EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Protect local school autonomy for durable reform

2014-02-16T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Protect local school autonomy for durable reformBy Cheryl Pruitt nwitimes.com
February 16, 2014 12:00 am  • 

We’re easily approaching some of the most exciting times in the history of public education.

Across the country, neighborhoods are showcasing strong innovations through partnerships with collaborative programs like Teach for America and AmeriCorps. We’re also getting smarter about truly ensuring no child is left behind by building complete systems for our children, such as early childhood education, full-day kindergarten and nutrition programs.

The amount of resources being dedicated to resolving the course of public education by these partnerships and programs is exceptional. For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made college readiness one of its fundamental purposes and invested more than $25 million to local districts last year alone. That amount is enough to ensure every student in Northwest Indiana has the proper supplies to approach his or her education.

The couple’s foundation also published “The Turnaround Challenge," providing an important educational reform framework to improve low-performing schools. This report emphasizes turnaround will be most effective when the state works closely with school districts to create an “appealing” space where high-impact reform can take place. This means having the authority to restructure staff, extend school hours and/or days and flexibility in financing innovative teaching and learning programs.

Most important, replicating the successes from early application of these innovations is achievable. It’s also clear how to establish and leverage partnerships from a shared platform.

In addition, collaborative organizations have made it clear they strongly intend to invest in unified school districts. They recognize the best path forward involves complementary policies that bring all groups together in a common vision for improving schools and creating high performance students in all communities regardless of income deficiencies.

These reasons, among others, are why the growing willingness by states to interfere in local districts is puzzling at times. Honestly, when has the quality of outcomes ever been raised by increasing the level of bureaucracy?

One of the most alarming observations about the rising number of state interferences is the general lack of precedent. Three years ago, when Indiana began seizing control of local schools, the objective was unclear. In the best-case scenario, plans would reform and restore oversight to the very body that was initially stripped of its autonomy, likely maintaining unstable conditions. In the worst-case scenario, they would simply disrupt accountability by fragmenting the local system, creating empty solutions.

Transferring accountability from locally elected officials to state-level bureaucracies sets a practice that conflicts with the historical purpose of locally elected institutions. Protecting the autonomy of local school districts provides the most visible path to durable reform and groundbreaking partnerships. 

Cheryl Pruitt is superintendent of Gary Community Schools Corp. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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