Education system doesn’t need more strings attached

Filed under: Opinion | Tags:,

A continuing debate in Colorado Springs, throughout the state and indeed throughout the country concerns public education.

How should it be funded, structured and delivered? Who should call the shots — local school boards, state legislators, or federal agencies?

Should state and federal money be sent to local schools and school districts according to simple, transparent formulae, or should the process be complex, labyrinthine and exclusionary?

Should there be rigorously defined national educational standards, backed by multiple standardized tests? Should teachers be judged and compensated by what their students have learned, as measured by testing protocols?

The Obama administration has announced a $4.3 billion program, optimistically titled “The Race to the Top.” To be eligible, states have to jump through multiple hoops and convince federal bureaucrats that they are, as the New York Times reported earlier this week, “fostering innovation, improving achievement, raising standards, recruiting effective teachers, turning around failed schools and building data systems.”

That’s fine, we suppose. It’s hard to imagine that any state would tell the feds that it was stifling innovation, lowering standards, hiring unqualified teachers, letting failed schools continue to fail and refusing to improve data systems.

What Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants is pretty obvious. The text of the proposed rules lays out a series of federal mandates.

Many of Duncan’s proposals seem eminently reasonable. The rules require “that to be eligible under this program, a state must not have any legal, statutory or regulatory barriers to linking student achievement or student growth data to teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation.”

That rule, obviously aimed at California regulations which are strongly supported by teachers’ unions, has much to recommend it.

But it has one flaw — it’s a federal mandate.

This newspaper has always supported local control of schools. It seems to us that local school boards, elected by district residents, are best qualified to make decisions about their schools.

Like the Bush Administration’s much-vaunted “No Child Left Behind” legislation, Obama’s new grant program will have two absolutely certain results.

It will create employment for yet more bureaucrats at the state and local levels, who will be charged with applying for, administering, and complying with the terms and conditions of the grants.

It will create even more incentives for teachers to “teach to the test,” since their jobs will depend upon the results.

The inherent structure of such programs, whether at the state or federal level, has more to do with the bureaucratic bias toward testing than with sound educational practice.

State and federal aid should have few strings attached. Local control might be distasteful to educational theorists who would like to run things from afar, but it served this nation well for many generations.