What is ‘local control’ in public education really about?

How would an authentically child-centered view of public education define “local control,” in regard to actually running a public school? Does it mean state-level control, district-level control, or school-level control? According to a new study, shifting power from the state and districts to schools is where a child-centered philosophy of education should be headed.

The study, published by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education (a part of the Teachers College at Columbia University), found that students in “charter schools with higher autonomy from the district in terms of financial budget, academic program, and hiring decisions” read at a grade level higher than similar traditional public school students after three years. Interestingly, this was not the case when traditional public schools were compared to charter schools generally, confirming the common-sense conclusion that good charter schools can only exist with good charter school policy, which gives them real freedom from district authority.

This study raises the question of whether similar improvements in education might occur generally if all public schools – both traditional and charter – had real autonomy from school districts and the state over budgets, academics, and/or hiring decisions. Legislation intended to bring about just this kind of authentic local control in public education budgeting was introduced in the recently concluded legislative session. But based on comments made during public debate on the bill, it was opposed by a significant number of public education administrators.

So why do those charged with administering public schools in Utah favor maintaining the status quo, rather than pursuing policy reforms that hold the potential to improve education for children? Is their philosophy of public education really centered on children first and foremost, or are they too involved in the current power structure to truly focus on a “child-centered perspective”?

Certainly, this one piece of legislation provides no definitive answer, but it does point in a clear direction.

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  • jotab

    One must remember that correlation doesn’t imply causation. Is it the budgeting that is the cause of the higher reading scores or is it because the students who are in this school have more involved parents to begin with and therefore are given more at home?

    • Derek H Monson

      The researchers used statistical methods to try and control for such factors. If you look through the study (follow the “study” link in my post), I think you will gain insight on your question.

  • http://twitter.com/adisonsays Adison

    What was the bill that was introduced, and what were the objections to it?

    • Derek Monson

      The “Legislation” link in my post will show you the bill, and the links under “committee hearing/floor debate” at the link below will let you listen to the arguments for and against the bill.


      • http://twitter.com/adisonsays Adison

        Thank you. This will help me.

  • Aleta AndersenTaylor

    Local control does mean parents, teachers and child right at the level of the classroom. When one of my children began to fall behind and I found that jumping through all the hoops for all the other teacher’s wasn’t allowing the time I needed, after school and in the evenings to give the special catch up attention that this child needed, I brought her and her younger sister home for a year of home schooling in order to focus on their needs in a fun and stimulating way.
    I began with a study of the curriculum that they would have been taught, then set out to make it more personal. We read volumes and wrote extensively of their experiences on field trips and research missions. We studied languages and music theory, math through practical games and mysteries. We memorized poetry and studied the lives of great woman. We took long bike rides and played tennis. We thoroughly enjoyed the year. And when their siblings got home from school I was able to focus on their needs while the girls went right to personal projects or play. The Girls still talk about the year they had me all to themselves. And they returned to school the next year with their self esteem vibrantly renewed and with a fresh eagerness to learn and participate with their peers. We can’t always stay home with our children, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a tremendous part to play in their education.
    The home is about as local as it gets. Charter schools that value parental input in classrooms, coupled with parent volunteer hours in their schools, tend to bring that accountability and loving input right to the children in ways that successfully correlate core skills with the child’s actual interests. These schools are actually capable of being improved by welcoming input from the individual family cultures of their students. Is it any wonder that more capable and thoughtful students result when parents are also consistently engaged in the learning process?
    My father, who was a college professor and true life time scholar, sometimes found occasion to remind my teachers, that he would not allow school to get in the way of my genuine education. I share his holistic, parental guidance friendly, approach to learning, and welcome well thought out efforts to support genuine local control in education. Utah Aleta

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