I find Walter Russell Meade to be one of the most provocative thinkers on the American scene today. In a recent blog post to The American Interest, he lays out a vision for the future of education that is very similar in ways to my own. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about when I say we need to fundamentally re-think our educational system.
Imagine a system in which our current top down, administration heavy school districts and large schools were replaced by networks of teachers who band together to offer instruction to students in a given neighborhood or district. A cooperative firm of anywhere from half a dozen to a few score teachers might open for business, receiving a government payment for each student they enroll. Parents would have the right to enroll their children with the coop of their choice. The test scores and other information would be available so that parents could assess the firm’s track record.
These firms could compete by offering different educational and disciplinary philosophies. A group of like minded teachers who wanted to use a particular curriculum or approach would be free to do so; if enough parents bring kids, the firm is in business.
These firms could set their own policies about how many teacher aides they had, or even about class size. (Smaller classes would mean smaller revenue, but creative teachers who believed in the importance of smaller classes could find ways to cut other corners.) Teachers would be free to teach as they thought best; they could recruit congenial and like-minded colleagues into their coops. Rather than being evaluated by political hacks and administrators, their coops would stand or fall based on their ability to recruit and retain students from the community that knew them best.
What largely disappears in this model is management as we know it. Some sort of skeleton administration would be necessary, but its size and powers would be greatly reduced. Teachers in this system would have much more autonomy than they do now — and parents would have much more choice. Because less money will be sucked up by administrators, consultants and large bureaucratic offices of enforcement and conformity promotion, more money can go to the people and services on the front lines.