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Efforts to Reinvent US Education Rate a 'B'

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This article is an excerpt from the Hudson Institute's ''Education Reform 1994-1995: A report from the Educational Excellence Network to its Education Policy Committee and the American People.''

TWO distinct ways of conceiving education reform - two ''paradigms,'' some would say - have emerged in the United States in recent years, and the differences between them are growing sharper (actually a bit too sharp for us). One, commonly termed ''systemic reform,'' operates on the assumption that reform efforts should be led by government and imposed from the top down. Its advocates believe that state (or federal) authorities must set standards not only for student learning, but also for much else, including teacher training, assessment, textbooks, school resources, and ''best practices.'' Though undertaken in pursuit of higher standards and better results, ''systemic reform'' relies on uniform strategies to ensure that inputs everywhere are equal and all schools undertake similar activities. Its mechanism for making this happen, of course, is government resources and bureaucratic regulation. Much of Goals 2000 embodies this paradigm.

The second education reform paradigm welcomes decentralized control, entrepreneurial management, and grass-roots initiatives, within a framework of publicly defined standards of accountability. Under this approach, public officials establish standards, make assessments, and hold schools accountable for meeting performance goals, but do not themselves run the schools. Public officials also retain the power to cancel charters and school-management contracts on grounds of persistently poor performance, but they do not directly supervise or control the means by which schools pursue those ends. We think of this as ''reinventing'' public education because in this approach schools may be run by diverse providers, not just by government agencies, although all providers must continue to be accountable to the public as long as public funds are involved.

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