Report cautions against education policies that undermine local control

As Michigan policymakers debate shifting control of schools away from local communities and into the hands of state bureaucrats, a recently released national report shows how over-centralization can hurt students and communities. 

While the actual delivery of educational services continues to happen at the local level — at least for now, anyway — power is increasingly being transferred to state and national entities. When it comes to discussions of education policy, the concept of local control “has all but disappeared,” according to report authors Kenneth Howe and David Meens of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In their report, Howe and Meens say education policy is more nationalized now than ever before, thanks to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which Howe and Meens contend is fundamentally anti-democratic. So-called “reform” approaches that evolve from NCLB only serve to further marginalize local communities, according to Howe and Meens.

“Democratic reform should involve local stakeholders, especially marginalized members of society, because inclusion is a democratic value that increases not only the likelihood that policies will be just, but also the likelihood that reform will succeed,” Howe and Meens write in the report. “Such inclusion also helps create the conditions in which all students can attain the democratic threshold.”

Howe and Meens suggest three steps that policymakers can take to right the ship: 

  1. Move away from a punitive model based on threats to withhold funding, and replace it with a participatory model that provides support and incentives for school employees, parents and community members to collaborate together to resolve educational problems.
  2. Encourage states and local communities to adopt curriculum standards “that include a conscious and substantive focus on developing the deliberative skill and dispositions required of democratic citizenship.”
  3. Curtail the privatization of public education resources. Instead, build up democratic values by holding schools receiving public funds accountable to the public through democratically elected school boards and other democratic institutions.

The report was produced by the National Education Policy Center housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice,

Read Howe and Meens’ full report.