The Vermont Agency of Education has announced the establishment of a Family Engagement Council, an advisory body to be appointed by Secretary Dan French.
One could see this as a benign move, or even overdue. The problem is, “family engagement” has become a buzzword for conservatives angry about critical race theory or LGBTQ+ issues or Black Lives Matter. To establish such a body at this particular moment should set off some alarm bells. At the very least, we should watch closely the formation of this council.
Plus, neither French nor his boss have inspired confidence. Gov Phil Scott openly supports a statewide voucher program that would funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools and home schoolers. Scott hasn’t actively pursued the idea because he knows it’s DOA in the Legislature. French, meanwhile, came to the Agency from the Canaan school district, one of the most conservative in the state. It was the only district that never instituted a mask mandate, even during the worst days of the pandemic. And during French’s tenure,
Applications are being accepted until December 18. Who can apply? “The council will consist of between 10 to 15 parents, guardians and family members of students enrolled in Vermont schools.”
Note the last phrase: “…enrolled in Vermont schools.”
Not public schools. Any school, public or private.
But wait, there’s more! Later on in the press release we find this line: “Members must be a parent, guardian, or family member who is the primary caregiver of a student enrolled in a Vermont school or Home Study program.”
Home Study program? You mean home schooling?
Yes. From elsewhere on the AOE website: “Home Study and Home Schooling mean the same thing.”
Okay, well now. The Council’s door is open to parents who have opted out of the public school system. On one hand, that kind of makes sense. The Agency does set standards for home schooling and private schools. But the bulk of its activity concerns the public schools. I’d cry foul if the Counsil has more than token representation of non-public school parents, guardians, and family members. Or, for that matter, people who’ve been actively engaged in protests over critical race theory or book banning or any such conservative bugbear.
People who actually support public education should seriously consider applying for the Council. I have a feeling there will be plenty of applications from conservatives with grudges against the public schools. And once the deadline has passed, let’s reconvene and take a look at who gets appointed to the Family Engagement Council.
‘Grudges’ against Vermont’s public-school system are well founded. When the taxpayer cost to educate a Vermont elementary public-school student is almost as much as sending an undergraduate to one of Vermont’s State University schools, including room and board, and only half its public-school graduates meet grade level standards, a Family Engagement Council seems nothing more than any of the various perfunctory public-school outreach programs that have, for years, been ineffective. As a former Vermont public-school board director, it was and remains clear that while the Agency of Education listens, it rarely, if ever, follows any parental or sympathetic school board recommendations.
There’s nothing like free market competition to improve goods and services, be they publicly or independently provided. Vermont public-school enrollment has declined 15% in the last decade while independent and homeschool registrations increased 8%. The VT AOE is only just beginning to recognize that it must change its policies or fade into oblivion.
As the saying goes: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The VT AOE will likely never figure out how to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, even with this latest offering. Caveat emptor.
Case in point: “A decade ago, Vermont lawmakers created a group to address bullying in schools. But for much of the past year, the council’s meetings have been spent wrangling over a set of existential questions: Is the group actually doing any good? And if not, should it continue to exist?”
Why write on of the Vermont AOE, John? Did you expect the Agency of Education, or Dan French to engage in constructive public discourse? What else would you expect from a state agency that publicly employs an apathetic, incompetent, gesticulating buffoon as its head? To quote the 13th century dictum that is now more relevant than ever in Vermont, “A Fish Always Stinks from the Head First!”