Friday, June 12, 2009

Another step forward in the wrong direction...

I've often described Bush's No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) as a step forward in the wrong direction. It's a step forward because it attempts to remedy one of the key problems in our public school system: the lack of accountability. It moved in the wrong direction because it continued to shift control away from state and local governments and toward Washington, where corruption and inefficiency abound.

I have similarly mixed feelings about the Obama administration's ostensible support for charter schools. On the plus side, support for charter schools is certainly welcome news. As the Wall Street Journal concludes:
Charter schools improve public education by giving parents options and forcing schools to compete for students and resources. For low-income minority families, these schools are often the only chance at a decent education. . . .

On everything from test scores to graduation rates, charters in many states regularly outperform nearby public schools serving the same demographic groups. . . .

Charters are also much easier to shut down if children aren't learning, unlike traditional public schools that live on indefinitely regardless of student performance.
It is especially welcome news to see support for charter schools emerging on the political left where, despite their growing record of success,
Charters are nonetheless opposed by teachers unions and others who like the status quo, no matter how badly it's serving students. As a result, 10 states lack laws that allow charter schools . . . and 26 others cap charter enrollment.
I'm at a loss as to why a state would need to pass a law explicitly allowing charter schools. It seems to me they should be allowed unless there is a law specifically prohibiting them. But I digress. (That "freedom thing" is a whole other argument.)

So that's the good news. The bad news is that, once again, this is being pushed at the national level. Once Washington takes an interest in something, that interest grows. It's "solutions" exacerbate problems and create new ones, which are then used to justify the need for more control.

It wasn't that long ago (1979) that there was no Department of Education. As late as 1996, the Republican Party remained officially committed to its abolition:
Our formula is as simple as it is sweeping: the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the work place. That is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.
Today, the existence of the Department of Education is unremarkable, and the notion that Washington should be dictating education policy is accepted and even embraced by both major parties. Unless this trend toward centralization is reversed, we can expect more problems and "solutions" in the future.

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