For three days after the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the skies over that country were empty of commercial aircraft. The unprecedented event allowed climate scientists to study the effect of subtracting jet aircraft contrails as a factor in weather patterns. Contrails, wisps of condensation that form when warm, humid engine exhaust meets cold air at high altitude, were shown in initial studies to have a moderating effect on high and low atmospheric temperatures.

Now a policy analyst with the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies thinks he’s spotted an analogous research opportunity in the ministerial firing of two of Nova Scotia’s seven anglophone school boards. Since these actions were taken ostensibly in the interests of school children, there should be some correlation between the stability and functionality of the boards and the achievement levels of students in those regions.

At least, that’s the proposition advanced by Bobby O’Keefe in an opinion piece on this page July 8 (School Regions Where Boards Are Expelled Among Best in Student Achievement). It’s a dubious proposition which O’Keefe may be offering not in the hope of convincing anyone but as a vehicle to push the AIMS agenda against large school bureaucracies and in favour of strong local autonomy for schools. His evidence is suggestive of something, but what?

O’Keefe notes that in this year’s report card on high schools, which he co-authored for AIMS, half the 18 schools in Nova Scotia that scored B or better are in the two regions whose boards have been ousted for the undisciplined behaviour of elected members, Halifax and the Strait. On the other end of the scale, only a quarter of the worse schools were in those two regions. O’Keefe also cites achievement results in elementary and junior high, as well as international literacy tests, in which Halifax and Strait region schools did well in the province.

O’Keefe speculates that the distractions within dysfunctional boards have left school principals and staffs freer to “operate without interference of centralized decision-making” and this is reflected in higher student achievement. But it’s equally plausible that if the achievement results mean anything, and presumably they do, the explanation is quite different. Perhaps the reasons for the relative successes are also unique to each region — strong community involvement in Strait schools, more classroom resources in Halifax, or something like that.

While O’Keefe does no more than raise the issue, it’s one worthy of further discussion. Should we have centralized school boards at all, how should local school governance work, and what should be the role of the Department of Education? These are questions which in some form the provincial government may already be contemplating, though only in secret.

Last month, Premier Rodney MacDonald, a physical education teacher by training, told the Cape Breton Post editorial board that a review of the roles, responsibilities and “structure” of school boards is something the province should take on in longer term. He wouldn’t elaborate except to say he doesn’t want one board serving the whole province and wants the “local voice” to continue. That’s a lot of leeway, and it sounds like what he has in mind would be for his next term of government. For that, though, the voters of Nova Scotia have to give him one.

To read Bobby O’Keefe’s op/ed, click here.