Butcher: A better idea for education reform: unshackling schools - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Butcher: A better idea for education reform: unshackling schools

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Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 9:14 am

Arizona enacted a new law earlier this month that got little attention but could make a big impact on school performance.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard introduced the measure, which allows school districts that receive an “A” for three years on their district report card to request exemption from specific state regulations or statutes. Districts can be free from regulations that direct efforts and resources away from schools’ primary task of educating students. Georgia lawmakers have enacted a similar provision.

The new law will let top districts do more to help their students. Although modest in scope, with limited eligibility and areas for exemption, the law is an example of how lawmakers can encourage school innovation through less regulation.

The concept of exempting schools from regulations would serve charter schools well, too. But they were not included in the bill. Charter schools are already supposed to be exempt from most state regulations, but with every new rule passed for traditional schools, charter schools are often automatically included (examples include the Common Core Standards and new teacher evaluation rules). Charter schools are designed to be free to develop better ways to educate children, so their leaders should be able to request exemption from new requirements too.

The exemptions that will be requested will likely be different from district to district and school to school, which is one of this law’s best features. Every student is different, which makes every classroom and every school different. We should create more models that provide customized learning experiences for every child, and schools must be vigilant in identifying laws that get in the way. Whether that vision includes more online courses or a hybrid approach of online and in-classroom learning, state rules shouldn’t interfere.

This new law is a modest step toward less regulation of our schools that have proven they can get the job done, but the principle behind the measure will enhance school freedom and promote new approaches to education. Now that’s innovation.

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