Keep power in boards of education

On Dec. 13, the Central Council for Education handed education minister Hakubun Shimomura two sets of proposals to reform boards of education. One of them would give local government heads the final responsibility for local education administration and downgrade boards of education. The other would let boards of education retain the final responsibility for local education administration but allow local government heads to appoint heads of the secretariats of boards who will carry out day-to-day administrative work.

Under the latter proposal, local government heads could not give direct instructions to secretariat heads.

The Abe administration plans to submit a bill to revise the local education administration law by incorporating the first proposal to the Diet next year. Clearly this proposal will increase the chances of local government heads — prefectural governors and municipal mayors — intervening in local education and influencing it according to their political and social views. The administration should refrain from incorporating the council’s first proposal into the revision bill.

Behind this proposal is the fact that boards of education have failed to promptly take necessary actions in dealing with serious bullying incidents that ended up leading to the deaths of students. For example, in October 2011, a second-year junior high school student in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, jumped to his death after being physically bullied by other students.

The thinking behind the proposal is that giving more power to local government heads and secretariat heads would allow various school problems to be resolved in a timely manner. Currently a board of education consists of five members who are appointed by a local government head with the consent of a local assembly. The board members then select from among themselves the head of the secretariat. But a local government head can exercise influence over the selection of the secretariat head by expressing a desire in advance about who should become the secretariat head.

Under the council’s first proposal, local government heads would have the power to appoint or fire secretariat heads. But they could give direct instructions to secretariat heads only when the lives of children are at risk, such as in the case of bullying. Secretariat heads would be responsible for such matters as adoption of textbooks, teachers’ personnel affairs and the integration of schools. Local government heads would also have the final responsibility for local education administration and thus would decide on the fundamental ideas and goals of local education policy.

Boards of education would function in the manner of advisory bodies for local government heads. In cases in which local government heads do not follow the basic ideas and goals of local education, boards can make recommendations, but they will not have legally binding power.

This proposal, however, runs counter to the basic idea behind the current board of education system, which includes the maintenance of political neutrality and continuity in education as well as democratic control of education. The possibility cannot be ruled out that local government heads would use their newfound power to try to change the shape of local education in accordance with their ideology or for the sake of political gains.

Under the council’s second proposal, boards of education would have the power to decide on the basic ideas and goals of local education and to check whether the day-to-day administrative work by secretariat heads, who are appointed by local government heads, is appropriate. This proposal looks more reasonable than the first proposal.

New Komeito, a coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, is critical of the first proposal. The government should concentrate on implementing measures under the current system that would make boards of education act in a prompt and transparent manner.