Education Governance in the Time of Corruption


Ira Thomas, an elected representative of the Orleans Parish School Board, has been charged with taking a $5,000 bribe. He is stepping down from office.

Earlier this year, Thomas told the Lens: “It’s time now, in my opinion, for the Recovery School District to exit the city of New Orleans.”

It will be Thomas, and not the Recovery School District, that exits education in New Orleans.

Ira’s arrest may increase calls for keeping schools under state control.

Well, it’s worth keeping in mind that Walter Lee, an elected member of the state board of education, was recently indicted for fraud.

So perhaps we should just devolve all power to schools.

Well, Lagniappe Academy, a Recovery School District charter school is under investigation for major special education abuses.

Unfortunately, the work of educating children provides no safe harbor from the worst of human nature.

Moreover, even good people will sometimes make moral mistakes.

The worst of us don’t account for all of our wrongdoings.

So what should we do?

We should decentralize power and create redundancy in oversight.

Power to Families

The more power families have, the less power will be available to be abused by educators and government leaders. In education, this means giving families choice of where they send their children to school, as well as transparent information on how well these schools are performing.

Without choice and information, the primary form of accountability is one level of government putting pressure on another level of government. History has shown (especially in education), that this is not enough.

Power to Educators

The more power educators have, the less power will be available to be abused by district and school board officials. When educators are making decisions about curriculum and instruction, and when school operators are making operational decisions about issues such as transportation and custodial services, there will be less opportunity for corruption through large, centralized contracts.

Redundancy in Oversight 

Oversight functions should not sit in one entity.

Rather, four levels of oversight should be instituted.

Non-profit boards of directors should govern school operators and provide the first line of oversight.

Charter school authorizers, including school districts, should provide the second level of oversight.

Elected school boards should provide the third level of oversight, for both schools that they directly run and for charters that are authorized by other entities but reside in their geographic boundary.

The state should provide the fourth level of oversight, and it should have the right to assume governance of perpetually failing or legally incompliant schools, be they district or charter.

In Sum

Too often, education governance decisions are made based on a determination of which governance entity has the most legitimate claim of power.

A better conversation would begin with the assumption that families and educators should be the primary carriers of power, and that all other power should be distributed across multiple governance entities – as none of these entities will be perfect, and all, at some moment in time, will be corrupt.

1 thought on “Education Governance in the Time of Corruption

  1. matthewladner


    School districts can and do bellyache non-stop about charters within their boundaries, which I suppose we could think of as a form of oversight. Given this overt and unrelenting hostility, which I see directed at even super high performing charters here in my neck of the cactus patch, what sort of legal authority to think it would be wise to grant them in overseeing charter schools?


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