Back to local control?

As the party of local control, Republicans should reject the federalization of education policy, writes Diane Ravitch in the Wall Street Journal. An education historian, Ravitch now opposes Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.

Ravitch is half right, responds Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

She pinpoints genuine shortcomings in NCLB and failings in a number of other federal education programs, and correctly observes that many of the school-reform efforts and innovations of recent years have not yielded the desired achievement gains.

But local control isn’t the solution, argues Finn.

The weak and generally stagnant academic performance of most American school kids, our scandalous achievement gaps, the country’s sagging performance vis-à-vis other countries, the skimpy preparation of many teachers and principals, the shoddy curricula, the fat and junky textbooks, the innovation-shackling union contracts, the large expenditures with meager returns — these are not the result of an overweening federal government. They are, in fact, almost entirely the product of state and local control of public education — as it has traditionally been defined and structured in the United States. They are the product of failed governance, bureaucratic mismanagement, and the capture of the K-12 system by powerful organizations of adults who assign lower priority to kids’ needs than to their own interests. They are maladies caused by, and worsened under, the aegis of the very system that Diane trusts to cure them.

Finn wants to vest control in individual schools that “control their own personnel, budgets, schedules, and curricula,” and in parents “free to choose among — and fully-informed about—a wide array of quality schools (and other education delivery systems, including virtual education).”

In his vision:

Washington supplies additional funds to underwrite the education of disadvantaged and special-needs kids, it pays for innovation through competitive-grant programs, it conducts research and supplies a wealth of assessment and other data, and it safeguards individuals from violations of their civil rights. That’s about it.

Every school an independently run charter? I’m not sure that’s doable.

By the way, in an earlier post, a commenter alleged that Ravitch changed sides in the education debate out of pique because her “life partner” had been denied a job by Joel Klein, when he was chancellor of New York City schools.  I think this is untrue and unfair. People who disagree with Ravitch’s current views don’t question her integrity or sincerity, nor do they gossip — at least not when I’m around — about her personal life.

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Comments

  1. Local control of schools has been a disaster; I don’t think that anyone who has looked at education seriously could honestly disagree. But federal influence hasn’t helped at all, either. Neither choice has been good.

  2. CarolineSF says:

    But I’m hearing that lots of “education reformers” ARE questioning Ravitch’s integrity and sincerity and gossiping about her personal life, so just be aware of what you’re dealing with.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Does anyone really believe that turning kindergarten into the application/school search that college currently is will help poor lower middle class children.

    This reads like another idea that comes from rich,elite, Ivy Leagued education people who never sat in a class is an unmotivated, unintelligent student.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    If Republicans really believe in local control, they won’t just repeal Bush era bad stuff like “adequate yearly progress.” They’ll get rid of the requirements for IEPs and 504s and a boatload of pre-Bush stuff that constrain local schools.

    That would do interesting things to the political dynamics since, to wildly generalize, the same people who oppose post-2000 federal “reforms” support pre-2000 federal “reforms.”

  5. Improving educational outcomes may not be just an issue of local control vs. federal control. I believe the root of the problem is that we have several incredibly bad “instructional” programs out there that keep making their way into more and more schools (even after the detrimental effects have been well documented)

    Our educational woes can be attributed to the lack of content being taught in our classrooms and our willingness to relinquish our children’s opportunities for future success to textbook companies whose primary goal is turning a profit.

  6. Get rid of unfunded mandates from the feds. If the feds are going to require more and more detailed paperwork for sped, then by god, they damn well better fork over the promised subsidies for sped.

    If you’re not going to fund it, don’t mandate it.

  7. Oh, Ravitch is just carrying water for those who hanker for the good. old days when public worries about public education translated into nothing but more funding. Starting with NCLB and accelerating, surprisingly, under Obama with RTTT, public concern about public education is showing up as intrusions into the sacrosanct independence of the school district.

    It’s that sacrosanct independence that’s led to school boards which can safely relegate concerns about educational quality to a secondary status which leads to a diminishment of concern with the professional skills that go into the production of a high quality education system and their replacement with, among other things, educational fads driven by the winds of egotism and politics.

    Fortunately the cat is out of the bag and there’s no putting him back. The public education system has already changed to the point that the good, old days of bland indifference to educational quality are coming to an end and the best those who prefer that state of affairs, people like Diane Ravitch, can hope for is that those changes can be delayed.

  8. CarolineSF says:

    If Ravitch preferred the “good old days of bland indifference to educational quality” she PROBABLY wouldn’t have written 5 books and edited a whole bookshelf more on the subject, and devoted her entire career to examining and critiquing educational quality, with emphasis on fads.

    Back when Ravitch was still an advocate of the current style of “education reform,” I read her book “Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform,” which critically examined education fads over the decades. At the time I thought it was a little un-self-aware and inconsistent that while critiquing fads of the past, she herself was then espousing the current education-reform fads — which of course she no longer is.

    But the point is that her entire career has been devoted to fighting “bland indifference to educational quality,” so that’s a particularly unfounded charge to make.

    However, I appreciate (and I’m sure she’d appreciate) that you’re not making slimy anonymous insinuations about her personal life, so thanks for not joining the education-reform advocates who are on the low road.

  9. (Joanne): “Every school an independently run charter? I’m not sure that’s doable.
    Politically doable, or something else? There would remain the issue of who gets to create or accredit a “school”.

    (Peter): “Local control of schools has been a disaster; I don’t think that anyone who has looked at education seriously could honestly disagree.
    Depends on what you mean by “local control”.

    Several lines of evidence support the following generalizations:
    1. As institutions take from individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction, overall system performance falls
    2. Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically-adept parents.

    There is a clear and strong relation between district size and student performance as measured by NAEP 4th and 8th grade Reading and Math scores. Smaller is better. There is a clear and strong relation between district size and per pupil costs. Over a wide range of enrollment, smaller is cheaper. There is a clear and strong relation between age (start) of compulsory attendance and NAEP 4th and 8th grade Reading and Math scores. Later is better.

    Caroline: “her entire career has been devoted to fighting ‘bland indifference to educational quality’, so that’s a particularly unfounded charge to make… I appreciate (and I’m sure she’d appreciate) that you’re not making slimy anonymous insinuations about her personal life, so thanks for not joining the education-reform advocates who are on the low road.

    100% agreement. Ravitch has shifted her position on local control, seems to me. She’s either right or wrong. She’s serious and hard-working. I don’t question her motives.

    (joycem): “If you’re not going to fund it, don’t mandate it.
    Would you apply that to minimum wage laws?

  10. greeneyeshade says:

    I greatly respect Diane Ravitch, but I think Finn may be right on this one. I’m a little surprised nobody’s quoted Mark Twain: “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.”
    I also think the best case for local control is that it keeps parents more involved; makes it easier to contain any damage; and lets us know whom to blame.

  11. > However, I appreciate (and I’m sure she’d appreciate) that you’re not making slimy anonymous insinuations about her personal life, so thanks for not joining the education-reform advocates who are on the low road.

    Oh gee, wasn’t I clear enough? Ravitch used be useless, managing nothing more then the rhetorical equivalent of wringing her hands expressively over the plight of the wee children. Now she’s not even bothering with that pose. The current system is just fine but is failed by inadequate funding, lousy parents and stupid kids.

    Oh look! Ravitch has had an epiphany! Her previous uselessness is replaced by a new-found love for the system she previously found wanting. Let us welcome the apostate into the fold!

    On her best day Diane Ravitch never did as much to reform public education as any of the anonymous Minnesota legislators who voted in the first charter school law. If she didn’t have a reputation to mine as a complainant of the current system she’d have nothing at all to offer even the defenders of the status quo.

  12. CarolineSF says:

    If charter schools had any track record of success without the quadruple threat of vastly more funding (for the successful ones this is the case), selectivity, exclusion of high-need students, and the ability to get rid of their unsuccessful students in eye-popping quantities and not replace them — keeping only the successful and compliant — the credit given to the Minnesota legislators would be justified. As it is, no.

  13. Sandra Stotsky says:

    We need to make sure we are not talking about apples and oranges. Ravitch has consistently been concerned about the academic quality of the curriculum in our schools, and there is little evidence that federal involvement in the schools in the past half century has improved the school curriculum. Post-Sputnik reforms were the last attempts at upgrading them academically. Common Core’s efforts go in the opposite direction at the secondary school level.

    The idea of choice may be useful only if we begin to offer what adolescents seem to want–a choice of a high school curriculum (middle school students express little interest in charters vs. regular public schools). In MA, the greatest achievement of its 1993 Ed Reform Act was what happened in its regional career/technical high schools (for grades 9-12). Almost 100% of their students (10% of the HS population in MA) pass MCAS, and they have extremely low attrition rates, extremely high graduation rates, and there are waiting lists for most of them. But no one, from Arne Duncan and Marc Tucker down to Checker Finn seem to have any interest in what actually motivates adolescent students.

  14. Oh, it’s a track record of success you’d like to see? What a marvelous coincidence. I’d like to see a track record of success as well. From school districts.

    As it is you’re a lot better off betting they suck since there’s not a damned reason why they should be any good.

    Not that you’d care about how rotten so many school districts are seeing your invocation of the litany of the evil charter but if Diane Ravitch now prays at the altar of the noble school district there are more then a few people who are verging on announcing their apostasy.

    How’d you like Race to The Top? Not much, hey?

    Guess what? There’s more where that came from because the reason for the original – NCLB – hasn’t gone away so the reason for NCLB Part Deux and Tres hasn’t gone away either.

  15. Roger Sweeny says:

    What do adolescents want? At the risk of sounding cynical, very few of them want a knowledge of history, math, literature, etc. They do want to know more about music, their fellow adolescents, tv, their fellow adolescents, movies, their fellow adolescents, their future, their fellow adolescents, and so on. But the law requires them to be taught the former. We simply cannot be very concerned with what adolescents want because they don’t want what we are required to teach them. We can pretend that deep down they really want to learn what we want them to learn and that they will learn it if we are just creative enough and engaging enough and professional enough but it .. just .. is .. not … true.

    Massachusetts’ regional vocational technical schools inject a bit of student future. However, a good part of their success is due to the fact that they are selective. Bad students don’t get in and students who do poorly don’t stay in.

  16. (Allen): “Ravitch used be useless, managing nothing more then the rhetorical equivalent of wringing her hands expressively over the plight of the wee children. Now she’s not even bothering with that pose. The current system is just fine but is failed by inadequate funding, lousy parents and stupid kids.

    Oh look! Ravitch has had an epiphany! Her previous uselessness is replaced by a new-found love for the system she previously found wanting. Let us welcome the apostate into the fold!”

    Much as I admire the high tolerance for tedious Educationese which Ravitch demonstrates in __Left Back:…__, Allen’s encapsulation of her shifting positions is accurate. Ravitch always favored top-down management of schools, never parent control. She complained that the dictator got it wrong, not that there was a dictator.

  17. Sandra Stotsky says:

    I wish those dissing technical/career high schools would look up the facts before spouting off. They do not cherry-pick in MA. Over 1/3 admitted are SpEd kids and the majority read below grade level. Yet almost all graduate and few drop out or return to the high school they would have gone to. The only requirement, by law, is that they had to pass grade 8 MCAS in math and ELA to make sure that feeder schools can no longer dump the kids they paid little attention to, into them.

    It would be useful to know why adults (other than the parents of these kids) opposed them. Is there something wrong in being a tool and dye maker, an electrician, or a plumber? Sandra Stotsky

  18. Diana Senechal says:

    I have heard wonderful things about the technical/career high schools in Massachusetts. Someone involved with these schools (a mother of a graduate) offered to arrange a visit for me; I intend to take her up on it.

    From what I have heard, this gives students a chance to develop a trade or skill that not only serves them well but can open up other interests. And many students find their focus in this way.