Reinventing Public Education: How Contracting Can Transform America's Schools

Reinventing Public Education: How Contracting Can Transform America's Schools

Reinventing Public Education: How Contracting Can Transform America's Schools

Reinventing Public Education: How Contracting Can Transform America's Schools

Synopsis

A heated debate is raging over our nation’s public schools and how they should be reformed, with proposals ranging from imposing national standards to replacing public educationnbsp;altogether with a voucher system for private schools. Combining decades of experience in education, the authors propose an innovative approach to solving the problems of our school system and find a middle ground between these extremes. Reinventing Public Education shows how contracting would radically change the way we operate our schools, while keeping them public and accessible to all, and making them better able to meet standards of achievement and equity. Using public funds, local school boards would select private providers to operate individual schools under formal contracts specifying the type and quality of instruction. In a hands-on, concrete fashion, the authors provide a thorough explanation of the pros and cons of school contracting and how it would work in practice. They show how contracting would free local school boards from operating schools so they can focus on improving educational policy; how it would allow parents to choose the best school for their children; and, finally, how it would ensure that schools are held accountable and academic standards are met. While retaining a strong public role in education, contracting enables schools to be more imaginative, adaptable, and suited to the needs of children and families. In presenting an alternative vision for America’s schools, Reinventing Public Education is too important to be ignored.

Excerpt

After a decade of efforts to improve American public schools incrementally, the initiative for education reform has shifted to outsiders who propose radical measures. Communities and states are now seriously debating reform options, such as vouchers and charter schools, that would have been considered implausible only a few years ago. Many current reform proposals seriously challenge the defining features of the American public school system that developed after World War II--direct operation of schools by elected school boards, compliance-based accountability, civil service employment for teachers, mandatory assignment of students to schools, and control of funds by central district bureaucracies.

Starting with publication of Chubb andMoe Politics, Markets and America's Schools, various fundamental reform proposals would replace regulatory compliance with student performance standards, make schools' existence and staff members' jobs contingent on performance, give families choices among public schools, and transfer control of public funds from centralized bureaucracies to individual schools. These proposals attempt to redefine public education, to include schooling in any form and by any provider that can meet community standards for student learning and can guarantee nondiscriminatory access. They challenge the dominant way of thinking that equates "public" with "government-run."

Some of these proposals would place education almost entirely into private hands, allowing parents to choose any licensed school and relying on private initiative to develop and run schools. Such proposals are based on the belief that public education has evolved into a government-and professionally run bureaucracy that takes too little account of family concerns. Parents in big cities find public schools particularly unresponsive. City schools have become so constrained by rules and regulations made elsewhere--governing, for example, how students and teachers are selected, which teachers can help which students, how long a child must be kept out of regular classes in order to receive a particular kind of remedial instruction, what a principal must go through in order to remove a disruptive student, and what work teachers may and may not do--that many are unable to respond to the needs of students and parents. As Ted Sizer has noted, parents experiencing the blank bureaucratic face of such schools . . .

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