The Trouble With Local Control


This map accompanies Matt Miller's article on education policy in the January/February issue of The Atlantic that I thought I should recommend before March (issue) madness overtakes the site. It highlights the incredibly large disparities in school funding that exist in our fine nation. These huge gaps are hardly the be-all and end-all of our education problems in the United States, but they're hard to justify. It's just as important to educate children in Alabama as it is to educate them in Massachusetts, but kids in the latter state get double the money of kids in the former.

Miller's article isn't even primarily about money. Instead, it's about the fact that these general institutional issue persists throughout our educational system -- things are wildly different from district to district, and especially from state to state. That's the American tradition of local control at work. But while this is very much our tradition, it's not a very good one. It doesn't really make sense to have the standard of what counts as reading proficiency to be different in Massachusetts than it is in Alabama. Nor, of course, do American families live hermetically sealed, locally controlled lives -- kids move from district to district or state to state all the time. Few other countries do things the American way, and they're generally getting better results. It's time for us to change.

But don't listen to me, read Miller's article. One thing I'd add, though, is that the goofy primary system is a large obstacle to reform here. Iowa and New Hampshire happen to be two of the most fanatical local control states out there, and everyone tailors their education policy to accord with sensibilities in those places.