“Local Control” should not be an obscenity [Reading Response]

The federal role illuminates how the very structure of education hails the national expert over the local novice (and the philosopher-king/reformer over the mass-elected schoolboard member). Similarly, the increased federal role in education, from historical social injustice and disenfranchisement, appeals to our moral notions of guarding the rights of individuals over notions that local control of education breeds tyranny of the majority at the expense of the underrepresented. The top-down, federal-over-state approach becomes synonymous to a government as expert model—or, in a slight alternative, to a national-research-applied-to-communities approach. National education research and the concentration of policy experts in the federal government may justify decisions on educational institutional design or even (gasp) national standards and assessments—but the government as expert model should not apply to everything. Orfield and Lee discussed the fallacy of“using exceptions to the rule to prove a relationship” and I easily see how successful exceptions that have achieved amazing educational outcomes become the expert sources for how to “get it right” in education.

I recognize the benefit that a large sample size of educational practices can extract meaningful lessons which can be applied in concentrated areas, but I push-back on our ability to prescribe too far from the ivy tower and capitol hill. What is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander—even when they are of the same race or background (a notion that is not new to practitioners). If anything, I agree with Cohen and Moffit’s assessment that “the success of innovative policies and program depends… on whether practitioners and others in the environment posses or can improve capability” (p. 15). Our educational research has lead us to become more precise at determining the true causes of the educational outcomes we observe, but as to the ability to generalize findings to other places, I argue that we have a ways to go to make our findings externally valid. Local control over the administration and operations of education ought remain in local hands (CEO/Superintendent), and accountability and decisionmaking for schools ought devolve rightfully to schoolboards and principals. Localities are experts on its people. And until our local communities of control get better at producing the results we desire, we should empower them with experimental options (like participatory governance of Fung) and incentive support systems rather than dishearten them with low expectations that they are unable to solve their own problems. Some will say trusting locals is what got us here in the first place, but because sunlight is the best disinfectant, I think pointing out shortcomings is the easy part—finding ways to build capacity is the solutions part that will better us all.