The new Congress is working on alternative versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, creating a successor to No Child Left Behind. Republican proposals have a strong emphasis on local control, getting the federal government out of what they believe should be local decisions. And in fact, Washington does often go too far in trying to micromanage local schools.
Unfortunately, the Republican bill in the House of Representatives takes out a critical support for local control: Investing in Innovation (i3). i3 funds development, evaluation, and scaling up of proven programs. Philosophically, i3 is a perfect match with local control. It does not prescribe anything but instead draws promising ideas from every source throughout the U.S. and puts them to a rigorous test, and those that are found to be effective in terms of learning outcomes for children are made available nationwide.
What i3 does is to give local educators well-evaluated, immediately usable solutions to the problems they face. No school has to use any particular program, but if they choose to do so, they have reliable information available.
The cost of i3 is minimal as a proportion of federal, state, and local education funding. Yet it already affects thousands of schools across the U.S., bringing forward a wide variety of proven and promising approaches. The innovation, evaluation, and dissemination provided by i3 needs to continue so that local educators can both contribute to and profit from the best programs available.
i3 is not an inside-the-Beltway scheme designed to control what local educators do. It is just the opposite. It gives local educators essential, actionable information and real solutions but no mandates, no requirements.
Research and development to identify effective approaches need to be funded and coordinated at the national level. States and localities are centrally involved in i3, but expecting each to have its own locally funded R & D process would be ineffective and inefficient, because it would duplicate efforts that are needed nationally. Every locality need not invent, evaluate, and disseminate its own approach to algebra or science, just as it would make no sense to have local hospitals use their own funds to do their own research on cures for cancer. i3 funds local innovations, helps hold them to high standards of evaluation, and then helps disseminate them so local districts can focus on using what works rather than on reinventing the wheel.
When President Reagan was first taking office, the Heritage Foundation prepared a brief suggesting all the programs they thought should be returned to state and local control. The main exceptions: research and development. All these years later, this same logic should apply.
Investing in Innovation is broadly supported by educators, researchers, and organizations. A letter signed by 117 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of educators urges continuation of i3. Few proposals for improvement of America's schools have equal potential at such low cost, and few provide greater support for informed local control of education.