"Over the last two years, the Congress and the
U.S. Department of Education have made
tremendous progress in transforming the federal
relationship with the states on education. It has
changed from one based on regulatory compliance
to one based on accountability and performance."
Robert V. Antonucci,
Massachusetts Commissioner of Education (18)

Some of the most impressive examples of the way government is changing to partnership are in the Department of Education. In Goals 2000, the Education Department led states to set challenging academic standards for their students, and then the reinvented Department of Education let them get to work. (19) States no longer have to submit their plans to the experts in Washington for approval; they just need to have a plan, a schedule for progress, and a way to measure progress. And they don't have to report their progress to Washington, either; they report it to the people. If selected federal laws or regulations stand in the way of progress, the Secretary of Education has the authority to waive them -- he has waived more than 100 already.

States that really want to get on board --those willing to waive their own rules and let local school districts be accountable -- can waive federal rules without even asking Washington for permission. The program is called Ed-Flex. The measure of success is simple: improved academic performance of the students. Eight states have signed up and there is room for four more; the legal limit is 12, for now. (20)

Since the goal of all this academic freedom is better academic performance, let's look at some results. Maryland, one of the Ed-Flex states, reports a 52 percent leap in the number of schools whose students are doing well at the third grade level. They are up by 13 percent at the fifth grade level and by 32 percent at the eighth grade. Forty percent of all students statewide met the state standards -- that's a 25 percent gain over 1993.(21)

It is no surprise that flexibility, local control, and measured accountability produce good results. Kentucky has been doing it since 1990 with great success, and we copied the idea from them. Kentucky schools manage themselves through councils that include teachers, parents, and community members. They set goals and measure success by looking at things like student test scores, dropout rates, success at getting jobs, and how many students go on to college. Schools that make their goals get bonuses that school staffs decide how to spend. Schools that do not make the grade get special help from the state.

The National Education Goals

By the Year 2000:

  • All children in America will start school ready to learn.
  • The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
  • All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated
    competency over challenging subject matter in the core academic
  • U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and
    science achievement.
  • Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge
    and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the
    rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
  • Every school in the U.S. will be free of drugs, violence, and the
    unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a
    disciplined environment conducive to learning.
  • The nation's teaching force will have access to programs for the
    continued improvement of their professional skills and the
    opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to
    instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.
  • Every school will promote partnerships that will increase
    parental involvement and participation in promoting the social,
    emotional, and academic growth of children.

Results? Grades have been going up steadily the last two years, especially for fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders. The fourth graders were best of all -- their grades went up about 10 percentage points overall, and a whopping 16 percentage points in reading. (22) Way to go fourth graders! Way to go Kentucky!

From teaching kids how to read to fighting crime in the streets, from big cities like Philadelphia to rural counties like Tillamook, from both coasts and places in between, people in governments closest to the people are seeing the change for the better. The National Performance Review is leading the shift away from Washington's well-intentioned efforts at good government toward the grass-roots power of self-government. Ed Rendell is right -- we are at the one-mile post of a three-mile mountain. Let's get a good grip and keep climbing.

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