The American educationdetailsonline is being reinvented. The assumptions that have governed its structures and power relationships for more than a century are being replaced. This reinvention is breeding all manner of novel approaches to schools, and hybrid arrangements that blur the line that has long separated public and private schools. For example, the best of what have come to be called charter schools possess elements of today’s public and private systems. Moreover, this new model is not an unbridled, laissez-faire, free-market one. The public retains its interest in the delivery of educational services paid for by public funds. Public authorities continue to set standards for educational performance-especially student achievement standards-of all schools receiving public funds and monitor whether those standards are achieved.
– Shift of power from producers to consumers. Public education has long been producer-oriented. The primary beneficiaries of this model are the school and its employees, not its customers. Bureaucrats, experts, and special interests control the system and make decisions within the framework of a public-school monopoly.
New studies show that students want higher standards of behavior and achievement, and that nearly six out of ten parents with children in public schools would send their children to private schools if they could afford to, which the analysts interpreted as “a public poised for flight.”
– Emphasis on results. The second principle guiding reinvention is the primacy of what children learn and how well they learn it-not on what rules schools follow, how they are run, the (worthy) intentions of educators, or what they spend. Administrators should monitor the academic results of education, letting individual schools decide how to achieve them-including yearly calendar, daily schedules, staffing arrangements, student grouping, budget decisions, and so forth.
– Accountability. Schools must establish accountability and create an assessment system that measures results. An accountability system begins with a clear set of learning standards or expectations. There are two types of standard. Content standards define the skills and knowledge students should attain at various stages-what they should know and do. Performance standards-sometimes called achievement levels-specify an expected level of proficiency-what is good enough to advance from one stage to the next.
Students should be promoted and graduate only when they have met specified standards; universities should admit students only when they meet college-level entry norms; and employers should examine transcripts and use them in their hiring decisions. Likewise, teachers, principals, and other responsible adults should be rewarded for success, penalized for failure, and dismissed if they or their schools cannot get the job done.
– School choice. Also guiding the reinvention of American education is the notion that schools can be different from one another rather than identical and that families should be free to choose among a variety of educational opportunities and settings. Schools should fit the differing needs of families and kids-not bureaucrats, state and local regulations, or union contracts. Various current proposals would allow non-government schools and home schoolers to receive money under choice plans: tax credits, tax-free K-12 education savings accounts, publicly (and privately) funded scholarships, and others. Because these scholarship dollars would be aid to families, not schools, they could be used at any lawfully operating school-public, private, or religious.
– Professionalism. The reinvention model holds that those who work in schools should be treated like-and conduct themselves as-professionals. This means deregulating the schools, freeing them from bureaucratic control and micromanagement, and allowing individual schools, educators, and parents wide latitude in decision-making on issues such as teaching loads and methods, staffing, and resource allocation.
– The education profession itself should be deregulated. Recruitment of educators for the reinvented public school should not be limited to graduates of teacher- or administrator-training programs. The teachers’ unions may be an obstacle to such reforms, but even they have shown some hopeful signs.
This new vision of American education is spreading rapidly, redefining public education, and blurring the line between public and private schools. It is creating a radically new system of education in which families choose from a continuum of opportunities and learning designs, with public money following the child to the school of choice. As lines blur and private and public schools become more alike (and different from today’s schools), private schools too will change.
Mounting private school opposition to vouchers suggests that some would rather keep their independence than participate in a blurring that is apt to bring considerably more control from others. States, however, already have the authority to regulate private schools; it is thus unlikely that reinvention will destroy their autonomy. The new model allows them to remain “private” in several important ways: they are self-governing, free from most regulations, able to hire whomever they like, in control of their own curriculum, and attended by youngsters whose parents choose them.