By Ron VandenBoom
Mike Schwinden, Democratic candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, believes rules and regulations interfere with the orderly process of education.
Schwinden, a 20-year veteran of the Montana educational system and the current principal of Sunnyside Elementary School in Great Falls, said Thursday that too many rules and regulations are stifling Montana's educational system.
"In Hong Kong, you can launch a $1 million company by filling out a one-page report," Schwinden said. "In Montana, in order to get a 9-year-old help with a reading disability, it takes a minimum of 70 pages of testing and paperwork."
He went on to say that when OPI (Office of Public Instruction) comes into the school to check on the child's progress, they never look at whether the 9-year-old is any better at reading; "they check to see how well we have filled out the paperwork."
"It has got to stop," he said.
Schwinden also expressed concern over standardized tests scores and the importance attached to what he calls "the accountability System."
According to Schwinden, students are tested in language, social studies, reading, and math. The individual test scores are then lumped together, or "boiled down" as he puts it, into one number that is supposed to represent how the school, school district, or state, is doing in relationship to other states, school districts, or schools.
It is a score "that is absolutely meaningless," he said.
The rules, regulations, and the use of standardized test scores, "interfere with an efficient orderly process of education," he said. "The bottom line is that you have to trust peoples' judgment."
Schwinden said he understands that people want to know how their schools are doing and if elected he wants to make sure there is an accurate way of determining this.
"Because the system they are using now is seriously flawed," he said.
Schwinden said when he first started his campaign he emphasized a need to restore balance between rights and responsibilities.
"Parents and kids have a right to good schools and safe schools," he said. "But they also need to take responsibility for the students good manners and attendance."
Schwinden said it is as much a culture issue as it is a school issue and he described young peoples' lack of respect for adults and authority as, "a disturbing trend."
He described a time when generations of Americans were willing to sacrifice for the sake of the next generation and he expressed concern that too many people today want it all now.
Schwinden advocates a truancy policy that "has some teeth," adding that truancy for elementary schools has no legal penalty and about the best authorities can do is tell students not to do it again.
Schwinden is also an advocate for higher teacher salaries in Montana.
"You get what you pay for," he said, adding that for years we have gotten away with offering people scenery and recreation instead of salaries. "To get the kind of people you want you're going to have to pay a competitive salary. You can always find a warm body to put in a classroom."
Schwinden said the thing that makes him stand out among his fellow Democrats is his experience as both a teacher and a principal.
"I'm not sure you can just walk in with no administrative experience and manage effectively one of the largest bureaucracies in the state," he said.