Schools Shape the Nation
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
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
Schools have a clear, focused academic mission and are organized
to deliver it.
To achieve these goals,
the Foundation recommends, among other things:
Ensuring that education dollars mostly flow to the school the
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
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: