It’s tricky for me. As it stands, public school systems seem to be a hybrid. Each district has some autonomy. The states get their nose in the districts’ affairs and finances, dictating much of what the districts do (or can do). And the Feds ‘big-foot’ everybody w/ regulations and financial incentives. It seems quite the mess to me.
My instinct is that the system would be better if it went to either extreme.
If the Feds ran national public schools there would be clear national standards. There would be (potentially) tremendous sources of funds, not limited by a state’s need to balance the budget. There would be the full weight of the nation on this essential function. On the other hand, the federal government just seems to destroy anything it gets its hands on. With centralized control, there’s be no public alternative or alternative model in the event the feds went astray. Like all things federal, done well it could be amazing. Done poorly, it’d be an unending nightmare.
I have it in my head that the original vision for schools was local; that each town or locality would fund and run their own school system, limited only by a few federal mandates on what must or must not be done. This of course creates the possibility or some pretty screwed up school systems, but also many more wonderful ones. From what I’ve seen the parents are quite involved in their children’s schools. The problem comes when there’s no real recourse for those parents. I see that even here. We are a smaller part of a two town school district and the benefits of a bigger system do not outweigh the costs, though not by enough to drive the town to separate. As a general rule, families could choose their schools by moving and schools would thus compete and to some extent be made better by that competition. Where it may break down is w/ low SES situations. The traditional view would have it that locational mobility is far more limited in these situations and thus low SES school systems would lack the resources to be effective. Possibly that is not true and possibly Title I funds would be applied more effectively in a system more narrowly responsive to the parents.
I think having the states be the dominant force in education is just bad. I’d like to see a world where schools are run and funded locally (w/ federal money to top off low SES districts). But that is a big bet on freedom of choice and in any event is highly unlikely to ever happen. Where we seem to be headed is ever growing federal intrusion into schooling. Unfortunately, it is being done is perhaps the least efficient way. Perhaps the solution is to embrace the inevitable and nationalize schooling. It’s pretty clear to me the current system, in CA anyway, is in need of a reboot.