Task Farce

by Jeff Kramer - Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
A committee of two score and 10 is a recipe for ineffectiveness

As best I can tell, only two 50-member committees exist in the public sector on Planet Earth at this time. One is charged with the fraudulent and ridiculous task of rewriting the Constitution of Egypt, a military dictatorship. The other is right here in Syracuse. It’s a special task force convening through June to revamp the school district’s–no snickering in class, please–disciplinary code.

You read that right. Fifty members. As in Five-O.

Some of you might recall a time when student disciplinary problems could be resolved by a pissed-off nun with a ruler or even by a secular authority figure. At Lake City Elementary, in Seattle, my personal buttocks periodically made the acquaintance of a thick wooden paddle wielded by the principal, Merritt Des Voigne–a disciplinary committee of one. I don’t mean to sound nostalgic, nor would I ever suggest that in these complex times a spanking will make a difference to a 6-foot-3 felon with a full beard who keeps a boom stick in her locker. But I can tell you that when my hands were on my knees, my butt was burning and Mr. De Voigne asked “Had enough?” at least I knew someone cared.

At this point, allow me a sweeping generalization but one I believe to be accurate: Everything that is wrong with public education in America today is epitomized by this 50-member task force.

Consider the timeline:

Summer 2012. A task force is launched to study disciplinary problems in the district. The panel stops work because it wants an independent evaluation of the district’s practices. (Hmmm. Wouldn’t that be the task force’s job?)

Summer 2013. For an amount not to exceed $30,000, the district hires Dan Losen, a national school suspension expert from an entirely different coast to conduct a study for Syracuse.

Sept. 30, 2013. Losen announces his findings to the school board: Syracuse schools have serious disciplinary issues. And too many students get suspended. And things are really bad here. Dozens in the audience faint at the news.

October 2013. The school district announces it will convene a 50-member task force to rewrite the student code of conduct. Losen is awarded another 30K contract to study more stuff.

We don’t need more studies. We need quick-strike teams of cult de-programmers to liberate educators and academicians from their own bullshit. Being that I have far too much time on my hands, I looked up Losen’s national study, which bears the catchy title: “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools and Racial Justice.” Then I fell asleep. When I awoke, I managed to get though the preamble, which offered this logical and linguistic train wreck that I have severely condensed as a humanitarian gesture:

In order to improve schools, we offer six “recommendations for improved policies and practices, including Recommendation No. 6, which is: Improve schools through ‘better policies and practices.’”

That will be $30,000, please.

I mean, really. Back at Lake City Elementary, if I had produced writing that muddled my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Kanazawa, would have assumed I was ill and sent me to the nurse’s office. Or she would have screamed at me in Japanese, a highly effective behavioral modification technique. Indeed, shouldn’t a subcommittee be formed to review Mrs. Kanazawa’s methods? Losen could then be hired for yet another $30,000 to conduct an independent evaluation of “The Effects of High Decibel, Foreign Language Reprimands on Learner Esteem.”

As something of a researcher myself, I’ve been investigating a different hypothesis: Throughout human society, 50-member committees have proven rare and essentially useless.

Feel free to independently evaluate my preliminary data:

  • In 2003, Baylor University empaneled a 50-member steering committee, headed by the owner of the Houston Astros, to lure the George W. Bush presidential library. The library went to Southern Methodist University.

 

  • In 2010, Toyota Motor Corp. launched a Special Committee on Global Safety in response to the public relations nightmare caused by its vehicles accelerating without driver consent. This year, General Motors passed Toyota in the prestigious J.D. Power Quality Survey, with Toyota slipping from fifth place to eighth.

 

  • In 1994, Camden, N.J., established a 50-member blue ribbon panel to “make Camden run better.” How’d that go? A New York Times story on Camden last year noted: The police acknowledge that they have all but ceded these streets to crime, with murders on track to break records this year.

In fairness to Camden, at least they there were trying to turn around a whole city. And in Egypt, heck, it’s a fake constitution for a whole country.

But 50 members to rewrite a school conduct code? Seriously? Fifty as in Five-O?

You tell me who should get suspended.

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