There, I said it. Cause Ive been thinking about it for 4 years in Colorado, and I think it has a certain edgy ring to it for this blog.
Dont get me wrong Im not some state socialist who thinks that local people are dumb or unable to do some valuable things with and in their schools and districts.
So, what do I mean? Most American states are not local control states on education (only 6 to 8 fall into that category). That means the state has more influence over curriculum, buildings, and other school features than
Few states want to dictate all aspects of education to their localities, but at least in those other 43 states there is not a built-in hostility to forward-looking state level initiatives. Most other states demonstrate that you can have less local control and survive, and more likely, in my view, thrive.
Lets look at one recent example – the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) proposal to enhance high school graduation requirements to include 3 or 4 years of math and science, or the governors somewhat similar idea to have a state level diploma with higher standards.
It seems ridiculous in 2007 that this cant be moved forward because of local control concerns. Local districts can do this, and if the state doesnt set the bar at a reasonable level, few rise up to it so, just offer the classes, team up with other nearby districts, get on-line dont just whine.
More generally, and more soberly, I want to explain why I think local control is harming, not helping,
Overall, the concept of district level democracy is largely a sham. There are 15,000 local school districts in the
Some critics go so far as to paint a picture where teachers unions find and back candidates, give them votes and money, and then the board is dominated by union supporters, so that labor negotiations take place between the union and, um, the board members who were elected by the union.
This is perhaps unfair, but it is equally true for any other special interest with a strong axe to grind e.g., fundamentalist groups that want to ban the teaching of evolution can and have taken over local school districts. Do we really want less than 10% of eligible voters putting potentially extreme candidates on school boards, giving them virtual carte blanche over these types of issues?
There is a local alternative mayoral control. A recent book by Ken Wong and colleagues, for example, shows positive results from mayoral control in many large cities around the
But I digress. In parallel, if we do move more control over education to the state level, at least there it would be in the hands of officials with enough voters who have weighed in, to get a reasonable sense of state proportionality.
So, politically asymmetric local control is one concern. A second is that the local control concept suggests some sort of matching of the delivery (and in days past, funding) of education to the students who get its lifelong benefits. But in 2007
How many of you now live in the district where you attended school? Few, I suspect. Most people leave the school district in which they were educated so the public good aspect of education, that others benefit from your education, is diffused widely why should we give local district authority over what to teach you, when you will move somewhere else anyway?
Reason three many districts are simply too small to be effective. Though the number has come down a lot over time,
Reason four local control leads to lowest common denominator actions. You hear anecdotes like students in rural community X plan to go work on the farm, so why do they need 4 years of math? Well, #1 modern agricultural workers do need math, and #2, only 2% of American workers are in agriculture we can surely aim for the 98% who arent. The recent Kaufman Foundation funded study of parents in
Reason five the state coffers contribute a lot more money than the local ones. This is now up to 66% from the state in
Reason six while conservatives sometime spout local control as a mantra, to avoid far away big government, I think they have it wrong in education. True conservatives should focus upon the school level and the parents/family level, not the district, as the loci of decentralization in education. Schools could be established, monitored and overseen by charter boards, or as they are now, or by districts, or even by the state. They could still retain lots of authority and flexibility, in return for an agreement to provide a level of achievement for their students. Though we often think of them as the key local institutions, districts are not necessarily the right focus for those who support education decentralization.
Enough reasons, lets get back to some other examples. Whatever people thoughts about Tough Choices or Tough Times report, it focused heavily on changes at the state level. It wants teachers actually hired by states, not districts, for example. States would have to change their grades 10-12 to fund more pre-school. It is ironic, in my view, that Tuckers ideas apparently struck a bigger chord in Colorado than in most states, since we are a local control state, and would have lots of problems even thinking about how to implement many of his proposals.
The voucher pilot program, approved by the legislature in 2003, was stopped by a judge, based upon local control concerns.
Do we really think the P-20 Council can make all of the hoped-for progress, when there are 178 different K-12 systems t
hat want to maintain grasp of local control?
Will we ever get decent capital facilities (e.g., school buildings) without any state rules or guidelines about what safe school buildings need to look like?
So, what would I suggest? Relax the perceived constraints of local control. Let state legislators and officials push for higher standards and more uniformity, in some cases. In the longer run, encourage more consolidation of districts, encourage more re-thinking of the benefits/costs of local control, and look at how the funding patterns are changing.
What do I think will actually happen in this regard? Not so much. Minimal pushes in this direction are likely to be blocked politically by CEA, CASE, CASB, and many officials who drink the local control Kool-aid. And, I know, local control is indeed in the state constitution. So is TABOR. Though not easy, these things can be amended. But I dont see it happening soon.
So Ill just keep muttering that local control sucks.
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