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There is a tendency in the school reform debates at the local level to identify the problem with education as teachers, parents, schools and school districts. The notion often expressed is that more accountability at the local level would change everything.

I would argue that local innovation often happens in spite of state and federal policies and that government is the one level where there is no accountability for the results of education policies. In California, we have developed a massive set of rules and regulations in education that cover just about everything under the sun (the only state with a bigger education code than us is Texas).

Dropped from a distance of five feet on your head, the Ed Code would kill you. Individually, each of these rules and regulations probably had some purpose. In sum, they’re a nightmare. Some of the stuff is just pure lunacy. Take career and technical education. We have high schools that would like their students to have more workplace experiences and community college coursework

If that student steps off the campus for more than a certain percentage of the day for a workplace experience, all of a sudden the school district doesn’t receive any funding for them, even if the purpose of stepping is for a work-based internship experience that’s part of their classroom or schools curriculum. Remember, we have already funded that student’s education. We have paid for the school, the classroom, the teacher, the bus, the books, etc.

All we want is for this student to have an opportunity to access a real-life work experience that can contribute to their education! It’s the same with online education. It’s good enough for university students. It works in plenty of other states. Here, in San Diego, the only way that a student can take an online course in our schools is if they are sitting in a classroom in school with a specified student to teacher ratio. What’s the point of on-line education that occurs in the same way as a traditional classroom? Every time there is legislation to address these ridiculous situations, it’s shot down by the bean-counters. But if the student drops out because his schoolwork wasn’t relevant (perhaps a work-place experience would have made it relevant) or because he has to work to support his family (online education that could be accessed at night would be a good option), who faces the accountability machine? School districts. Never Sacramento. And we want to compete in a changed world n a world with computers? A few months ago, a group of prominent academics took a comprehensive look at our CA education system and expressed, in academic speak, many of the same points. Take a look here. Their first finding was “school governance in CA is characterized by a hodgepodge system of restrictive rules and regulations that often hinder rather than promote student achievement.” No kidding. For the whole set of studies, click here.

— ARUN RAMANATHAN

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