Musings on Accountability, Representativeness, and Legitimacy

I think highly of democracy in general, and democratically elected institutions specifically. It is the reason I was drawn to democratically elected school boards, and alternative forms of education delivery, as research interests. In Wisconsin, 36.7% of the state budget goes toward education, and the specific Department of Public Instruction line accounts for 18.3% of the state budget. Hence, accountability and representativeness is essential for the organizations delivering education to have any legitimacy.

The typical local American school board, by virtue of both its established history and its democratically elected board members, has a built-in legitimacy. As I have written before, I think school boards should not be replaced with alternative non-democratically governed institutions without a good reason. What might a good reason be? Corruption, malfeasance, and discrimination by the current come to mind. One reason I do not buy is low voter turnout. All elections have different levels of participation, the fact that many people do not vote, while depressing and frustrating, does not invalidate election results. Similarly, though I have plenty of data suggesting a negative impact due to outsized interest group influence on school boards, I am not keen to eliminate a democratic institution because one group or another is engaging in politics. That is part of a democracy.

All this being said, I had a few interesting conversations last week about the potential for alternative education governance approaches to be effective, accountable, democratically representative, and ultimately legitimate. I do think it is theoretically possible. I also think that scholars and policy-makers are generally too quick to offer simplistic solutions for improving education systems that fail to consider the importance of democratic legitimacy. I know I have been guilty of doing this in the past.

Because this a blog, I have no answers! But the big question I need to give more thought to is: What governance structures can hold democratically legitimacy in the absence of an elected school board?


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