American Educator Magazine: Local Control Led to Educational Inequality

Local control is bad, horrible, no good if you were to listen to the arguments being made by William Schmidt and Nathan Burroughs in their article in the Spring 2013 edition of American Educator which is a publication of American Federation of Teachers.  They promote the standard talking points – “it resembles the standards of high-achieving countries and exhibit the key features of coherence, rigor and focus.”  Schmidt and Burroughs go beyond being cheerleaders to demonizing the concept of local control of curriculum, as they note it is a barrier to the successful implementation of the Common Core Math Standards.

The first and most evident risk to the CCSS-M’s realization is that they directly challenge the long-standing tradition of local control of the curriculum in American education – a structure that is itself one of the major factors related to educational inequality.  Since their inception, each of the more than 15,000 local school districts has enjoyed wide latitude in curricular decision making.  Incursions by other levels of government on local autonomy with respect to the curriculum, most especially by the federal government, usually have been met with skepticism at best and hostility at worst.  Some quarters perceive the new standards as a transgression by the federal government against localism, as a “takeover” of education by national authorities.  Even the recognition that the Common Core is a state-led initiative has not appeased all critics, in part because many state-led reform efforts also have aroused considerable opposition.

To some extent, the CCSS-M do not break with precedent: after all, every state has educational standards laying out (with varying specificity) expectations for grade-level content coverage.  But these standards have not typically been realized.  Far too many states seemed to think that adopting standards and buying loosely aligned tests were all that was needed to join the standards-based reform movement.  If the CCSS-M are treated the same way, then we can expect them to have little impact on either student achievement or inequality.

The Common Core does remove responsibility for one piece of educational policy from local school districts.  If the CCSS-M were fully implemented, school districts would no longer be responsible for deciding what mathematics topics would be taught to students each year.  However, it must be made clear that leaving curricular decision making up to local school districts is a major contributor to educational inequality.  As it stands now, students’ chances to learn challenging content depend on whether they are lucky enough to attend a school that provides it.  If effect, a defense of localism in questions about content amounts to a defense of inequality in opportunity to learn.

Since we’re all a bunch of rubes we better leave it to the feds to determine our curriculum.  We don’t want to to promote inequality now do we?  Oh excuse me, not the feds… this is “state-led,” silly me.  If only they could put all local control to rest, then education is sure to improve, right?