Extreme Centralization

As part of education reform in Iowa, we have seen a push to further centralize public education decision-making.

Marc Tucker apparently thinks we haven’t gone far enough with our system redesign and offers his assessment of the problems and his recommended solutions in a two-part blog post: Governing American Education: The Challenge and Governing American Education: Some Modest Proposals.

His modest proposals?  Abolish both state boards of education and local boards of education.  Districts would report directly to mayors, and departments of education to governors.  Remove powers from local boards and superintendents and place them with the state departments of education.  End local school funding mechanisms and have local schools entirely funded by the state.

The federal government’s role in education should be restricted to funding education research; monitoring national education performance; gathering and reporting a wide range of data on the American education system; providing funding intended to help low wealth states spend more money on education than they otherwise could, provided they are willing to make a tax effort equal to the tax effort made by wealthier states; and acting as a watchdog to protect the civil rights of Americans in the field of education.

A new intergovernmental agency should be established at which the top officials of the federal education department and the top education officials of the states meet together to agree on certain national functions that need to be carried out, such as the development and revision of national standards for student achievement; the development and maintenance of a national system for accountability in the schools and a national system for reporting student and school accomplishment.  Under this arrangement, the current contention for dominance in this arena between the states and the federal government would come to an end, for both would have to agree for any proposal to succeed.

Despite the apparent allusion to satire in the post title, I’m afraid Tucker means us to take these ideas seriously.

I think that proponents of centralization schemes must have enormous faith that 1) state actors are both more competent and less corruptible than local actors (note to Marc Tucker: directors of state departments of education are offered trips too) and 2) that education is primarily a scientific enterprise best left to the professionals, rather than primarily a values-driven enterprise, some practices of which can be informed by science.

Marc Tucker’s description of the problems (shrinking departments of education and local school board members plied with all-expense paid vacations) doesn’t especially sound like Iowa to me.  As for his insistence that “[w]e can no longer afford a system in which no one is in charge and no one can be held accountable for the performance of the system.”?  Perhaps the answer isn’t radical centralization of power, but restoring decision-making and political accountability for those decisions to the local level.


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