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Schools Shape the Nation


Q. What we do in schools today will impact our future. Is there a clear strategy for school improvement in the U.S.?


There is a great deal being done on the national level, but not a lot of it is focused on delivering academics. Instead, school reform appears to be targeted at increasing state and federal government control over schools with regulations and mandates that have nothing to do with content delivery in the classroom.


The intent of this is good: accountability. But in practice, involved parents and local control will do a better job of keeping schools accountable, for a lot less money, most experts say. What would be better would be deregulation instead of adding more layers of regulation. What many people would like to return to is more of a free-market, free-enterprise, entrepreneurial approach to education, the way things were in this country for its first several generations, rather than the highly regulated, heavily-mandated, overpoliticized monopoly we have now.


Right now, the governance picture is this: thousands of local school boards have elected directors who are substantially forced into being rubber-stamps for what the education officials in state government tell the school district officials they have to do.


There are elected or appointed state boards of education in most states with a mountain of regulations and buildings full of employees to manage. They work with state commissioners of education, who are mostly often appointed but sometimes elected. In turn, the money flow (state aid to education) usually comes through the state legislature, where there are powerful state senators controlling the Education Committee and determining such big changes as school consolidation and extra state aid for low-income students through their funding votes.


There are ancillary units of government attached at the local and state levels, such as those that focus on serving technology needs or special education. Of course, there are the usual fire, safety and security agencies involved as well.


But on top of this substantial amount of governance from local and state education bureaucracies, there is the massive U.S. Department of Education and all its mandates and regulations, plus all kinds of other federal agencies involved in education-related grant-making and regulatory processes.


How on earth could parents "get shed" of all this government, if that's the best thing for schools? It would take legions of parents getting more savvy and involved in school issues to bring this about. Here's where to start: a good source of sensible school reform objectives is the Washington State-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation:


         The primary relationships fostered and protected are among parents, teachers and children in individual school settings. Other institutional relationships are secondary.


         Parents should be allowed to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children.


         Schools are highly autonomous and competition for students is encouraged.


         The management of each school is allowed maximum flexibility is in allocating resources and rewarding achievement. The management is also responsible to ensure academic achievement and financial accountability.


         Accurate information about cost and academic performance for each school is readily available to parents, teachers, policymakers and the public.


         A good teacher is in every classroom and the learning environment is safe and orderly.


         Emulation of successful schools, teachers and management practices is promoted.


         Schools have a clear, focused academic mission and are organized to deliver it.


To achieve these goals, the Foundation recommends, among other things:


         Extensive deregulation


         Ensuring that education dollars mostly flow to the school the parents choose


         Alternative routes to teaching jobs


         A ban on mandatory unionization


         The abolition of teacher tenure


         Annual academic and fiscal audits


         Flexible teacher pay based on merit and results, not time on the job


Homework: Although it focuses on the State of Washington, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation has excellent education coverage relevant to national issues, especially with regard to governing schools:




By Susan Darst Williams Government & Politics 01 2008


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