[T]here is growing momentum behind a fundamental rethinking of urban education that some believe could provide the foundation to actually reach that goal.That rethinking is being driven by an idea that has animated much of the education reform movement — that schools operate best when they are given the autonomy to assemble a teaching staff committed to a common vision and the freedom to structure a curriculum and school day that supports it. That autonomy, together with accountability for delivering results, is the main underpinning of independently run charter schools. A recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that Boston had the highest-performing charter school sector of any city in the country. But giving schools more autonomy has also been at the heart of district reforms, including “innovation schools” recently authorized by the Legislature and turnaround efforts targeting the most troubled schools.
Too many public education reforms, from No Child Left Behind to Obama’s Common Core Curriculum, attempt to standardize public education, creating a one-size-fits-all model for the entire nation. But the United States is too vast and diverse a country for this approach. Local principals and officials understand their community and its needs far better than anyone else, and are in the best position to determine how to educate their own students.Empowering local schools to design programs for their particular crop of students is a good first step. The next is to empower parents to hold schools accountable for whether those programs work.[Classroom image courtesy of Shutterstock]