The advantage of letting local schools design their own programs has been recognized politically at the state level and in some big cities. In Texas, "site-based management" is required for all public schools. Restoring broad-based community support for local schools is the goal of the legislation, through what some call "collaborative partnership," among schools and other administrative groups.
The result, says Kenneth Craycraft, dean of the College of Education at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, is that "PTO membership increased, the fund-raising projects were successful, and community partners were made to feel welcomed when visiting the school. There was never a shortage of volunteers for special events."
He served on a site-based committee at his son's elementary school for two years. "The community input added a different perspective when dealing with school issues," he adds.
This input, Mr. Craycraft says, has "heightened the awareness of the monumental challenges teachers face on a daily basis. While somewhat premature, there are indications that through their volunteer work with children, some individuals are learning an important basic fact - virtually everyone can learn, but it takes special skills to be a successful teacher."
Last month in the Cleveland school district, the district and the Cleveland teachers' union reached a three-year contract after six months of negotiations that narrowly avoided the district's third strike in 17 years.
The contract involves an unusual feature: the creation of "transformation schools."
This decentralized system empowers teachers by letting them design the academic plan for their own school - and holds them accountable for student performance under that plan. The aim is to make classroom teachers academic leaders with a voice in matters ranging from curriculum to budgetary decisions.
Although this agreement in Cleveland is new, many feel it institutionalizes a long-established fact. As Craycraft puts it, "Exemplary schools throughout this nation have been involved in promoting community involvement and participation for years."