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A House Bill Worthy of Debate

August 21, 2014

I get a Google feed that provides a daily digest of articles on education, articles from international. regional and local sources that would typically not be found in other places. Today, an op ed article from the Atmore (AL) News caught my eye. “Education Best Policy Best Handled Locally” written by House member Bradley Byrne, provides an overview of HR 1386, the “Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act”. Introduced by Illinois Republican Aaron Schock in March 2014 and endorsed by 43 Republicans (including Michelle Bachmann!) and one Democrat, the overview of the bill is full of concepts that would match those advocated by Diane Ravitch. Is it possible that Diane Ravitch and Michelle Bachmann see eye-to-eye on public education?

The desire of both progressive Democrats and conservative/libertarian Republicans to restore decision making to school boards illustrates the paradoxical consequences of our current governance structure. I know Diane Ravitch is seeking a restoration of local control because she sees privatization as the moving force behind the emasculation of local boards, particularly in urban areas. The Tea Party motives are different: they don’t want the Federal government dictating anything about operation of local schools. If local boards want to offer creationism, abandon tenure, re-segregate, or allow the establishment of charter schools that exclude special education students, so be it.  If states want to fund schools with formulas that deny funds to school districts serving children in poverty, so be it.

I have not read the details of HR 1386 to see why it has not gained traction, but it seems to me that in a functional House of representatives it could serve as a mechanism for defining the best role for the Federal government to play in public education. One thing is clear: the current NCLB/RTTT paradigm allows the federal government to exert far too much control over the direction of public education. We need to have a debate on this issue at the Federal level. Maybe some members of the Democratic party could introduce some amendments to open the door to dialogue.

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