National standards and assessments will not, on their own, get us very far towards meeting the national education goals. In fact, they may be the easiest part of the equation. It will be extremely difficult, but vitally important, to create the opportunity for innovation and reform in the nation’s schools--systems that have been seemingly impervious to change.
What is difficult about this area is that there is no one proposal or plan, such as school-based management or choice, that will bring about the necessary systemic reforms. The leadership and ideas will have to come from the local level and not only from educators, but business people and other members of the public.
What the federal government can do is create the conditions for this kind of reform effort. First of all, we have to give these schools the flexibility to use their federal and state dollars in a way that suits their needs. Regulatory flexibility is a must.
Secondly, we can provide the schools with information about what programs and practices have been effective in other places through the federal R & D effort. It makes no sense having all 15,000 school districts learning through trial and error. And, finally, the federal government can provide seed money to encourage and reward schools to start down this path.
These are the tough, long-term issues that are going to have to be dealt with if we are ever going to really change for the better the way schools operate. All the groups and institutions will hang on, screaming and kicking, to the status quo. It will take some courage and perseverance on the part of educators and policymakers to pull it off.
The fate of the nation may depend on it.
A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 1992 edition of Education Week as By All Measures: Creating the ‘Opportunity for Innovation’