Sunday, September 9, 2007

Diffusion of Authority

"A distinguishing characteristic of our nation — and a great strength
— is the development of our institutions within the concept of
individual worth and dignity. Our schools are among the guardians of that principle. Consequently . . . and deliberately their control and
support throughout our history have been — and are — a state and
local responsibility. . . . Thus was established a fundamental
element of the American public school system — local direction by
boards of education responsible immediately to the parents of
children. Diffusion of authority among tens of thousands of school
districts is a safeguard against centralized control and abuse of the
educational system that must be maintained. We believe that to take
away the responsibility of communities and states in educating our
children is to undermine not only a basic element of our freedoms but
a basic right of our citizens. "

~ President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Was Ike right or are his ideas outmoded?


Renegaducator said...

Ike's comment is interesting in light of the traditional view of conservatism (to which I feel Ike subscribed) versus today's strongly centralized "conservatism", the current flavor.

I think Ike is rolling in his grave at what is passing for conservatism these days. For comparison to today's American education (with special regard to "No Child Left Behind"), look no farther than Bonaparte's France, or Soviet Russia. Centralized education.

Local control and home rule remain important to delivering a vital education to all students.

By the way, I just found this blog, and I'm really happy it's here. I'll be joining in regularly, I hope.

George Crawford said...

Local control is essential in education. Schools should reflect the community that they are in. I also agree that there should be state standards or goals for education. They help equalize education across a stae but local schools should be given freedom to meet them in their own way using the local resources and ideas. Another term in education that bothers me is "best practices." I feel that what may work in one school system or school as an instructional method or technique may not work in another. "Better Practices" may be a more acceptable term. It at leasr leaves you some freedom to choose if the "best or better practice" is something that you can use.

Ed Latham said...

I can see the the advantages that local control can offer, just like I can see the advantages television could have offered. Television offered different broadcasting agencies the liberty to decide what was important, what was educational, what was newsworthy, and most of all what goals each broadcasting agencies strived for. I see local school boards in much the same capacity. The difference of course is that television is a business and poor decisions resulted in lower ratings and therefor less money. The product was measured in some way so that those smaller, less business savvy companies died out and went away even if their content was much better than the other stations. Don't we see much of the same with local control? Again I can point to a difference in that television studios bought up less successful ones to use their resources to better their station. Schools can not do that, or maybe they can. The recent push for consolidation may be aimed at pooling resources of smaller, possibly less successful schools into larger, presumably "better" schools.

We spend a good chunk of our monies on education and still seem to be searching for our "Nielson Rating" tool. Most could agree we have not found those tools yet because our "product" is not so easy to gauge. Are there aspects of the television system that could be applied to education? Think about that. Most of us reading this stuff had to graduate from some system and we have talked with others to share the good and bads of other people's systems. Every year more data is thrown into that pool of public experience and opinion, but who is tabulating that. Sure a student may go back to his or her local school and say "I was not prepared in Algebra enough as I was forced to take remedial courses in college." But, who is this reported to? It is reported to the same institution that needs to institute the change. That is like reporting a crime to the criminal advising what went wrong with the latest heist. The hope is that good meaning people in the system will share the concerns with those best in positions to adapt and change. Reality is that very few teachers k-12 get organized feedback from students. A teacher may hear a comment if it is positive, but unless there are large numbers of students sharing a negative view, no one other than maybe the guidance counselor may hear it. So, maybe we do have some agency out there working to help guide local control agencies, (many of whom have not stepped foot in a classroom in some time). If we don't want to loose the local control we so value, local agencies have to start looking at sincere efforts to adapt to different forms of feedback. To rely on state tests to determine if a school has meet annual yearly progress is like looking into your aquarium and saying "Well I see bubbles so my fish must still be alive in there somewhere." Do school board or other agencies get former students coming in or submitting formal review sheets 4-6 years after graduation? Think of the input these students could offer, especially if anyone is running some statistical data collection during the process!

People complain that education does not have a product that is easy to evaluate and yet we all have opinions about our own experiences in school. Maybe my opinion about Wisdom High School may not be relevant now as I was there 20 years ago, but if I was asked say 16 years ago, I would have had some very relevant good and bad points for someone to hear. We have our Neilson Ratings System out there folks, but are we collecting that data and using it? If you are part of a local control agency that formally and actively collects data from former students, please share your experiences here on the blog so that others may learn from your insight! We want to know how feedback from former students helps form local policy, if at all.

George Crawford said...

Ed's point about feedback is important. We need to get feedback from students that graduate from high school to see how well our school system is working. Elementary schools also need feedback from middle schools and high schools. It gives schools am idea of what has worked for students and what has not over the years. It also gives us feedback beyond test scores and college enrollment rates.

Antedotal evidence is helpful for us to change schools. Some students we meet their needs well and other students we do not meet their needs well. It helps schools to change and grow. We as teachers have meet students later on and have seen how successful they have become or maybe that they heaven't gone as far as we would have liked. Using this information for school improvement is a valuable resource. It would be interesting to find out if there is a scientific or statistical way to measure it. We also should use some of the antedotal evidence if it is specific.