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June 08, 2011
June 09, 2011
November 05, 2008
The conventional wisdom among
reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have the political
will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most
policies aren’t “self-implementing,” we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to
add up to a hill of beans.
Those of us at the Fordham
Institute (and our partners at the Center for American Progress) have been making
the case that our governance structures impede our ability to do
implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards,
susceptibility to interest group capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always
inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into real change on the
ground. I’ve wondered
out loud whether we should abolish school districts and run the whole kit
and caboodle out of state departments of education.
That’s still a tantalizing idea,
but probably too radical for anyone to take seriously in the immediate future.
So here’s an alternative: How about creating a “virtual education ministry”
that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily? (Creating
more than one of these entities would even better.) Think of it as a
private-sector department of education, but run much more efficiently and with
higher-quality staff than the government ever could.
Such a ministry would be akin to
the comprehensive school reform organizations of the 1990s (such as Success for
All, Modern Red Schoolhouse, Expeditionary Learning, etc.) or the charter
management organizations of the 2000s (Aspire, Achievement First, Uncommon
Schools, etc.), except it would focus on “whole district reform” rather than
“whole school reform.” (This would also differentiate it from myriad other
organizations that provide piecemeal consulting or solutions to school
districts. The intent here is to be soup-to-nuts.)
Picture a non-profit organization
governed by a prestigious board of directors with a range of experience and
expertise. Its mission would be to build the capacity of interested school
districts in order to prepare their students for college and career readiness,
as defined by the Common Core. It would be particularly attractive for small-
to medium-sized school districts that don’t have the scale to have their own
curriculum developers or R&D shops (in other words, most of the school
districts in the nation).
This “ministry” would tackle the
following responsibilities (as bona fide ministries of education do in most
European and Asian countries):
When this “virtual education
ministry” is built out, then, participating schools and school districts would
be immersed in a coherent system that includes teacher selection and
preparation; a common curriculum and related (and robust) instructional
supports; detailed guidance on key instructional issues, such as those related
to special education; and support for school leaders on essential management
tasks, especially evaluating their teachers. And because the “ministry”
wouldn’t live in the governmental sector, it wouldn’t face all the impediments
that make it so hard for school districts or state departments of education to
recruit and retain high-quality staff.
Imagine if the network grows to serve one-fifth of the nation’s student
population, or 10 million children. Tool-builders could petition the “ministry”
to include their solutions in its instructional support system or standards
operating procedures. If a product is approved—because of its compelling
evidence—the ministry could encourage all of its participating school districts
to purchase it—perhaps at a discount rate through the ministry itself. This
would facilitate the “scaling up” process dramatically.
Is it possible that such a
“virtual education ministry” (or two or three such entities) could provide all
the benefits of a national or state-driven education system, without the
political risks and backlash? Let me know what you think.