For entirely too long, advocates have sought revolutionary change that touches all corners of the land.
Most conversations about K-12 education reform quickly turn to which initiatives are most likely to improve various student outcomes. Experts discuss how a change in tenure rules or an increase in per-pupil spending will influence standardized test scores, high school graduation rates, or lifetime earnings.
But this approach can distract us from something more fundamental. Education policy is as “political” as any domain of public life. Because it implicates families, civil society, employers, culture, history, higher education, self-government, and international competitiveness, it involves the clash of principles as well as questions of authority and responsibility. By focusing narrowly on policy proposals and performance metrics, we can neglect matters foundational to liberty, agency, and governing.
To understand what is—and should be—on the horizon for America’s schools, we must begin by understanding not just which initiatives have defined recent reform, but what all of this work has meant, at a more basic level, for governing principles and the distribution of power. This is a story about parental agency, pluralism, equality, social entrepreneurialism, local democratic control, state-level authority, and the shadow of the federal government.
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