(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Much of the old education policy agenda – indiscriminate spending, top-down technocratic standards – is discredited. What would a next-generation policy agenda for education reform at the state level look like? OCPA publishes my policy brief on the subject.
I argue that the experiences of the past generation point to three promising areas for the next generation: parent choice, professional academic standards, and clean systems of school governance.
On parent choice:
Putting parents in charge is the real accountability system that improves education. It is the only education policy that has consistently worked to raise student outcomes, not just in pilot programs or special cases, but at scale and in a wide variety of cities and states over long periods. The benefits are sometimes moderate in size, and there are cases of failure. But the overall track record not only supports moving forward with choice, it suggests that better policy design would produce bigger improvements. Hence the opportunity for policy entrepreneurs to take the next step.
Setting the right standards for public schools is an ongoing need. Systems can’t perform if they don’t have clear goals. Unfortunately, most states have inherited standards that are unclear or too low, as a result of historical factors ranging from ethnic discrimination to messy political battles. Oklahoma’s repeal of Common Core standards, followed by the national collapse of the Common Core project, provides an excellent opportunity for the state to revisit its standards on its own terms. Independent state-standards reforms adopted (for example) in Massachusetts in the 1990s demonstrate the enormous value that comes from states setting their own standards and doing it right.
Governance reforms to the public-school system should be ambitious, but aim for clearly defined, non-comprehensive objectives. An effort at comprehensive overhaul is unlikely to be successful; the special interests that have colonized the system are very powerful, with large resources of money and volunteer labor to deploy in political battle, and they would go all out to resist anything that threatens their power at its source (as the ferocity of their opposition to school choice attests). At the same time, small reforms that merely tinker around the edges are not likely to be worth the effort. Governance reforms should be big in terms of ambition, but narrow in terms of scope.
In each area I propose a series of policy specifics for Oklahoma policymakers to consider. And if smart policy entrepreneurs in other states want to crib, there’s no law against that!
Let me know what you think.