Deregulation Moves Found To Spur Only Modest Reforms

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State efforts to deregulate education have sparked only modest school reform and face considerable obstacles to producing bigger change, a new report concludes.

Education's first wave of deregulation--the waiver programs popular in the 1980's--was limited in scope and produced only moderate change in schools, the report by a research consortium says.

Inertia combined with the restrictive policies of regional and federal governments "to overwhelm nascent state deregulatory efforts," it says.

Broader deregulation efforts to form charter schools and create accountability systems have been slowed by such barriers as state lawmakers' reliance on mandates, equity questions, and the lack of credible assessment measures.

"For a variety of reasons, it is hard to remove regulations," the report concludes, "and even when they are gone, it is not clear to all that the struggle to eliminate them is worth it."

Grist for Debate

The report was released last month by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. It is based on an extensive study of deregulation efforts in South Carolina, Washington State, and Texas between 1990 and 1993, as well as on interviews with state education officials in all 50 states.

The report's findings are expected to provide grist for the debate over the state's role in education.

Thirty states are moving to reorganize or reduce their education departments or have recently completed such a revamping. (See Education Week, 3/8/95.)

In California, Michigan, and Texas, political leaders are seeking to abolish entire state education codes and create less restrictive laws.

They contend that they must start from scratch to streamline effectively, an argument supported by some of the report's findings about the barriers that can block broad deregulation efforts. (See Education Week, 2/8/95.)

But parts of the report also reaffirm the arguments of deregulation critics who say state rules are often not the real culprit behind tradition-bound education practices.

In Washington State, the report notes, the regulatory burden on schools is fairly weak, but teachers and administrators believe that the state is highly restrictive.

"Apparently, no matter how regulatory the state, the regulations are never as extensive or onerous in reality as they are in imagination," the report says.

Consortium members are Rutgers University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan.

"Ruling Out Rules: The Evolution of Deregulation in State Education Policy" is one in a series of research reports by the consortium.

Vol. 14, Issue 31

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