I’m pretty far removed from academia these days, so forgive me if I’m duplicating another scholar’s work. I’ve been engaging with and reading the opinions of a greater number of stakeholders in education this summer. I’m finding the Democrat-Republican and liberal-conservative (social or economic) divides to be less helpful in understanding the debates that are going on right now. There are internecine debates raging on both sides about the role of federal government and markets and neighborhoods in the practice of schooling. This post is to help classify the sides of the debate. I see people’s attitudes and arguments falling somewhere in two axes.
- Public-Private: This should answer questions like “Who owns and operates schools?” and “How do families decide on a school?” The public advocate believes in publicly-run, neighborhood schools and elected officials deciding policy. The private advocate believes schools should be privately-run and that individual families ought to be able to choose schools that meet their needs.
- Centralized-Decentralized: This should answer a question like “Who sets the standards, creates curricula, and decides accountability measures?” The strong centralizer is in favor of national testing and standards. The strong decentralizer prefers local and/or state control and minimal federal interference.
From that, you have four groups:
- Public-Decentralized: I would consider myself to be in this group. Schools and districts are non-exclusionary and democratically-run. Curricula and standards are agreed upon locally to meet the needs of diverse communities.
- Private-Decentralized: This is the position of the populist right. Let the parents be consumers in a competitive market and decide which school best meets their individual needs with regard to curricula, standards and accountability. This group opposes high stakes testing and the increasingly active role of the federal government in education. Example: Tea Party.
- Private-Centralized: This is the elitist right which advocates for strong national standards and accountability measures as well as parental choice and privately-run schools as a means of improving schools. Example: Jeb Bush.
- Public-Centralized: This side believes the federal government has an important role to play with regard to crafting standards and setting accountability metrics but believes in the preservation of public schools as an institution and as protection for the teacher labor market. Example: NEA, AFT.
This gives activists other avenues to explore when forming alliances on particular issues that matter to them. For example, the passage of HB5 in Texas which — among many other things — vastly curtailed the number of high school tests required for graduation could not have been achieved without the unified kvetching from both sides of the decentralizing fence.
I know people, and I’m sure you do as well, who are on opposite sides of the typical political spectrum but lie in the same quadrant with regard to matters about school. Many centrist Democrats cooperate with Republicans in the Private-Decentralized zone. Many social conservatives and progressives get behind the public decentralized model.
This framework is far from comprehensive. This doesn’t cover, say, issues of school finance or what precisely is taught, Those issues tend to break down by the traditional left-right divide in US politics.
Question for the crowd: where does TFA fit or perhaps just lean in this framework?