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Experts Call for Local Control and the Reform of Public School Governance
posted by: Ruthie | March 22, 2013, 08:11 PM   

This morning, AAE staff had the pleasure of attending the Center for American Progress' panel discussion, "What Ails the Governance of Public Education, and What Can Be done to Cure it?" The panelist included Cynthia G Brown, vice president for education at the Center for American Progress, Checker E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B Fordham Institute, Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, Nelson Smith, a senior advisor at the National Association of Public Charter Schools.

The panel addressed the need for overhauling the governance of public schools. While many education reform efforts are successful, they do not solve the main roadblock to effective education, which is dysfunctional government and structures. Panelists argued that the education reform discussion focuses on evaluations, accountability, and test scores; however, it sidelines the very important question of governance, defined as the processes of formal institutions and people wielding processes that effect operation of schools. All agreed that the current governance system serves adults, not children, and is desperately in need of an overhaul.

The panelists theorized that the solution to public governance is provincial oversight, instead of federal control. While this may seem radical, it has already proven to be successful in many states. Panelists Neerav Kingsland spoke at length about the enormous success of New Schools New Orleans, as well as several charter school models in Tennessee and Michigan which operate under models of local control and innovation.

In need of extensive reforms before and after Hurricane Katrina, over 85%of public schools in New Orleans were transformed into public charter schools. New Orleans quickly became the only city in the country where educators operate schools, where parents choose their child's school, and where local government has a regulatory function. Kingsland argued that while this method initially caused some confusion, after implementation the achievement gap was cut by 70% and college readiness increased exponentially.

Similarly in Tennessee, 85 low-performing schools were regulated to achievement districts, where an achievement advisory council of community based volunteers "respectfully discussed raising school success," as Kingsland described. In Michigan, a similar process occurred, as 15 schools were taken under local board review, three of which were chartered.

In addition to local educators and parents, the panelist argued for mayoral governance of public education systems. In New York and Massachusetts's urban district this system is proving very effective. A 1999-2011 study of mayoral controlled schools showed that when held accountable, mayors effectively and creatively manage resources.

The panel concluded by arguing for the expansion of charter models such as New Schools, KIPP, and Rocket Ship, as well as a cultural shift from federal control to more local governance.

The panel also unveiled the book, Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform published by the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institute, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

What do you think about local control?

Comment below.

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