As Paul DeWeese points out, decades of school reform have witnessed a substantial increase in the regulation of public schools. The slide in educational achievement coincides with the rise in regulation. Public schools are straight- jacketed in rules, procedures, and administrative constraints which curtail their flexibility and ability to respond to the unique need of their local constituents. Regulations circumscribe the ability of public schools to design and to implement their curriculum, to hire and to fire personnel and to engage in classroom discipline. In sum, school systems have removed authority from local schools and centralized it in school headquarters.

As the increased regulation associated with "school reform" fails to improve educational outcome, politicians and educational administrators routinely demand more money, resulting in more oversight and more bureaucracy to ensure the money is properly spent, resulting in a vicious and negative cycle. Schools will not become dynamic, creative, and responsive institutions until they are freed from unnecessary, overbearing, and centrally dictated regulations. For this to occur, our schools must turn the focus of their attention from the various desires of the central administrative bureaucracy to the needs and desires of students and parents.

Chubb and Moe in their excellent book, Politics, Markets and America's Schools, point out:

  1. Schools do indeed perform better when they have clear goals, an ambitious academic program, strong educational leadership and high levels of teacher professionalism.

  2. The most important prerequisite for the emergence of effective school characteristics is school autonomy, especially from bureaucratic influence.

  3. America's system of public education inhibits the emergence of effective organization because its institutions of democratic control function naturally to limit and undermine school autonomy. [24]

The vehicle for inhibition and restraint is the educational bureaucracy. As of September30, 1988, the Detroit Public School District had 5,820 non-instructional staff plus97 unclassified staffers for a total of5,917. In addition, instructional support staff included 66 individuals for attendance, 423 for guidance, 118 social workers and300 secretary-clerical staffers. [25]

Based on the breakdowns provided to the Michigan State Department of Education, the Detroit Public School District central bureaucracy had 33.4% of the total staff of 17,702. Based on our revisions, 907 staffers should be reclassified as non-instructional for a total of 6,824 which means that nearly 40% of the Detroit Public School staff is non-instructional. Additionally, "support services and benefits consumed about 40 percent of the budget in1987 compared with about 24 percent in 1967." [26] More alarming, the portion spent for basic education was cut in half from 60 percent to 30 percent during the same time. [27]

On the other hand, private schools in the United States spend a small percent of total revenues on administration. For instance, the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit spends less than 0.7% of revenues on its central administration. In fact, for 13,000 Catholic school students in the city of Detroit and 60,000 in the entire archdiocese, it has less than 20 bureaucrats or 0.6% of total staff.

This situation is not unique to Detroit. As William Brock points out, the City of New York Public School District has more bureaucrats than the country of France, and the state of New York has more education bureaucrats than the entire European common market.

Mary Raynid of Hofstra University, when speaking of New York City's public schools, says to be effective within the city school bureaucracy one has to beconstantly guilty of creative insubordination. [28] Carlos Medina, the superintendent of District 4 confirmed this: "Here we call it creative noncompliance." Later, Ms. Raynid asked him almost in jest, "And I suppose the people who work for you are indulging in "creative insubordination?" Mr. Medina nodded seriously and said "I certainly hope so." [29]

Paul DeWeese, the author of this book's opening chapter, received the following personal letter in May, 1990 from Mr. Andrew Warren. It's a poignant example of the failure of our public schools to be either responsive to parental concern or effective at educating students. Mr. Warren is an African American and the president of the Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School P.T.A. in Oak Park, Michigan. He wrote:

Dear Paul:

I am writing you in regards to the Oak Park School District. We spend $6,300 per student. This is the 11th highest in the state, yet we rank near the bottom in MEAP (Michigan Education Assessment Program) scores each year. We recently spent $22 million on school buildings, but there were no science rooms built in any of the elementary schools. There is no science or foreign language program in K­5 in the Oak Park School District.

For three years, community committees made up of teachers, politicians, and community leaders struggled to impact our schools. However, the school board gave the Middle School teachers the right to veto any recommendations they did not like. They eliminated all advanced classes. They would not allow parents to volunteer to teach after school classes free. They put in a new grading policy that allows a child to be promoted every year even if they never pass a single test. The reason? Education is secondary. It is their view that it is more important to teach children social skills.

Prior to this year (when there will no longer be an advanced or honors program in the district) our gifted and honors program consisted of a spelling bee and speech contest. All of this despite the fact that national tests show our children rank in the lower 25% of the nation.

The Oak Park School District would be a fine place to build black support for giving parents the ability to choose the school their children attend. The problem with our schools is not insufficient money. The problem is very poor management and the teachers' union. If we doubled the money, we would be no better off.

Andrew E. Warren

As we will see, public schools have become beholden to interests which do not allow them to create effective reform. These interests have resulted in a sclerosisof initiative and inhibit our schools from implementing the changes which are necessary if our schools are to effectively usher us into the 21st century.

The Center for Policy Research in Education, a federally financed consortium of Rutgers, Michigan State and Stanford Universities, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, issued a report of the results of educational reform in October 1989. It noted that while teachers' salaries are higher and state and local governments have boosted educational funding, attempts to improve education have met with only modest success. The report said states tend to reject complicated recommendations in favor of more manageable ones. The easy changes that were adopted have stayed in place while the more difficult ones (those which are resisted by interests which are threatened by effective reform), like teacher assessments, have been modified or diluted. The report concluded that changes adopted by most states lacked any coherence, "sending a barrage of signals to schools and districts without setting clear priorities."

The National Education Association, in an effort to "maintain the momentum" and create the illusion of its interest in reform, announced in December 1989 the designation of four school districts as sites for the union's Learning Laboratories Initiative. At each school building site, teams of teachers will attempt to address educational goals by participating in a broad array of staff development activities. This process is supposed to help teachers become adept at collaborative decisionmaking skills essential to meaningful change. The NEA's press release indicated that, "Each school site team will collaboratively profile the learning challenges specific to its school and fashion a mission statement that offers a vision that will help educators and students move from where the school is to where it ought to be." James Kilpatrick, regarding this new initiative by the NEA, wrote:

The union is immersed in the diffuse jargon of collaborative profiles, mission statements, implementation plans and site-based decision-making. It seeks experts, consultants, coordinators, one-on-one interaction and new models of school management.
(Lansing State Journal, Dec. 24, 1989)

A French Prime Minister once remarked that war is much too serious to leave to the generals. There is an analogy here for our public schools: Education is much too serious to leave to the educators. We must give much more power and accountability to parents, the primary educators of the students.