By now you’ve most likely heard that America’s education system outspends all but a few countries in the world, while at the same time our students’ proficiency in reading and math has flatlined.
What you probably haven’t heard is that since 1939, the number of public school districts in America has decreased by almost 90%!
This dramatic consolidation effort was brought on by several factors, including the increased funding role of state and federal governments, the desire of teachers’ unions to expedite collective bargaining agreements, concerns about the quality of rural schools, and the neverending quest for “efficiency.”
But such rapid consolidation has had some perhaps negative consequences for American education:
1) Less autonomy for teachers and principals.
Teachers and principals complain today that they are the victims of an ever-increasing number of policies dictated to them from federal, state, and district-level bureaucracies.
2) Less flexibility in schools.
Because of bureaucratic and legislative policies, school leaders have less freedom to implement creative approaches to their students’ needs.
3) Less diversity.
School district consolidation has meant greater uniformity. America is frequently criticized today for having a “one-size-fits-all” education system in which students are taught by the same methods, judged by the same standards, and ushered toward the same goal of “college-readiness.”
4) Less local control.
Parents and local communities have much less say in what the schools teach children, as standards and curriculum are handed down from the state and now the federal levels.
5) More emphasis on standardized tests.
With local communities further removed from the educational process, schools have had to increasingly rely on more abstract versus content-based means of accountability, such as standardized tests.
It’s difficult to say whether or not the rapid consolidation of America’s schools has played a large role in our education system’s current mediocrity. But I do wonder if some decentralization might benefit America’s schools.