The public education system is a complex, multi-layered array of funding, spending, delegation, assessment, and measurement of return on investment. Improving such a vast, existing system would require restructuring at every level, as well as the reconfiguration of standards that have been in place for generations.
Were the entire system to be overhauled, it would first need to be dismantled. That would be impossible. Instead, the trend has been to reallocate control to the local levels: state, county, city, district. This trickle down theory of authority has had some success. Communities have more input at the school level, and districts have more autonomy over curricula. Taxpayers in the community more closely watch funding from the city, county, and state, and so distribution of the funds is more likely to benefit the students, and not administrators.
Local control also allows communities to make their schools less institutionalized. Rather than kids doing a seven-hour shift at the brain factory, the neighborhood school can integrate into the community by developing relationships with local businesses and social organizations. While the children must spend some time in the classroom learning reading, writing, math, English, history and geography, community relationships would allow them to see those lessons applied in the real world. One of the questions a child is sure to ask at some point in their academic career is, “When will I ever use any of this?” Coupling real life experience with academic instruction will give them the answer to that question.
Local control has proved to be a catalyst for change in individual schools and school districts. The impact, however, remains localized. Such improvement is dependent on motivated administrators and a high level of participation on the part of the communities. For local control to contribute to system-wide improvement, federal control would need to be relinquished, and school district administrators and school boards would report directly to community organizations willing to supersede existing authorities. That is not going to happen.
The best approach to educational improvement, however, remains at the local level. Innovative ideas such as four-day school weeks, online classrooms, apprenticeship programs, multi grade level classrooms, and more have been born from specific community and neighborhood school needs. Such ideas can be altered and tailored to fit the needs of schools across the country.
Despite the need for improvement to the education system, the system is managing to accommodate 55 million children at any given time. Despite the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers are managing to teach, and children are graduating from high school and entering college or the workforce. Despite the federal government’s insistence on a one-size-fits-all approach to education, children are managing to learn. This is largely due to parental and community involvement at the local level. The best approach to improving the education system is to improve the neighborhood school through volunteerism, social cooperation, and an open mind to innovation.