Education & Autonomy


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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98 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie says:


    One thing I try to stress to people is how counterproductive it is when they speak of both eliminating bureaucracy and increasing accountability. Those are contradictory goals; the bureaucracy that people constantly complain about as constraining on educators is in fact the system of standardized markers of educational achievement like state-wide tests. Part of the reason private schools enjoy far more flexibility in pedagogy is precisely because they are not required to demonstrate student improvement in any kind of standardized way.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Freddie says:

      Absolutely. And I’ve had generally harsh things to say about standardized tests, which I think ignore so many fundamental aspects of education – and invariably leave behind many students who simply aren’t test-takers.Report

      • At a certain point though, aren’t all tests ‘standardized’? I don’t remember any of my classmates getting special tests tailored to their own unique skillset when I was in college. We all took the same tests. Employment is roughly the same.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I think the usefulness of standardized tests depends on what information you’re trying to get. The tests shouldn’t be used as the primary measurement of how well a teacher or a school is doing, but they should set a bottom line: if students aren’t passing basic math and reading comprehension tests for their grade level, it’s a red flag that something is wrong and they aren’t learning basic skills. If they are passing, whether they’re passing with 70% or 90% can’t by itself tell you the success of the teacher or school.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Katherine says:

          Tests can certainly be used to some degree to see how schools are performing. In Finland schools voluntarily use them to see how well they are doing in comparison to other schools.Report

        • Avatar Kyle in reply to Katherine says:

          One of the accomplishments of NCLB was to get an accurate picture of the nation’s achievement gap, prior to that minorities weren’t tested nor identified as subgroups and it masked the scope of a rather sizeable injustice in this nation. (one of the reasons the NAACP joined ED when Connecticut sued to get out of the testing requirements)

          Also, national standardized test assessments (like the NAEP) are a solid way to take an educational snapshot, if you will. Without which, we’d have anecdotal/common-sense evidence that schools in Mississippi are terrible but no idea how they compare to schools in other states.

          I think people justifiably and correctly don’t think standardized tests should be taken as bottom line evaluations of students, teachers, schools, even funding. Where this relates to other problems with education in this country is that there are no silver bullets.

          Testing/not testing, Centralization/Localism, Creationism/Evolution – you won’t find an industry or public good so prone/victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences as public education.Report

  2. Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

    It’s arguable that this is true of higher education as well. True, most institutions are private these days, and even “state schools” tend to get a pretty small percentage of their budget from state governments, but federal money, in the form of both research grants and student loans, is, I would argue, the administrative equivalent of crack. Institutional demand for funds has increased to meet the availability of funds, and the cost of tuition has gone up accordingly, far outpacing inflation.

    True, the consequences are different than for primary and secondary education, as institutions of higher learning tend not to be subjec to many demands in terms of quality or results (whether or not they ought to be is an entirely different question). But I think the impact that all this federal money has had upon the higher educational system is all too obvious. My monthly student loan repayment check is more than enough evidence for that.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    We need to invest in education. Period. Federal dollars work for that; if that’s the path of least resistance to keep the system(s) off life-support, fine with me. Localities will still set the curricula with state guidance and very loose federal input, I promise. That is all.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Michael Drew says:

      You’re assuming that federal dollars will be added to local dollars, when in fact they may simply replace them. Then the question must become – when local dollars are replaced by federal dollars, what are they spent on?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Yeah, this is something that I really suspect happened with the lottery funds.

        The money that went to education was not given on top of the money that the state gave to the schools, but instead of… which means that your “donation” for the scratch ticket or powerball daydream fee or whatever is not, in fact, helping the schools but helping the governor’s brother-in-law’s Escalade fund or what have you.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Do you think it would work better for the federal government to say they’re going to pay a certain percentage of the costs for the schools they’re funding, rather than a flat amount?Report

    • The thing is that the evidence doesn’t support that conclusion. Federal dollars come with strings attached, strings that involve giving up local control over curricula, teaching methods, and (most frequently) educational priorities. Federal dollars are not given as blanket grants for ill-defined “education.” They are given as grants for specific subjects and often with specific goals in mind. So in the case of NCLB, you wind up with huge decreases in time spent on subjects other than reading and writing not only in order to comply with new testing mandates, but also to capture additional federal funds.

      Moreover, it seems worth noting that overall, per pupil spending in the United States is among the highest in the world, and has more than doubled in real terms since the 1970s (and increased about 30% just between 1994-95 and 2004-2005). Yet, to the extent we want to talk about measurable results, we’ve seen little/no improvement even as creeping federalization creates more emphasis on measurable results (ie, standardized testing). This means that simply throwing more money at the education system is not the solution.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          So you’re okay with a declining investment in education as time goes on then? Otherwise this piece should be written as an exhortation to states to maintain their spending, not an attack on federal money, which certainly could come with fewer strings attached if the ‘accountability’ movement (which was always a smokescreen for resisting aid until Bush co-opted it to get NCLB) could be marginalized in our politics.

          Spend on education! Spend federal dollars! Spend them with strings attached! Spend them with no strings attached! Spend until the numbers go up! Keep spending even if they don’t! Make some of the dollars available to be applied to qualifying private school tuition! But spend! Pay teachers a salary that sends the message we expect excellence from them, then make them accountable for it! Or dont! But spend on education! Otherwise it’ll just get spent on fighter jets etc. Spend on education at the federal level without strings attached, because it’s an investment that only makes us a richer nation in the long run. Throw enough money at the problem and eventually we’ll figure out what works in raising test scores — if we continue to care about test scores. Or we could go a different direction in terms of assessment. But that doesn’t militate against keeping the system funded, and getting it well-funded. (Median spending is irrelevant — our scores lag because of the yawning disparities in funding across districts, with those serving the populations in need of the most resources receiving the least!) If we keep education chronically underfunded we will never advance beyond a system that is just trying to figure out how to keep kids in desks year after year. We didn’t go to the moon by making NASA do more with less. We won’t get a world-class education system that way either.

          Keep spending.Report

          • But that’s just it – there’s no evidence whatsoever that overall our education system is underfunded. There is, however, lots of evidence that the structure of our funding is creating problems. If we keep throwing more money at the problem and keep getting no return on the investment, then it would seem that continuing to throw even more money at the problem does more harm than good since money is a scarce resource.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              Well, whether education here is underfunded not a simple emprircal question that has a factual answer. It is a question of priorities and values, so that it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to resolution via evidence. If you and I both shared the same values and methodology and metrics to make the determination we might agree that certain evidence clearly supports that judgement, but there is no reason any of those conditions must apply. I could say that our total educational investment is five times too small and you could say it is five times too large, and neither of us could necessarily be proven wrong.

              With arguments you are making, money certainly will become an increasingly scarce commodity in education in many places. that is true. It is most definitely already experienced as scarce by most large- and medium-sized city and rural school districts. In my view, it is when we stop making educators scramble for every available dollar in order to meet the need faced by their students that the freedom that allows innovation can start. As long as educational administrators are trained like rats to do exactly and only what is necessary to secure minimal necessary funding for their total educational job, education approaches will remain entirely static nondynamic. We must allow the freedom to fail securely or else risks will not be taken. The type-A’s who need the negative reinforcement of no net under them should they fail to restrain them from taking insane risks that threaten our very civilization are not the same people that go into education and educational administration. In my experience, those people are security-oriented, risk-averse people who need to be provided a secure context in which to take risks. I realize you have a different view with regard to the role of scarcity and competition in driving performance and innovation. In most areas of endeavor I agree with your view, but the area of education, based on my limited experience in it other than as a student, is a qualitiatively different environment, one that has a very different overall purpose than most parts of the private sector.

              I do agree that most likely the total education pie as it currently stands would probably be sufficient to do the job if it were distributed equitably. But it is not. And as long as local funding is preserved, there is no mechanism for the redistribution to occur. The number one or two concern of affluent parents in making decisions about where to live is school quality. This self-sorting reality provides inexorable pressure that increases the disparity and nearly guarantees that the politics will never sort itself out to an equitable arrangement without intervention at higher levels of organization. Well funded districts, entirely honorably, would never consent to a reduction in their funding used to benefit less well-funded districts, and they shouldn’t be blamed for this. They are only acting in the interests of their students. This leaves as the only option for higher levels of government to help redress the disparity direct supplements to less-well-funded districts. Many states engage in this to their credit, but as has been pointed out, their ability to do so is greatly affected by economic conditions over time and across states. There is no reason for the federal government not to backstop and enhance these supplements in my view — with as few strings attached as the politics will allow. I’m pretty sure most Democrats would be perfectly fine with greater federal block grants for education to states with fewer strings attached than there are now. It is Republicans and conservatives (you are neither I realize), who aren’t in favor of such supplements to begin with, who insist on the strings.Report

  4. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    I’d be much more willing to buy into this and other decentralization ideas if states weren’t hamstrung by the inability to deficit-spend. If we want states to perform more of the functions of government, they have to have the tools to do so, and right now they simply don’t.Report

    • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Dan Miller says:

      If Federal taxes were lower, local taxes could be increased.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Dan Miller says:

      Localism has some dangerous drawbacks; creationism in the classroom being a prime example.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to zic says:

        How long can creationism be taught in a particular school district before the district is discredited? How long would parents allow their kids to be shut out from secular higher education. This would self correct itself.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Cascadian says:

          Well since creationism has been increasing taught in schools and Texas has been pushing to add it to their textbooks I don’t think that is true. One unfortunate part of our system is that everybody uses textbooks from the biggest market, Texas. So what they put in their books everybody else has to cope with. they are alos putting a deliberate political spin on some of their curriculum, taking out Thrugood Marshall and putting in Newt Gingrich.

          It is a screwy part of our ed. where a desire for localism is squelched by the power of the market.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to greginak says:

            My comments below aside, this is a good and true point – one which, by the way, is equally true of California, which imposes its own brand of political correctness on things.

            Then again, it’s also worth noting that California and Texas are, IIRC, two of the more centralized educational bureacracies, particularly with regard to their statewide selection of textbooks; I may be wrong here, but IIRC, most states allow for much greater leeway in local selection of textbooks.

            Still, this is an important reminder that decentralizing only to the state level leaves a lot of problems, particularly in light of the fact that two states so completely dominate the education market, meaning that those two states in effect dictate national educational policy in a number of arenas.Report

          • “One unfortunate part of our system is that everybody uses textbooks from the biggest market, Texas. So what they put in their books everybody else has to cope with.”

            All the more reason why a national curriculum makes more sense.Report

        • Not only that, but it would also get killed by the courts pretty swiftly on church/state grounds.

          Now, if a handful of school districts just decide to not teach evolution…honestly, so what? It’s not as if there is a shortage of other things that can be taught in that time period that are as worthwhile as teaching about evolution. In other words, I’m not sure why I should care if someone in Kansas isn’t taught evolution, especially when they’re highly unlikely to wind up with a career in the sciences anyhow.Report

          • It’s also effectively quarantined, and much less likely to spread into the wider national curriculum.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            Well evolution is the basic building block to all biological sciences. If you don’t know that , then you don’t have a good education.Report

            • Avatar Cascadian in reply to greginak says:

              That would be something for the voters in that particular location to figure out. While other districts could figure out how to actually improve their educational systems. There is real value to the laboratory view of government. Kansas couldn’t actually keep their out dated notions and people could look to proven models to improve their own districts.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to greginak says:

              I guess my point is that in a given area/region, the biological sciences may not be a terribly important part of a good education. Certainly, I don’t think it is my right to dictate to someone in a distant part of the country what makes up a good education…I’ll just keep in mind that what passes for a good education in those parts is not something I would ever want to impose upon my own child, so I’ll make sure not to move there.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                i get the localism argument. But at some point that does get in the way of having all citizens have a strong basic education. If every district can throw out any basic tenet of science they don’t like, then that will hamstring any desire to have young people educated.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to greginak says:

                I’d much rather focus on creating the best education here rather than worry and expend energy on ensuring someone else isn’t screwing up. They’ll figure it out eventually. I’m of the “give them more rope” philosophy. It works better than forcing someone to see the truth.Report

            • Avatar Katherine in reply to greginak says:

              I’m a biology major and I don’t think it’s the foundation. High school biology mainly involves learning about cells (contents, functions, replication), genetics, human physiology, and plant and animal life cycles and diversity. All of this can be understood without evolution; if university curricula were set up differently, a person could be a perfectly competent doctor or veterinarian without any knowledge of evolution.

              Biology is probably the best example of an area where some diversity is needed in curricula. I learned quite a lot of marine biology in my high school, as I live on the west coast; kids in Kansas might be better served by learning something else.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Katherine says:

                Oh there are perfectly competent doctors who don’t believe in evolution. It is possible to learn a trade without believing all the underlying tenets of a field. That said I cannot see how a person can understand the life sciences without evolution.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Katherine says:

                Parochialism like this, “I learned quite a lot of marine biology in my high school, as I live on the west coast; kids in Kansas might be better served by learning something else,” is intolerable.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Bob says:

                It works for me.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Bob says:

                Why is this intolerable? It seems likely to me that the set of skills that are useful to succeeding in Kansas are not necessarily the same as the set of skills that are useful to succeeding on the West Coast, and certainly not in the same ratios.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                “Why is this intolerable?”

                1. Because Kansas has porous borders and quite a few yokels escape.

                2. Because what happens in the marine environment affect Kansas, see 1. porous borders.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Bob says:

                “1. Because Kansas has porous borders and quite a few yokels escape.”

                We’ve got to find a solution to that. One Republican Governor suggested building a ply-wood wall around Oregon, but was afraid it would become a tourist atraction. Still, there’s got to be some way.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Bob says:

                Yes but I’m sure kids from Kansas public schools have a better understanding of farming methods and agricultural science as compared to the emphasis on marine biology and earthquakes I got in California. I don’t know how to weigh that but I’m willing to bet more Kansans use that knowledge and more Californians work with marine life. Moreover, it’s not exactly as though not learning something in high school forever closes off your mind or job opportunities.

                There are many things about public schools that are intolerable. I tend to think they’re things like 30 kids dying per year in Chicago public schools, or facilities with sanitation/toxicity issues, or not teaching kids how to read.

                That Kansas should have the temerity to selectively teach or not teach controversial science isn’t very high on that list. If mostly because the wind isn’t exactly blowing that way. Controversial changes to science curriculum are shockingly unpopular in this country, even in the heartland. Doesn’t mean they don’t happen but by the same token there are plenty of people taught evolution who don’t believe it and people taught creationism who think Jurassic Park is more believable. So really…not so worried.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Bob says:

                Kyle, I will not speak to the education you received in California, but as a long time teacher in Kansas schools I can tell you that agriculture sciences play little part in the curriculum. Agriculture as a percent of economy activity has not only decreased nation wide but also in Kansas.

                When I go to town I’m the only one still chewing on a bit of wheat.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Bob says:

                Kyle, let me add, students in Kansas get a bigger dose of plate tectonics and ocean currents than the merits of winter wheat or the fine points of egg production.Report

              • Mark,

                Isn’t that what college and vocational training is for? To that end, even the first two years of college curriculum is supposed to be pretty inter-changeable from institution to institution. It’s only in the 3rd and 4th years that specialization really comes into play.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                Kyle, winning a bet I was not party to is of no importance. What I find distasteful is the original comment by Katherine. Let’s assume kids in Kansas get a big dose of ag science and are shortchanged when it comes to evolution or plate tectonics or ocean currents or whatever. Katherine defends such as a matter of local. I really do find that to be provincial thinking and intolerable. America today needs students familiar with broad concepts of science not egg production.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Kyle says:

                But Bob, ultimately, the education that Kansans receive should be up to Kansas. If they decide to teach creationism, it’s for them to deal with the consequences. What’s unacceptable is for me to tell them what to do, or conversely for them to try and limit the education for me and mine.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                Casadian, where have I spoken against the right of the people to determine school curriculum? I’m all in favor of people setting the rule by elections. I will give my point of view and vote for those who best represent those views. Believe me, I’m very use to being on the loosing side.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Kyle says:

                Why do you stay?Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                Why should I leave? I don’t need to win to be content. Do you? I need to be honest as I see bening honest.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Kyle says:

                I don’t need to win. I do need to live in a society that roughly shares my values and is sustainable and healthy for my little one.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                Those are pretty squishy words, but I can tell you Kansas does not define “society” for me.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Kyle says:

                Squishy? Having just emigrated to Canada and reading E.D.’s post on the dollars demise, they give me the warm and fuzzies.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                “values” “sustainable” “healthy”

                Yeah, those words are squishy, open to interpretation.

                Do you think everyone defines those concepts the same in terms of society?Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                But Casadian, you have conveniently sidestepped my question, “where have I spoken against the right of the people to determine school curriculum?”

                I have addressed your questions, please return the courtesy.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Kyle says:

                Definitely not, though I think their are regions within the U.S. that have different answers. That’s why I live in the NW and not the SE. The NW feels like home to me in a way that other regions don’t. Sustainability is less “squishy” either you are or you’re not.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

                My misplaced bet aside, I think Katherine is saying that diversity in scientific teaching and emphasis may (emphasis on might) be a good thing. That it allows localities to emphasize units on science of particular relevance to the community. I was wrong to assume that Kansas might emphasize agricultural science but that doesn’t preclude the idea that it might be better for Houston metro area students to emphasize science as it relates energy or NASA’s work. Or for students in Boston to leverage their proximity to medical institutions and focus on human physiology. I could be reading too much into her statement, but I didn’t find her statement that Kansas students “might be better served by learning something else,” to be particularly parochial, merely cognizant that some students might be better off learning things that are more applicable to their environment, local educational-commercial traditions, etc…

                If I may I’d say we’re all a bit provincial in presuming our post-Enlightenment Western view of science is science. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad just a thought…Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Kyle says:

                To be fare, I can’t point where you’ve claimed otherwise. The thread is complex. There’s a discussion on teaching evolution and it’s relationship to advanced study as well as whether regions should take advantage of their surroundings. Should coastal schools emphasise field trips to tide pools, while mountainous regions devote more time to their own unique aspects. Within all this there has also been talk of funding, testing and national standards/curriculum; that we should all share the burden of each others education and compromise on what that should include. Kansas has a special place in this discussion due to its battle with evolution in its schools. You wrote that it would be unfair if Kansans were short changed on plate tectonics or evolution. But if we agree that it should be a local decision, who is to blame? Kansans are only short changed compared to others that have made better choices.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                Kyle, I think you have a poor understanding of secondary education, particularly secondary science education. Again I will restrict myself to the situation in Kansas.

                To graduate from a high school in Kansas two units of science is required. Other science classes are offered, just as in other areas of the curriculum, French II, Spanish III, etc. But the curriculum is designed to cover the basics and then let students pick electives that interest them. If Huston wants to offer classes beyond basic science that emphasize space science I have no problem with that. But that was not how I read the comment.Report

              • Avatar Katherine in reply to Kyle says:

                At least in terms of ecology/biological diversity it makes sense for students to learn more about their area (just as history classes here include some provincial history). So, more on the animals and plants of a prairie ecosystem than a marine one. If they move to the coasts as adults, they’re quite capable of looking up things on marine life for themselves if they’re interested.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Kyle says:

                Casadian, the thread might be complex, but my entry was here, responding to Katherine. So on this limited portion of the thread I *never* hinted at an anti-democratic position.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                I agree, though I still feel bad for those kids.Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to zic says:

        Oh, my Obama, you mean “God” created the universe?
        That has a history of destroying the minds of our children!Report

  5. Avatar greginak says:

    I’d love to see a good comparison of us and other countries spending. We certainly pay more and don’t seem to be getting the results we should get from that expenditure. I think cultural factors play a big part in our middling educational performance. Anti-intellectualism is rampant in this country. What could fairly be called laziness is also common especially when compared to other countries. I know those on the right love to bash teachers unions, but it isn’t like teachers are paid extravagantly. In many places programs are being cut. Here is Alaska sports and valuable electives like the arts are being cut, yet we still spend a lot.

    I know this is heretical to the right leaning people here, but my guess is part of problem with our huge spending on education is that so much of ed. in this country is local and state based that there is enormous and wasteful duplication of services and bureaucracy.

    Also the local and state basis for education makes any true national reform difficult.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to greginak says:

      It really also depends on where you look in the states. Massachussettes and Kansas both have stellar education performance, right up there with Japan and Finland. D.C. and Utah on the other hand may as well be Eastern Europe.

      The problem with federalizing is that it tends to lower the bar, rather than raise it. So you risk bringing the top performers down to the level, or to a level nearer the lowest performers.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I’m not actually sure things should be federalized. My guess is that some functions probably could be done more simply and cheaper at the federal level, but never will because of the federal government is EVVVILLLL.

        The varying performance of the states is interesting and does put a different spin on this discussion. If we lived in a sensible country we would be having the states that do poorly pick one of the states that do well and try to model themselves after them. I used to read a bit of the Ed Pysch research in grad school, but I am not up on it anymore. My guess is there are probably some good studies on the differences between the “good” states and “bad” states.

        D.C. is a good example of a place that is almost certainly to small for it to make sense for them to have a complete bureaucracy. They should be part of one of the neighboring states, at least for many gov functions.Report

        • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

          “My guess is that some functions probably could be done more simply and cheaper at the federal level, but never will because of the federal government is EVVVILLLL.”

          sure…and also a little thing called federalism but give it another 20 years.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        “D.C. and Utah on the other hand may as well be Eastern Europe.”

        hahaha….new fb status.Report

      • Avatar Stuart Buck in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        No, Utah’s academic performance on NAEP is above the national average. See, e.g.,
        DC’s is rock-bottom.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle says:

    I mean I completely agree but I think there’s something worth mentioning to contribute to the context (and I’m a little surprised Freddie didn’t go into this more) and that’s where the funds are going.

    Which is to say that federal contributions are only 8.3% nationwide but a lot of ED funding/federal funding for schools is tied into Title I and IDEA, so some individual schools and districts rely not only more significantly on federal funding but also have far less ability to cut wasteful spending or increase productivity. While scores in the aggregate don’t exactly show that we’re getting what we’re paying more for, we are doing a much better job at high-poverty schools and in educating the disabled.

    I don’t really know how best to weigh that but I think it’s contextually important.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

      Actually, I shouldn’t say I completely agree. The thing, I’d like to see play out with localism in education is the presence of some uniformity across locales (in a neighbourhood coffee shop and Starbucks way) otherwise, differential public education would have serious effects on labour mobility and stratify/segregate housing patterns more than it already is.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Kyle says:

        Are you arguing for education to be like Starbucks? Starbucks is great if you’re someplace else; but it hardly compares to the really good local places.Report

        • Avatar Kyle in reply to Cascadian says:

          I mean…crudely yes. Not that all education should be like Starbucks but that there should be an educational outlet like Starbucks.

          In the sense that, educational offerings have sizeable effects on housing and relocation. Without standardized educational offerings, stronger localism would, I believe, have an effect on mobility. This isn’t a terribly strange concept. Globally, we see the demand for a service tominimize the impact of moving to different places with DoD schools and American/International schools.

          One of the ideas I’ve been thinking about lately is removing federal funding from state schools and simply creating a national school system to compete with state schools.Report

  7. Avatar Nob Akimoto says:

    This is a subject I’m admittedly a bit fuzzy on (I’ll go bug my friends doing education policy sometime) but on the whole the federal/local split is a bit more than just a pernicious federal government trying to take away local autonomy.

    I disagree with the characterization that this is “theft”. It’s abdication or even passing the buck. Local governments often do a crappy job of raising revenues for their education programs and they do so willingly. States are guilty of this but counties and municipalities are equally so. If they so desired they could choose methods that would increase funding and equalize distribution throughout their state, but because states are loath to shift from property tax based funding per district, they tend to NEED federal dollars as they’re abdicating their responsibility to raise revenues in a reasonable way.

    Same deal with curriculae. The reason the feds had to step in with NCLB (however flawed the legislation may be) was simply because local school boards were failing at their responsibilities. They abdicated, they passed the buck and now they’re complaining about lost autonomy? Please.

    Here’s an idea:
    What if we gave state universities more power to determine curriculums of schools within their respective states?

    Since in-state residents of a particular state get substantial subsidies on their tuition and also receive favored status in admissions, why don’t we put conditions on those subsidies and admissions favors that benefit the university? For example I actually disagree with Texas removing the top 10% rule for UT Austin, and would rather favor them using their leveraging ability over high schools to demand certain changes in curriculum or funding.

    It seems to me, the US does one thing especially well in terms of education: post-secondary. So why don’t we let them determine what needs to go on at the local level?Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      I couldn’t disagree more.

      I live in a state where public universities wield enormous power over curricular changes in secondary education, California, and it’s not pretty. In theory it makes the high schools better but in practice it forces people onto college preparatory tracks that they shouldn’t or wouldn’t be on.

      Basically, the kids who are already on the college track aren’t affected. For kids on track to go to out of state schools or particular post-secondary plans, like say visual and performing arts, it can be detrimental to have to cut out electives that would make you a competitive candidate to focus on college preparatory classes for one college system.

      Kids who aren’t planning on attending college end up taking college prep classes instead of things that might actually be useful for them. Finally, it introduces an entrenched political interest in state educational policy that is focused on getting more students not giving students what they need from K-12 education.

      I don’t see how functionally it’s very different from arguing that businesses should be setting post-secondary educational goals because after college you get a job.

      As for the funding issue, I think there’s far more evidence in “theft corner” than in the “states are welfare queens” corner.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      The welfare queens comment was cheeky, Nob, sorry about that.

      On the funding issue, most states prefer property tax revenue because the wealthy suburbs like them and they have a lot of pull in state governments. Cities however, have had funding issues for decades and consequently prefer more state support, which is often a source of political haggling. Enter two things. 1.) more federal support for impoverished districts/cities and 2.) more lawsuits designed to make school funding equitable.

      #2 screwed California royally and that bias is pretty strong. We’re not talking about states/local school boards/the federal government as if a.) they’re all the same and b.) they’re the only actors.

      As goals, I think raising funding and equalizing it are incredibly difficult goals to achieve in tandem not because the states and local governments don’t want to or are willing to pass the buck but because it’s incredibly hard to get people to fork over money for diffused and often delayed benefit. (see health care reform debate)

      As for curriculum, NCLB sought to make a national educational floor, if you will, and the result was that it significantly damaged the ceiling. So I would join your scorn if it was the failing districts complaining about their lost autonomy but the successful ones are too and that’s a concern (or at least unintended consequence) that should be paid some attention.Report

  8. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    The problem is we already have an unofficially nationalized textbook selection method. It is known as the texas school board. Because textbook printers don’t want to have books that can’t sell in the biggest state market and don’t want to create multiple versions what texas picks influences what many other states pick.

    With actual national curriculam and textbook selection it would prevent a heavily slanted region from deciding for the whole country without the rest of the countries input.Report

    • Yes, but this could be solved by a movement toward more open-source curriculum and textbooks; the collaboration of other states to join up and demand other text books (and increase bargaining power by teaming up); and other means that aren’t nearly so drastic as nationalizing education.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Sign me up for that movement. This is a topic dear to me as I follow creationism flare-ups.

        I do have a concern about local control of education because I doubt most people could name the people on the school board in their local area much less who ran last cycle and what their platforms were.

        This causes me to suspect that we will not get high quality people very often.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    All the discussion here proceeds from the assumption that federal dollars must come with strings that vitiate autonomy. But that’s just a contingent fact of our politics. If we valued education as a country, we could simply burnish local spending with federal dollars with no strings attached. If we valued equity in educational funding, we could structure that aid in a way to mitigate inequality. If you say that in that instance states would be irresponsible with the money, then you are simply arguing against localism, or else against ample funding for education in general.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      When I say “if we valued education” I mean, if we valued it and therefore wanted to assure sufficient funding for all students wit federal funds, but also agreed with E.D. that local control of methods, standards, etc is important and should be preserved…Report

  10. If we valued effective instruction, we would de-emphasize our unnatural national fixations on standardized tests and re-focus on assessment that informs differentiated instruction, i.e., diagnostic assessments. Diagnostic assessments are essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Some teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because these teachers exclusively focus on grade-level standards-based instruction or believe that remediation is (or was) the job of some other teacher. To be honest, some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because the data might induce them to differentiate instruction—a daunting task for any teacher. And some teachers resist diagnostic assessments because they fear that the data will be used by administrators to hold them accountable for individual student progress. Check out ten criteria for effective diagnostic ELA/reading assessments at and download free whole-class comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessments, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment from the right column of this informative article.Report