When the Founders drafted the United States Constitution, they turned out a document that was simple and limiting. James Madison said,"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined." A reading of the document shows absolutely no authority granted in the area of education.
The brilliance of the Founders in limiting the size and scope of the federal government was to be a benefit to the states and, therefore, the nation. America – the new nation – blossomed and become a "beacon" of hope and a "shining city on a hill". I think it’s safe to say that no other nation in world history had blossomed as ours did.
Unfortunately, as the years have gone on, America has drifted… in many ways. The area of education has been no different. What was once a family and local affair eventually slipped away as states, and ultimately the federal government, usurped power that has given us an increasingly centralized system of education in which non-public options are frowned upon and sometimes even ridiculed.
While federal funding of education makes up a relatively small portion of school district budgets, that funding is typically tied to federal mandates that leave districts in a position of having to be obedient to the Washington, DC monstrosity. What power is left is typically wielded by state governments, leaving local school boards as mere shadows of their former selves. Quite frankly, school boards are less of decision-makers anymore than they are administrators of federal and state mandates.
We now find ourselves in a position with the American education system where people are recognizing the problems, but are hesitant to look for any solutions outside of those offered by government. It’s almost like asking the person hitting you over the head with a hammer to help you find a bottle of aspirin for the headache.
North Dakota Senate Bill 2186 is a prime example of this. This was the bill on "innovation" in education that granted the Superintendent of Public Instruction unprecedented powers not seen by the legislature before.
While SB 2186 was being debated, there was one commonality among those that disagreed on the bill. That commonality was that everyone was supportive of innovation in education. After all, who would oppose new ideas? Especially if they could help us to improve the education of our children. The difference came in how to get there.
As is typically the case with education bills, what does SB 2186 do? It leaves local school boards powerless. Or, at the very least, they enjoy whatever power is permitted them by the state. They must go hat in hand to Bismarck (in particular the Superintendent of Public Instruction) for permission to implement plans of innovation. That’s a far different version of local control than the one I envision.
One of the great icons of America’s past is escape artist Harry Houdini. But what made Houdini great wasn’t the chains that bound him. It was his ability to break free from and to escape those chains. The same is true of American education. The greatness we seek and the solutions to the challenges we face will not be found in the regulatory chains that bind us. They will be found by breaking free from them. For in all of this, there is one simple truth… innovation is not found in regulation.