Montana Politics

Local Control

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In light of the education theme this week (or was that last week?), I’d like to pose a question, though I myself am unsure of the answer. Local control has always been a key slogan regarding education policy. Those of us who have been to high school recently know just how frustrating local authorities can be, and those of us who have taught high school probably have an even better idea. My question is to what extent local control is still an important concept.

The entire idea behind No Child Left Behind is that the Federal government can better decide what constitutes adequate progress for a student, and in what areas that progress is important. In theory, more centralization and standardization, as well as accountability, is desirous and something of a reformed NCLB (that is, without the obvious errors that have come to light since its initiation) is favorable for the education system.

Normally this would seem correct; some kind of accountability and standardization is key. And as Thomas Friedman points out in The World Is Flat, our system of local funding leaves huge swaths of our students with an education that is sub-standard and unable to compete on a global level (while unfairly advantaging others). Discussing politics with Western Europeans, whose countries are generally more centralized than ours (with notable exceptions), they tended to agree.

However, I think there is room to argue that the very size and diversity of America makes local control practical and perhaps preferable to centralization. For example, in a rural Montana community, where many of the best jobs are based on resource extraction or agriculture, should a high school be allowed to focus more of its energy on giving students the oppurtunity to learn, for example, geology (a class offered at Helena High, last I checked, only in the form of ‘Earth Sciences’; I could be wrong, however)? This would certainly benefit the many students that may want to stay near home and work with natural gas or mineral extraction for relatively high starting wages, whether or not high school prepared them at all for the college courses needed to become a professional in that field, though it would not necesarily benefit NCLD scores. On the other hand, it would be nice to believe anyway that our nation has sufficient mobility that one doesn’t need to be trained in the industries that dominate ones home county (in fact, it could be argued that preparing students for a particular dominant industry is one step towards training citizens of a company town, or setting them up for failure should the economy shift). What does everybody else think?

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The Polish Wolf

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