Vail Daily column: Local vs. state control | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Local vs. state control

Jason E. Glass
Valley Voices

The education system in every state works to strike the right balance between state and local decision-making.

On one side, advocates of stronger “state control” argue that systemic (whole-system) change can only come about through state level directives and initiatives. In their viewpoint, local boards of education (and their administrations) can’t be trusted to make good decisions.

Conversely, “local control” advocates argue that the best decisions for community schools happen in communities — and that state mandates (at best) amount to harmful meddling and more often do more harm than good.

Here in Colorado, a surface analysis might lead one to believe that the balance in our state tips toward the local control side of the equation. The state constitution says that local school board directors “shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts.”

But this is not where the story ends. The state constitution also says that “general supervision of the public schools of the state” is vested with the state Board of Education.

To make matters even less clear, the state constitution goes on to say that legislative power (the ability to make law) “shall be vested in the general assembly … ” If you’re counting, that’s three sets of hands in our education mixing bowl.

As if the state picture of governance and control weren’t murky enough, schools in Colorado must also navigate a labyrinth of federal laws because all schools (in some way) receive federal funds.

So who, exactly, should be making decisions about education policy and our community schools? The answer is likely as complicated as the structural challenges I’ve described above, and often depends on the policy question and the positional role of the person answering.

But if we look for a less issue-specific answer, what we see is an alignment of the governing entities behind a rather simple and straightforward set of policy choices.

In no particular order, because they are all interconnected and necessary parts of creating a genuinely great education system, these policy choices are:

• A professional model of teaching — meaning high selectivity at the point of entry and a high level of regard and deference for professional educators.

• High standards and expectations for all students — making sure that every child is taught in an instructional environment that is challenging and engaging. Systems must work to eliminate low expectation “tracks.”

• Individualized learning — the educational experience must be tailored to fit the needs of the individual student. Pacing, order, additional supports and different teaching methods — all of these can and should be changed to identify what each student needs to succeed.

• Address inequity — by most accounts, 70 percent of the variance on standardized test results can be attributed to out-of-school factors. For systemic greatness, all students need to come to school ready to learn, healthy, safe, engaged and full of hope for the future.

That’s it. Regardless of who is ultimately making the decisions about what happens in schools, they aren’t going to be impactful unless they aggressively and relentlessly focus on these major policy drivers for educational success.

So how are our elected officials at the state level doing on this agenda? Not so hot, in my professional opinion. The vast majority of the education bills that have been introduced this legislative session won’t meaningfully impact any of these areas.

For our schools, the silver lining is that with divided government (Democrats controlling the House and the Governor’s office while Republicans control the Senate), few bills from either party are likely to be passed.

Bad education policy, it seems, is an equal opportunity phenomenon.

Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.