Local Control Is Overrated

Jul 2, 2015 by

By Marianne Lombardo

From marriage equality, affordable health insurance, and hopefully the coming removal of the Confederate flag to national school desegregation and interracial marriage . . . none of these things would have come about had they been left to local control.

Nobody likes being told what to do. But when local control seeks to maintain the status quo at the expense of the rights and fairness to others, it’s time for the state or nation to step in and do the right thing.

Let’s use this teachable moment in history to ramp up the fight for greater equity in education. Let’s change how we think about education. Let’s evolve from thinking about education as an independent function of local school boards to a national commitment that reflects our common values of equal rights and fairness.

As Barone and DeBray point out, the feds can’t be expected to do everything nor do they do everything – even most things – well. Generally speaking, federal law has stepped in and made a positive difference when a segment of U.S. society was judged as having been denied equal educational opportunity, and when states and municipalities were unable or unwilling to remedy those inequities.

States, though, are the first go-to entity for intervening in low-performing districts. This can include state receivership, achievement school districts, or charter school authorizing. This doesn’t mean that federal, state, or even local governments micromanage schools. It does mean that someone steps in when schools are not able or willing to do what’s best for students.

Why this is so necessary?

1. Local communities resist intervention when it’s clearly needed.

The narrative supporting local control is often based on ill-informed or strategic misinformation.

For example, Ohio lawmakers recently approved the takeover of Youngstown City Schools. Some may remember that Youngstown was once known as “America’s Most Corrupt City.” Last March, Youngstown’s mayor and other local officials were indicted on corruption and bribery charges.

Yet, defenders of local control are crying foul; particularly about potential paths to needed reform.

The local news affiliate states: “[W]hen it comes to state achievement tests, none of the charter schools that have operated in the city have returned better results than the public schools.”

But that’s strategic misinformation. When plotting the performance index that indicates how well students do on state assessments and value-added student learning gains (or graduation rates for high schools that don’t have value-added data), the only “High Achieving” schools (those in the top left quadrant) or “High Quality” schools (those in the top right quadrant that are both high achieving and have high value-added gains) are two selective admission district schools. Four of five “Low Quality” schools – those with both low achievement and low growth in the bottom left quadrant – are district schools. See the chart below.


Also incomplete is what’s happening just miles up the road in Cleveland.

In 2012, Cleveland schools and the Mayor’s Office, in partnership with the Governor’s Office and the State Department of Education, adopted the Cleveland Transformation Plan in an attempt to force change in a long un-performing district. Contentious when put in place, 2014 state data (see below) show that charter schools are over-represented in the “High Achieving” quadrant and the “High Quality” quadrant. While there are far too many charter and district schools with performance index scores below 90 – the 75% mark on the index score range of 0 to 120 – school leaders are working across sectors to improve education for students in the community.

See Related: Massachusetts: A Role Model for School Turnaround

2. Local communities resist giving up resources and power, even when they disproportionally benefit from public goods.

Nearly 2 million American children attend “Private Public schools” – schools where essentially none of the students live in poverty (compared to 51 percent of students nationally). In some communities, one in four white students attend highly socioeconomically segmented schools – schools that typically don’t allow open enrollment.

Not only do these districts have local education groups that raise an additional $1500 per student, they also contract with lobbyists to assure they continue to get a disproportionate amount of state school funding.

See Related: Why Do We Need Signs to Remind us Not to Run Over Other People’s Children?

3. The larger world is smaller.

“Traditions” of local control ignore that students today interact in a much more global world. The internet, the job market, and climate change demand that students understand that they are international citizens.

Some issues transcend district or even state boundaries. Low local and state standards, for example, threaten national preparedness, a national responsibility that even the most ardent “local control” advocates would concede. A group of military leaders supports Common Core because 25 percent of high school graduates don’t have the basic literacy and numeracy skills to pass the military readiness exam. Military leaders see how 50 sets of education standards and assessments have been detrimental to the children of military servicemen and women.

Real change can’t come about when vested interests control the narrative. Just as SCOTUS and an abhorrent act of violence rocked our consciousness, we need states and the federal government to, when necessary, protect against the “tyranny of the majority” and take a stand for doing what’s right for the least among us.

Source: Local Control Is Overrated: How Recent Events Should Inform State and National Action on Education Reform – Education Reform Now

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