “achieve excellence in Idaho’s Public Education by the year 2000.” More money followed.

Problems persisted, and in 2002 Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne convened his own education improvement commission, which was supposed to project ahead to the seemingly far out year 2020. More money followed.

Problems persisted. In 2013, Republican Gov. Butch Otter took his turn and formed a task force on education, which was given a 2018 time horizon. More money followed.

Problems continued. Now, in 2019, it’s Gov. Brad Little, who days ago announced his own education panel. His committee’s five-year recommendations, due later this fall, will take us to 2024. That’s just perfect, because six years ago I predicted that whoever is governor in 2033 would be announcing the formation of a yet another education task force to (finally) get to the bottom of the problem. We are right on schedule.

The problem with each of these task forces on education, and the reason they’ve never worked, is obvious. State government gives special interests a powerful position to protect their turf, and protect they do.

The Idaho Education Association and Idaho School Boards Association appear to hold permanent seats on these tasks forces. They use their positions to form a ring of protectionism, which means collective bargaining’s impact on the management of a school district and the quality of education that results are never addressed. Thus, education reforms that would give parents more choice and options beyond the public school system are rarely ever seriously considered.

Don’t expect the current education panel to be open to the possibility that school tests are regularly dumbed down. Don’t hold your breath in hopes the committee will discuss left-wing indoctrination in textbooks and classroom materials.  Don’t expect the committee to seriously examine if Common Core has lived up to its promises (hint: it hasn’t), or that failing schools should be closed and replaced. None of this will happen. None.

Little’s task force is heavily laden with state legislators, who ought to provide education oversight and healthy skepticism of any task force’s proposals, new programs, and related spending increases. But because these legislators hold key positions on both the Legislature’s policy and budget committees and on the governor’s education panel, they will likely be expected to rubber-stamp whatever it is the task force is selling. Competing and alternative education policy solutions—particularly those that emphasize parental choice—are overshadowed or ignored completely because the executive and legislative branches are in locked in groupthink.

Little’s panel also suffers from a lack of representation of tradespeople, small businesses, and agriculture. The panel is dominated by politicians and government employees and the committee appears to adhere to the current education orthodoxy. The status quo, complemented by more of your money, will likely win approval from this task force.  

After decades of studies and billions of dollars spent, maybe it’s time to admit the state is doing education all wrong. But, if we continue to do it all wrong it will be because the people tasked with fixing the problems in public education also have a role in perpetuating the system as it currently operates.