Monday, July 4, 2011

No Community Left Behind

In Phillip Schlechty’s article “No Community Left Behind” he addresses the role and function of community in the schools versus the involvement of the federal government. The author’s belief is that control of local schools should be left to the communities in which these schools reside. He feels that communities would rise to the challenge of setting and raising expectations for the schools because of a common values and goals amongst the community members. According to Schlechty, the functions of public schools should be to help build and serve the community, act as cultural institutions for the community, and should be a mirror for how the community sees itself. It should be up to the community to raise the standards in teaching children what is necessary to be productive members of higher education, and/or the work force; and eventually society as a whole.

Schlechty goes on to cite various historical movements which led to increasing involvement in the public schools by the federal government, mainly the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. It was assumed that Congress was entitled to become more involved in local schools based on the spending clause of the US Constitution. Furthermore, NCLB is seen as an extension of the ESEA of 1965. Schlechty feels that this bureaucratic way of leading schools will undoubtedly lead to mediocrity at best. Schools will do what they need to in order to get by, no more, and hopefully no less.

Proposals that Schlechty would make for school transformation would include block grants which would be specifically targeted toward local initiatives; state plans to make the use of funds transparent, as well as the impact on performance and achievement; local school boards would be responsible for an accountability plan, and would conduct an annual survey of the community as to their level of satisfaction with school performance and quality of reporting information; and the federal government should provide funding to each state to create a virtual high school.

It is hard to disagree with Phillip Schlechty. On the surface, the idea of communities governing their public schools sounds like a great idea. I do feel, however, that there are several glaring problems with this assertion. The first issue I see is the idea of leaving total control of the school up to the community based on that community’s values and needs. The types of communities throughout the United States are so vast. It is difficult to judge what one community values over another, yet America needs to move forward in the global community. You cannot have communities from different areas of the country each come up with how their schools are to be run and conducted and then expect those students to compete on the same playing field. It is not possible.

Schlechty talks about access and equity, and while he contends federal funds are needed to support schools, he thinks that local communities should be in maximum control of the direction the schools take. Depending on what community you are in the United States, there will be different values. The trend in the United States is for students to be mobile, and many attend college away from their local community. Students need to be prepared to leave their communities and be able to perform not according to the standards of their community, but to the standards of the United States. I do find merit in Schlechty’s vision of state virtual high schools. I recognize that all students do not learn the same and that a virtual high school may serve to make more students find success than a traditional high school. This movement may lead to fewer high school dropouts, which can only help the United States on a global scale.

With the direction the world is moving in, we need to look more into global communities. We need to educate our children to be able to compete in a global marketplace, not just on the local level. While I agree that communities should be involved in the schools, I do think that there needs to be an even playing field in terms of curriculum for our public schools to follow.

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