Where Are the Educators on the Board of Education?

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Am I qualified to sit on a board that oversees the practices of medical professionals? I’ve been to the doctor. I’ve stayed overnight in the hospital. My children have seen doctors. My own parents are a doctor and a nurse. I’ve been around the medical establishment my whole life and my word should be enough to help shape legislative policy for medical professionals.

We all know that’s not true. I don’t have a medical degree. I don’t know what it’s like to be a doctor, a nurse, or any other medical professional. My interaction with and even relation to the medical field does not imbue me with the knowledge necessary to make sound decisions.

Why don’t we apply that to Kentucky Board of Education? There are eleven members who sit on the board. They are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate. Do you know how many of the eleven have been a teacher in Kentucky? The answer is one; Gary Houchens. Houchens has the distinction of being the only board member to spend time in Kentucky as a student, teacher, and administrator. He also has more than one degree in education and currently is a professor of education administration, leadership, and research at Western Kentucky University. Board member Kathy Gornik has a bachelor’s degree in education, though her experience appears to be in other states as she does not have a certification listed on KYEPSB. The only other board member to hold a degree in a relevant field is Alesa Johnson with a master’s degree in higher education from the University of Louisville.

What about the rest? Well, there are a few with degrees or experience in engineering. There are bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, strategic communication, psychology, human resources management; advanced degrees that include a juris doctorate and a master’s of business administration; and finally a member whose sole degree is an associate’s degree in applied science. While degrees are not indicators of intelligence or understanding, experience is. Unless their biographies on the Kentucky Board of Education website are incomplete, they lack experience in time as classroom teachers.

Why is that a problem? When you have non-educators making educational policy, you end up with instances like when Betsy DeVos tried to explain why higher class sizes are beneficial. Non-educators tend to assume we want smaller class sizes because it means less work. As with most work done by educational advocates, changes that benefit teachers automatically benefit students. Smaller class sizes doesn’t mean less work; it means more one on one time for each student.

As we look at other professional boards, we see them full of active members of those professions. Nurses are regulated by nurses. Lawyers are regulated by lawyers. Why should educators be different? While it’s important to have stakeholders such as parents and community members helping to shape education in Kentucky, to have those with teaching experience limited to less than a quarter of the board is an oversight. We’re not asking to take over the entire table, we just want a seat.

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