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States’ rights and states’ wrongs on school reform


States are the toast of Washington again. Tea Partiers and the incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives idealize them. When Congress read the U.S. Constitution last week, the 10th Amendment – the one reserving power to the states – was an applause line. Of course, celebrating states and localism is nothing new. More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville declared that it is “the political effects of decentralization that I most admire in America.” More recently, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis hailed states as “laboratories of democracy.” But when it comes to education, we shouldn’t lionize states when they’re too often failing to fix our schools, Time reports.

Consider two recent examples. In 2008 then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings asked states for creative ways to improve failing schools and offered regulatory waivers to support the best ideas. The response? Underwhelming. “States were not bold enough in seeking meaningful and disruptive change to confront school failure,” Spellings told me the other day…

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