Federal Government Role in Public Education

Federal Government Role in Public Education
Wana L. Duhart - July 3, 2009
Columnist EducationNews.org


The culture, politics, and bureaucracy of the federal government are not conducive to the kinds of creativity, experimentation, and innovation in K-12 schooling that we are witnessing outside of the Beltway. The aversion to change, the competing and entrenched interests and agendas, and the excessive levels of hierarchy and authority underscore how difficult it has been and will always be to shift the paradigm for any large federal government department in ways that reflect the global transformation and restructuring. One has to wonder if such a massive bureaucracy is even flexible enough to respond in a world culture that processes information and transactions as quickly as it does. The shifting landscape in public education across this country has clearly outpaced our federal government’s capacity to reinvent or redefine education to fit the demands of this new century. Practitioners and entrepreneurs who represent the nonprofit, private, and religious sectors have been introducing school prototypes, operational, pedagogical, and administrative enhancements at a steady pace for the past couple of decades. These thinkers and doers have been putting their expertise and resources to work to produce fresh and innovative approaches to teaching and learning that are not only transforming K-12 schooling but are also providing parents and students with quantifiable academic results.

Still, in spite of its inability to usher in substantive innovation and creativity that works for schools, students, and teachers, the roles of the federal government continue to be the provision of comprehensive oversight, adequate funding, and programmatic support for the states and their respective school systems. The higher standards, testing protocols, improved accountability systems, special needs initiatives, and literacy programs are examples of mandates that require significant intervention and guidance from the education department at the national level. The preponderance of new school models and new school leaders warrant ample oversight and review to maintain a reasonable level of consistency and competence across schools and states. Even though individual states are responsible for the application of federal guidelines, the education department in Washington remains an important partner for states as they struggle to restructure and manage how they deliver and implement elementary and secondary education in a changing landscape. The evaluation and reporting functions at the federal level are also critical as parents and communities continue to monitor the academic progress of their local schools and school districts.

The ability to operate and create freely in less rigid and bureaucratic environments is a defining factor for nongovernmental persons and organizations that have been able to produce innovative solutions to education dilemmas in their communities. The timeliness of decision-making and flexibility of organizational structures help facilitate the need to both think outside of the box and be open to new ideas and ways of conducting operations. Nonprofit, private, and religious sector entities also exercise a greater willingness to experiment with new approaches to worn out systems and processes. Unfortunately, massive bureaucracies like our federal government are not positioned too well to be effective change agents. The multiple organizational layers and stale ways of doing our nation’s business prevent real or substantive improvements in the delivery of public education. Despite its cultural, political, and organizational constraints, the federal government can continue its development of a workable framework and pedagogical templates for comprehensive school reform, as a guide for states as they develop their own unique plans and programs for local school districts to follow.


July 3rd, 2009

Wana L. Duhart

Columnist EducationNews.org

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