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Nationalize the Schools (...A Little)!

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Publication Date: February 2008

Publisher(s): Center for American Progress

Author(s): Matt Miller

Funder(s): Center for American Progress

Funder(s): Center for American Progress

Topic: Education (School administration)

Type: Report


“Local control” is the most sacred principle in American education—a tradition so deeply ingrained in history and practice that its shortcomings are almost never articulated. Yet a look at the history of local control as the organizing principle of schooling suggests that an approach that made perfect sense in the 1700s is crippling American education today.

In the 25 years since “A Nation At Risk” sounded the alarm about the rising tide of mediocrity in our schools, America’s strategy in response, if it can be called that, has been dictated by some 15,000 school districts, with help more recently from the 50 states. It’s as if FDR had said we could put the U.S. economy on a war footing after Pearl Harbor by relying on the uncoordinated efforts of thousands of small factories. They’d know what kind of planes and tanks were needed, right? The results have been predictable. Despite good intentions and pockets of improvement, we have made little progress in raising most students’ achievement to the levels now required to compete in an increasingly global world and to maintain Americans’ living standards in the coming era of competition with workers in places like China and India. We spend more than nearly every other advanced nation on schools, yet we rank in the middle to bottom on international achievement comparisons.