Observers of American public education have repeatedly asserted that schools are over-regulated, but little empirical evidence exists about the nature and scope of such regulatory interference. That's probably because the problem is so complex; aggregating and analyzing the copious volumes of statutes and regulations that bear on schools, not to mention collective bargaining agreements and reams of court decisions impacting classrooms, might easily seem a never-ending quest.
In the past, some have suggested measuring regulatory interference with crude measures, such as physically weighing the books that spell out such regulations, stacking them end to end, or simply counting the number of pages. These antics, while attention-grabbing, ultimately contribute little to our understanding of the depth and breadth of regulatory interference in education.
Thus our pilot study has a simple, if ambitious, aim: to delve into the details of key state statutory and administrative codes, as well as state budgeting practices, in order to measure some of the most critical parts of the regulatory context in which schools operate. To our knowledge, no previous analysis has attempted to map out as much of the regulatory landscape across multiple states in as much detail.
Our study is grounded in the premise that, in this era of school accountability, it is counterproductive to hold principals' "feet to the fire" for increasing student achievement while simultaneously tying their hands when it comes to staffing, budgeting, and performing other key functions of school operations.
To understand the degree to which state policy limits principals' autonomy...