The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, February 27, 2012

On the other hand…

To their credit, the Obama administration has done more than any administration since Reagan’s to encourage community/school partnerships. Their latest program is called Together for Tomorrow; its goal is to highlight community/school success stories and encourage others to follow the lead of the schools being recognized. The public statement can be found here, while a news account of the announcement can be found here.

I applaud their ongoing concerted efforts to promote community engagement, but I’m also skeptical given the larger narrative in K-12 education. Specifically, I’m referring to the fact that for the past 100 years or more, the government – first state governments, and now increasingly (over the past 20 years) the federal government – have gradually but consistently removed the local voice from K-12 education and shifted it up the food chain.

It used to be that every community had sole responsibility for its schools; once states became more organized, they began removing local authority and responsibility, first by centralizing the funding model and then by directing how funds could be spent and what schools were supposed to do. As a result, communities today have almost no input into the business of schooling: everything is dictated from afar.

And this is why the public has become increasingly disengaged from K-12 education. Any employer knows what happens when an employee is given responsibility without any authority: they try their best for a while but, realizing that they are powerless to influence the goals, processes, or outcomes of a project, descend into apathy or quit entirely. That’s exactly what has happened between our communities and our schools.

What programs like Together for Tomorrow attempt to do is remind communities that they are responsible for education outcomes, but still without allowing them to say what those outcomes should be or how they are to be achieved. Telling them they have responsibility without ceding any authority. And while the publicity around this program may create a short-term boost in activity, the public will quickly return to apathy or total disengagement in short order unless the larger narrative is changed.

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