Blog: The Educated Reporter

Jay Mathews: Why So Few TV Squabbles About Education?

Having spent eight years covering school board meetings, I can verify Mathews’ point that public attendance tends to be sparse. He’s also spot-on in noting that voters tend to skip the school board section on their ballots, leaving a few hundred people to choose the representative for a few (and often many) thousand.

But I would contend the low meeting attendance reflects more than just a disaffected public. The meetings are often held in the evenings, when people are tired from work or looking forward to spending time with family. The agenda is often bogged down by ceremonial activities that feel like a huge time suck, unless it’s your child’s school’s turn to provide the percussion performance or to receive a citation for its recycling campaign.

When the vote is on something that families see as directly affecting their child, such as plans to charge fees for extracurricular sports programs, they flood the school board chambers. But the day to day business of schooling just doesn’t get people stirred up.

There’s an interesting dichotomy at work here. In local polls, parents often report they are more than satisfied with the quality of their child’s public school. But in nationwide polls asking people what issues top their lists of concerns, education and the economy are most frequently cited.

Do you agree with Mathews that relative consensus among presidential contenders about education reform is actually a benefit? Might it actually lead to faster action? To my education writer colleagues — what’s the average length of a school board meeting in your town, and how many people are typically in attendance?


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