There is no doubt that the federal role in U.S. public schools has increased dramatically over the past decade with the adoption of No Child Left Behind and its equally intrusive successor, Race to the Top. Local and state control has eroded significantly as mandates (surreptitiously disguised as incentives in the latter) force states and local districts to give up control of assessment and curriculum.
With the locus of control shifting further and further away from the classroom, external curriculum modules and standardized assessments attached to the Common Core dictate what is happening in classrooms. In an attempt to implement a one-size-fits-all education reform model, the individual needs of students and communities at the district level are being plowed over, leaving students, teachers and schools pressured to comply with a top-down hierarchy that many feel is inescapable: a hierarchy that sadly puts teachers and students at the bottom.
Maybe Washington can take a page from the Finnish National Board of Education, and re-imagine how we look at the educational framework. Here’s how the Director General, Timo Lankinen, represented the Finnish education system:
This decentralization of steering powers, coupled with the autonomy of local education providers to organize schools and implement educational policies, leads to communities and educators playing a much bigger role. But more importantly, rather than relying on the concept of an “average” learner, students’ needs, diversity and differences in motivation in the specific educational context of an individual school district can dictate what is taught and how.
Students at the top…imagine that.
Democracy works when citizens are able to change their minds when presented with new information. In the U.S. we have been challenged by the Department of Education to think differently and to fight for quality education and social justice. It is time we all challenge ourselves to think about the early effects of these initiatives manifesting in our local schools and classrooms; it is time to think about what education might look like if we were to turn the top-down hierarchy upside-down.