−Howard Gardner, The Disciplined Mind
Every year in my state, as in every state, hundreds of bills having to do with education are proposed in the legislature. For the most part, these bills represent attempts by special interest groups and the legislators themselves to micromanage what goes on in schools. Everybody has an opinion about how schools should be run—whether or not he or she has any knowledge of good educational practices or any recent experience in schools.
Having legislators decide matters of curriculum—e.g., whether reading should focus primarily on phonics or word recognition—makes about as much sense as having the legislature vote on which tumors should be considered operable or which drugs should be used to treat diabetes. It should be the role of legislators to establish state professional standards in certain areas, set up a means to ensure that professionals meet those standards, and then let the professionals do their jobs.
As a nation, we’ve long had a commitment to providing education for every child. The system for delivering that education, however, has been greatly impaired by the “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. Federal, state, and local governments, as well as individual school districts, tend to add layer upon layer of regulations and guidelines that are, as often as not, contradictory, ineffective, or counter-productive.
So now that fresh conversations are going on around the country about every issue, including education, here’s how I propose that educational policy should be broken down:
The role of federal government should be to
- fund research on learning and on best educational practices
- set national minimum standards for funding per student (much as it currently sets the standard for a “minimum” minimum wage)
- set minimum standards for safety and facilities (including building standards, lighting, air and water quality, and student-teacher ratios)
- establish broad national curriculum standards in the various disciplines.
The role of state government should be to
- encourage professional development of teachers to encourage continued learning about both educational practices and their major areas of academic discipline
- ensure that state funds are provided to meet or exceed national standards of minimum dollars per student
- enforce safety and building standards
- support development of basic curriculum guidelines for each grade level to avoid pointless repetition or omission of essential learnings
- collect and distribute tax monies to be distributed equitably to districts throughout the state.
The role of local governments should be to
- provide basic services (e.g., police and fire protection, social services, etc.) to protect students and staff
- add additional funds from local bonds or levies to fund education beyond the minimum standards provided by national and state regulations.
The role of local school boards and district staff should be to
- hire and support staff
- allocate monies received from federal, state, and local governments
- select texts that meet or exceed the standards required by federal and state
- ensure access to education for every student.
Agreeing on the roles appropriate to each level of government would go a long way toward simplifying the issues facing education today.