With the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act overdue for reauthorization, the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education recommends a new and powerful strategy for fundamental education reform—and a major makeover of the customary federal role: allow states receiving federal funding to opt out of traditional federal constraints if they create vibrant marketplaces for informed school choice.
Choice and Federalism: Defining the Federal Role in Education (http://www.choiceandfederalism.org) recommends that Washington limit its education role to what it can do best: encouraging states to create level playing fields that expand school options and competition, along with access to accurate information on school performance, to generate the greatest opportunity for students and their families to make well-informed decisions about where to enroll.
“In our view, the federal government’s proper mandate, along with providing some of the money, is to enhance educational opportunity and a principal way of doing so is to encourage states to give as many parents as possible what is now usually available only to the affluent–the right to choose where to send their child to school,” said task force member Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, lead author of the task force report. “Schools need to be held accountable for student achievement, but the marketplace discipline of robust competition and choice, combined with ample information about school performance, promises to be more effective than top-down accountability and program requirements imposed from Washington.”
Specifically, the task force report recommends that the federal government:
- Strengthen its responsibility for three activities that cannot be effectively devolved: creating and disseminating information on school performance, enforcing civil rights, and providing financial support to high-need students via “backpack” funding attached to individual pupils.
- Support informed parental choice with the help of user-friendly Internet “choice portals” that describe available school options and provide clear and relevant information about school performance.
- Use incentives to promote competitive markets for education services at the local level.
“Schools should be required to participate in data collection for performance reporting as a condition for receiving federal funds,” Whitehurst said. “The feds have a critical role in competitively funding designers and implementers of school choice portals. Choice won’t work unless parents are supported with good information, delivered in a usable form.”
The task force also recommends expanding the charter school sector and leveling the playing field for other competitors, such as cyber schools, interdistrict schools, and private schools. Accompanying this widening of education options for children, zip code school assignments by districts should end. Instead, every parent should be required to engage in school choice, thereby easing today’s socioeconomic differences among parents in shopping for schools.
“Today, Washington is stuck in an education policy rut,” commented task force chairman Chester E. Finn Jr. “On one side we find those who would simply let states do whatever they like with the federal dollars. On the other side are those who want the federal government to tighten the centrally prescribed accountability screws even harder. This debate is going nowhere, as is evident from Congress’s multiyear failure to reauthorize what just about everyone agrees is a badly flawed law.”
“It’s time,” Finn added, “to rethink the whole enterprise. By remaking its core policies for K-12 education to align with those it has long since adopted for higher education, Uncle Sam can provide parents with something nearly all want: the opportunity to choose where their child is schooled, together with user-friendly information by which to illuminate those choices.”
The full report is available free at www.choiceandfederalism.org or can be obtained via the mail in a bound volume for $5.00.