Posted by: Magistra | May 26, 2006

Who’s In Control?

A few weeks ago a prof asked us to think about who (the feds, state, or local decision makers) we want controlling various aspects of schools (curriculum, access/equity, and funding). I think it's an interesting question, worth fleshing out a bit.

Curriculum:    Fed – 10%    State – 50%    Local – 40%
I like the idea that at the state level California comes up with ideas of what it means to take a class in "United States History" or "Biology." I think the federal government has a role to play in highlighting certain areas and encouraging development (think what Kennedy's pledge to reach the moon did in the 1960's), but I think there is more than one way to design an effective education. There's more than 50 ways too, but having guidelines at the state level makes it a little easier to move around and makes it possible to compare apples to apples (and replicate good ideas), at least within a state. At the same time, I think the implementation of those state standards can only be effectively done at the local level. The teacher in the classroom is in the best position to know how to get each student to master the curriculum. Sometimes, that may include adding additional concepts not included in the state standards.

Access/Equity:    Fed – 60%    State – 30%    Local – 10%
I think US history shows us that local decision makers have seldom tried to expand access; rather, they often seem to be at the forefront of limiting access and decreasing equity (perhaps most dramatically in the education world by maintaining "separate but equal" schools until forced to do otherwise). Therefore, I think the federal government, often through court decisions, has a very important role to play ensuring that all students have access to an equitable education. However, I am skeptical of any centralized government that does not allow for the possibility of local input. That's why I do not want the federal government making 100% of the decisions. Also, one thing the debates about gay marriage have shown is that sometimes, general history aside, it is local and state governments that expand ideas of civil rights.

Funding:    Fed – 20%    State – 50%    Local – 30%
People who control the purse strings, want to control the content. Much as I may want to equalize spending so that a student in Beverly Hills isn't worth more than a student in East Oakland, if I don't want the feds to have greater impact, it's not reasonable to replace all local spending (based on that unequal property tax base) with federal spending. However, since the one area where I want increased federal control is access/equity, and that area requires more funding than others (think about the remodeling needed to bring old buildings up to code, the additional resources needed for students with disabilities, the resources needed to make content accessible to English language learners, etc.), I think it is reasonable to ask the federal government to increase its financial support for education. And because I do think it is important we limit the effect geography has on education quality, I decreased reliance on local spending, leaving state spending essentially at current levels.

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