Are Local School Boards Obsolete?

By Whitson, Alex | Childhood Education, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Are Local School Boards Obsolete?


Whitson, Alex, Childhood Education


The United States is one of the few remaining industrialized nations that does not have a national curriculum. What is the rationale behind keeping public schools under the control of local jurisdictions? Are Americans' educational progress being fragmented by a lack of a coherent national agenda? Are school boards uninformed, incompetent and untrustworthy to manage the expenditure of millions of tax dollars? Do local boards recognize national goals and aspirations? These are only a few of the questions that need to be seriously considered.

Historically, school financing has been troublesome for the American education system. Some state officials, especially from poorer states, are in dire straits - they are beset by falling revenues, a limited tax base, rising costs and a growing school population. Hence, many states would gladly turn over their obligation for financing public education to the federal government. A lot of people in the U.S. are beginning to think that they need not only a federal system for financing education, but also a national curriculum. Some question the ability and effectiveness of local school boards. An increasing number of people think a national system could serve the U.S. better, because it would give the process a unified direction and help establish national priorities.

Critics say that such a system would usurp states' rights and lead to conformity, and claim that it is the locales' diversity that drives the nation's creativity and ensures its progress. While a national system would relieve the states of having to finance education, it would deprive citizens of local control, which is a cherished prerogative they would not readily relinquish. Proponents counter that it would make the education system more cohesive and manageable and go a long way toward equalizing education opportunities. The loudest opposition naturally would come from the wealthy states, concerned that they would be supporting poorer states - and they would be right! The question that needs to be answered is whether we want to be united in our goals, or remain separate and unequal. The answer is self-evident. No child should be educationally deprived or disadvantaged because he or she happens to live in a state with fewer resources.

Perhaps we should create an education congress - a representative proposition that would not only unify efforts and decide national education priorities, but also collect and redistribute education funds to states based upon school populations. Under this plan, each state would contribute a mandated amount of money for each student enrolled in the public schools, K-12. The amount would be decided by the education congress. Members of the congress would be elected on a nonpartisan ballot and could only serve for one four-year term. The decisions made by the education congress would have the force of law and would supersede state and local ordinances and edicts.

Such a plan might seem too radical for people accustomed to having a direct input in managing their schools. I believe, however, that local school boards are obsolete. I also challenge the assumption that local boards are informed and competent to make those education decisions that affect so many lives. Most school curricula are only empirically tested at the local level, whereas a national system would be scrutinized to ensure that all children meet certain standards. …

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