Set School Standards at Community Level

Published January 13, 2011

Iowa has begun a debate that more states and localities should be having: Should standards for public schooling be set nationally, by state government or locally? (“GOP Rolls Out Savings Ideas,” Jan. 4.)

Iowa is the last state in the Union to hold out against the notion that local folks are incapable of setting benchmarks for their schools, a posture that has not prevented Iowa’s students from exceeding national averages on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Now, due in no small part to pressure from the Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind Act, Iowa is close to implementing a statewide curriculum that would strip localities of standards-setting power.

While Gov.-elect Terry Branstad and GOP lawmakers are saying “whoa” to the Iowa Core, the state Board of Education embraced the national Common Core standards last summer in a failed bid to nab Barack Obama Race-to-the-Top lucre.

As Iowans sort all this out, they might want to consider the proposition that those schools are best that are most directly accountable to the families they serve.

Indeed, reform could go beyond preserving local school board authority to letting each local school’s staff and community set standards under the leadership of a strong principal. Parents then should have the power to choose among schools according to how well they satisfy local expectations.

Does anyone really think standards set by unaccountable authorities far removed from the scene will result in better education?

– Robert Holland, senior fellow for education policy, The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Ill