Efforts to Reinvent US Education Rate a 'B'
This article is an excerpt from the Hudson Institute's ''Education Reform 1994-1995: A report from the Educational Excellence Network to its Education Policy Committee and the American People.''Skip to next paragraph
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TWO distinct ways of conceiving education reform - two ''paradigms,'' some would say - have emerged in the United States in recent years, and the differences between them are growing sharper (actually a bit too sharp for us). One, commonly termed ''systemic reform,'' operates on the assumption that reform efforts should be led by government and imposed from the top down. Its advocates believe that state (or federal) authorities must set standards not only for student learning, but also for much else, including teacher training, assessment, textbooks, school resources, and ''best practices.'' Though undertaken in pursuit of higher standards and better results, ''systemic reform'' relies on uniform strategies to ensure that inputs everywhere are equal and all schools undertake similar activities. Its mechanism for making this happen, of course, is government resources and bureaucratic regulation. Much of Goals 2000 embodies this paradigm.
The second education reform paradigm welcomes decentralized control, entrepreneurial management, and grass-roots initiatives, within a framework of publicly defined standards of accountability. Under this approach, public officials establish standards, make assessments, and hold schools accountable for meeting performance goals, but do not themselves run the schools. Public officials also retain the power to cancel charters and school-management contracts on grounds of persistently poor performance, but they do not directly supervise or control the means by which schools pursue those ends. We think of this as ''reinventing'' public education because in this approach schools may be run by diverse providers, not just by government agencies, although all providers must continue to be accountable to the public as long as public funds are involved.
Standards and diverse schools
In this paradigm, education may be delivered through charter schools (chartered by public authorities such as a state, city, or local school district); ''opt out'' schools (as they say in England) that secede from their local education agencies and run themselves with what amounts to a ''block grant'' of funds; ''contract schools'' (in which a performance contract is negotiated between educational managers and a public agency); and choice programs (in which students use scholarships or vouchers to attend the schools of their choice). In all such situations, the continuing responsibility of public authorities is to establish standards for educational and fiscal performance and monitor progress in relation to those standards. (Those who reject this degree of public accountability may, of course, turn to wholly private schools or home schooling.)
The ''reinvention'' paradigm welcomes diverse strategies and dissimilar schools organized and run by various entities (teacher cooperatives, parent associations, private corporations, religious and community-based organizations). It takes for granted that students and families should be free to match themselves to the schools that suit them best. It requires little bureaucracy because it rejects the proposition that schools must be centrally managed according to a single formula.