September 27, 2013
TO THE EXTENT IT CAN, OF COURSE: Is Progressivism Derailing School Reform?
Over the past decade, a massive, bipartisan education reform movement has been gaining momentum, bringing together governors, teachers, school counselors, multiple presidential administrations, and idealistic young college students. It is the force behind programs like No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Curriculum, as well as a number of charter school and voucher programs at the state level.
While the reformers have poured their energy into scoring these policy victories, they haven’t built a group of leaders who can successfully implement them in schools around the country. At least, that’s the criticism levied by Frederick M. Hess in National Affairs. He notes that many ambitious reforms have been stymied by an education bureaucracy that has become nearly impervious to change. Yet rather than confront this problem, many reformers are content to celebrate and move on as soon as legislation is passed. . . .
This is why we have always been wary of reforms that attempt to impose from on high a uniform standard for the nation’s thousands of school districts. While we, too, share many of the convictions of the education reformers, we believe that America is simply too large and heterogenous a country for any Washington education bureaucracy to understand, much less manage. Instead, we would prefer a system that devolves as much power as possible to parents, allowing those with the greatest knowledge and the highest stake in the school systems to decide what is best for their districts. Vouchers remain the most promising way of accomplishing this.