Local control of schools is a subject which has surfaced to some extent in this election year. Currently there is heavy involvement from the federal and state governments in defining what must be taught and even measuring the success a school has achieved based on their criteria. I am not discounting the fact that some government involvement may be necessary, but to a much lesser degree. Schools across this country have varying needs and issues, and to have a one-size-fits-all evaluation criteria does not make sense.
Schools do need to be measured in terms of educational successes or failures, but these criteria are best determined by local communities. Each community has different needs and situations. Today the economic crisis has hit many schools, and school districts must make decisions on what is necessary as a school to keep and what can be eliminated. In these circumstances it is not the government’s responsibility to make the required decisions, but rather it is the school district administration with input from the parents. The same kind of control should exist for establishing the criteria for classes making sure the basic needs of society and the students are addressed.
Government does have a role to play in school district operations. It is the funds to pay the bills which in most cases come from taxes the government allocates as voted on by the public. Some politicians have indicated that the U.S. Department of Education should be abolished – with which I disagree. I do agree, though, that changes in the involvement at the federal level need to take place. In looking at some of the priority goals established by the federal education department, while they are great, it must be decided if they are the right venue to establish them. Identifying the goals is only half of the process. Goals need a process to accomplish them and the focal point to evaluate whether they have been met. The goals as written do not address this aspect but it is implied the Department of Education will make this decision.
As previously mentioned the goals are great, but who should establish them. One example on the priority list involves the goal of improving learning by ensuring more students have an effective teacher. Within this goal, requirements have been placed on school districts and many states to establish a comprehensive teacher evaluation and support system. It also mandates that states establish statewide requirements for a comprehensive teacher and principal evaluation. The target for completion of this goal, which could change depending upon election results, is September 30, 2013. Teacher evaluations already take place within school districts as part of their appraisal system so it is unclear as to the difference between the current systems in place and the goal of the department. In terms of a comprehensive teacher and principal evaluation, states already have requirements in place to qualify individuals to be teachers, though they may not apply to all educational institutions. It is unclear whether any of the requirements are applicable to private institutions and whether the U.S. Department of Education has jurisdiction over these institutions.
Another priority goal involves the requirements for all states to adopt internationally-benchmarked college- and career-ready standards. While this again is an admirable goal, it raises the question of why we are establishing or adopting internationally recognized standards rather than American standards to meet the needs of American society. It appears that the goal is to put in place international standards rather than American standards. While this may not necessarily be the case the language in the goal, in my opinion, projects that perception. I do agree that some of our school subjects and the ranking of students in such areas as math must improve, but per our standards. We constantly seem to be compared to other countries in terms of educational ranking, but how that rank is determined is vague at best. In addition, there are numerous students from foreign countries who attend colleges and universities in our country, which projects the perspective of a good educational institution.
In answering the question as to what would be different under a local control of school scenario, it would be reduced regulation and jurisdiction from the federal government and to some extent the state government. Local control of anything is always better than control from a distance. The greater the distance the less capability to react to issues which surface sometimes on a daily basis. One thing is clear: evaluating teacher performance is already in place, and creating a goal which provides no criteria to meet that goal does not make sense, even if jurisdiction exists. Evaluating the performance of school districts and their operation are conducted when school board elections are held and individuals are either retained or replaced based on their performance.
In finalizing the aspect of returning local control to schools and really to the parents, efficiency is the key. Managing or establishing requirements from a distance cannot understand the issues involved within each school district within each state. Every school system has issues which may not compare to others, and in that respect the goals and policies need to be created to fit their needs. The Department of Education can best serve the country in establishing some communication opportunities in such aspects of best practices across school districts. In this respect, schools which have resolved issues can communicate the actions taken so others are not required to waste funds which may be needed in other areas.