NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Putting the Schools in Charge

May 9, 2012

Though calls for education reform have been a persistent staple of American politics for decades, the nation's schools continue to fall in international competitiveness.  This is largely because, whether it's No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top, schools at the ground level change very little, says John Katzman, executive chairman of 2tor, Inc.

This top-down approach to education perpetuates the status quo and discourages innovation at the school level.  In a country of hundreds of thousands of schools, it makes more sense for schools to be given the resources to fix their own problems than for far-off governments to prescribe solutions.  To this end, three broad goals must be achieved:

  • Schools have to be empowered to solve their own problems and released from bureaucratic control.
  • Teacher compensation systems should be opened up to allow more choice to employees and employers alike.
  • Assessment methods need to be more comprehensive and standardized nationwide.

Schools can be empowered by allowing state funds to flow directly to the institution without an intervening school district.  School districts could then compete with each other and for-profit school support organizations to provide schools with the resources necessary to instruct.  Under this proposal, districts would become providers of services rather than owners of geographic zones.

On a separate but nonetheless important note, the introduction of greater choice into teacher compensation would relieve a lot of financial stress on education institutions.

  • Expansive retirement benefits with generous pensions place a large backload liability on schools.
  • In New York City, for example, district budget figures show it spends as much on teachers who no longer teach as on those who still do.
  • This also has a depressing effect on teachers' upfront salaries, limiting their ability to attract young, promising talent into the field.
  • Instead, teachers should be provided a choice between a high salary/low benefits plan and a low salary/high benefits plan.

Source: John Katzman, "Putting the Schools in Charge," Education Next, Spring 2012.

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