Friday, October 8, 2010

Democratize Public Education

Public schools are suffering from a dearth of good teachers and good curriculums. Extracurricular activities, the arts, physical education programs, and the love of learning are disappearing from public schools. Home schooling, "hybrid" educations, and charter schools are moving to the mainstream. The consolidated control of public schools into bureaucratic structures has stifled education, progress, and creativity. If we are to save the public school system in America, we must deconsolidate and decentralize control down to the local level and involve parents more.

The mass consolidation of public education has occurred alongside the mass consolidation of banking, media, and business in the United States. In 1932, there were 127,531 independent school districts in the U.S., many of them operating a single school. By 1990 there were only 17,995 school districts left. As a result of the 80's and 90's obsession with consolidation, we have suffered the collapse of consolidated banking institutions, the poor reporting of consolidated media, the diminishing quality of our food supply, and the failure of public education.

Deconsolidated and decentralized school districts were the aims of an American education from the founding of this country. Thomas Jefferson proposed "to divide every county into wards of five or six miles square;... to establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects (i.e., students) from these schools, who might receive at the public expense a higher degree of education at a district school...for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts." (Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. ME 13:399) Jefferson argued that small school districts were "necessary for better administration of our government, and the eternal preservation of its republican principles." As Jefferson points out, small, school districts uphold the principles of republican democracy; i.e., trust, local ownership, and equality.

Deconsolidation and decentralization give control to parents to make the best decisions for their children. In general, no one looks out for the interests of children better than parents. Data shows that there has been an increase of 74 percent in homeschooling over the past 10 years and much larger increase in "hybrid educated" students. A "hybrid education" means choosing from a menu of educational offerings including online classes and public school courses. In addition, from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008, the number of students enrolled in charter schools, in the United States, more than tripled, from 340,000 to 1.3 million students. This unparalleled rise in homeschooling, charter schools, and "hybrid educations" indicates that parents want to have more choice and greater influence upon the education of their children.

Whether your concern is political, educational, or ethical, deconsolidation and decentralization of public school districts is the answer. We can continue to consolidate power over public schools through programs like "No Child Left Behind" and more recently "The Race to the Top", or we can return to our "republican principles" that have served us so well all of these years. Our decision will determine the success of our children and our country.

(Sources: & &


  1. so i have one thought that could be a problem. How would you ensure the quality and evenness of the education? Parents, I'm sure you would agree, can have a varied view on what constitutes an education and would affect the kids chances in getting into a university or straight into the business world.

  2. Good point. Quality and evenness is always a concern and should always be a gauge of school success. However, the data suggests that decentralization and greater autonomy of schools creates greater equality and higher success rates. Finland is a great example of this. Here is an article about the Finnish public school system: (

    Additionally, a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Development (OECD)demonstrates the following:
    •In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.
    •In countries where schools account for their results by posting achievement data publicly, schools that enjoy greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to show better student performance than those with less autonomy. In countries where there are no such accountability arrangements, schools with greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to perform worse.
    Link to OECD Study:


How Will You Measure Your Life?

I recently read this article by Clayton Christiansen out of Harvard entitled, “How will you measure your life?” It is what he tells his students on the final day of his class.

One of the items that he mentions sticks out to me. It reads as follows:

“One of the theories, . . . . . how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. More and more [people think] that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people."

I’m sure you can see why it sticks out.