Education governance puts most people to sleep. The topic is arcane, sort of boring and, above all, seemingly immutable. If you can’t do anything about a problem, why agonize over it, or even spend time on it?
Of course, some people don’t even see it as a problem. They just take it for granted, like the air surrounding them, the sun rising in the morning, and the Mississippi flowing south. It just is what it is.
That’s wrong-headed. The governance mess is a large part of the reason that so many education problems are impossible to solve. As Mike Petrilli and I wrote three years ago about “our flawed, archaic, and inefficient system for organizing and operating public schools”:
[America’s] approach to school management is a confused and tangled web, involving the federal government, the states, and local school districts—each with ill-defined responsibilities and often conflicting interests. As a result, over the past fifty years, obsolescence, clumsiness, and misalignment have come to define the governance of public education. This development is not anyone’s fault, per se: It is simply what happens when opportunities and needs change, but structures don’t. The system of schooling we have today is the legacy of the nineteenth century—and hopelessly outmoded in the twenty-first.
Perhaps the foremost failing of that system is its fragmented and multi-polar decision making; too many cooks in the education kitchen and nobody really in charge. We bow to the mantra of “local control” yet in fact nearly every...