REFORMING COLORADOS LOCAL CONTROL: A POLITICAL
Jane Wooddell Urschel
B.A., Agnes Scott College, 1964
M.A., University of Central Florida, 1976
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
Jane Wooddell Urschel
has been, approved
Urschel, Jane WooddeU (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Reforming Colorados Local Control: A Political Phenomenon
Thesis directed by Professor Michael Murphy
Current research suggests local control as we knew it in America is on the
decline, owing to state legislatures reformed thinking about their role and
responsibility in educational governance. Local control is being redefined as an
interdependent arrangement between local and state policymakers.
Colorados unique constitutional provision, granting instructional authority to
locally elected school boards, has created significant tension between boards and the
legislature as the latter attempts to legislate educational reform.
The purpose of this research was to develop a thorough understanding of
how leading legislators think about local control and how these views affect their
actions. The study was designed to construct an analytic story to help explain the
complexity of the issues confronting state and local governments as the future of
educational governance is considered. Eleven key legislators were interviewed.
They served on the House and Senate Education Committees.
A spectrum of legislative views was found between the polar positions
of What were doing is making public education more competitive to [Local
control] is a community-based approach. Between these positions lies the reality of
the many different definitions expressed in this legislators comment: As you get to
an issue that has a state-local variance, where is your judgment going to end up? ...
in between that decision, theres a host of things you have to deal with. The host of
things revealed itself as conditional aspects of granting local control to school
Legislators conveyed a sense of urgency about the need for effective
reform in education that would result in Colorados being prepared to compete in
both a national and a worldwide economy. While the gravity of this urgency will not
allow local control to stand in the way of state decision making, legislators talked
about seeking a balance, albeit conditional, of state and local responsibility.
Dedicated to my husband,
who was my task wizard throughout this accomplishment.
His magic made everything work.
My gratitude goes to my family, friends, and colleagues at the Colorado
Association of School Boards who urged me on even though it meant my taking time
away from them. I could not have moved forward with this research without my
friends Sandy Ruppert and Maria Gier. Sandy gave me hours of stimulating
conversation and thoughtful criticism on the topic. Maria was my loyal companion as
we took this academic journey together.
Two people who were great supporters as I began this work are no longer with
us. My mother, Frances Kump Wooddell, and my sister, Peggy Emmons, always
made me feel I was doing something important Memories of their love and support
kept me going at times when I might have given up.
My thanks to the legislators who provided the substance of this research and
met me for interviews even as they kept hectic schedules.
I would like to thank my advisor, Michael Murphy, for always reminding me
that I was close. I thank my committee for keeping a critical eye on my work.
Help came from many quarters. I apologize to anyone I may have
overlooked. My sincere thanks to all of you.
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE...............................11
Levels of Government................................12
Legal Context of Local Control......................15
Tradition and Myth of Local Control.................17
Criticisms of Local Control.........................21
Grodzins: Marble Cake Thesis........................25
Local Control As Marble Cake........................26
Implications of the Research........................30
Design Limitations (Statement of Bias)..............43
4. VOICING: WHAT LEGISLATORS SAY..........................46
Local Control: Characteristics................................46
Principles: Use of The Mild Threat.....................57
Deliberative Democracy: Who Decides?...................66
State Role: Pay the Piper, Call the Time......................71
District Role: Creative Tension...............................81
Standards and Assessment Act: Local vs. State Interests.......89
Erosion of Local Control...............................90
Public Good and Local Control..........................93
Assessment as State Tool...............................95
Charter Schools Act: Breakthrough or Breakaway?...............97
Third Grade Literacy Act: Locals Havent Done The Job..101
Miscellaneous: Related Themes............................107
Legislature as School............................109
Purposes of Public Education.......................115
5. CONSTITUTIONAL GRANT OF AUTHORITY............................117
How Legislators View Units of Authority..................129
Unit of Authority: The State.......................130
Unit of Authority: The District....................134
Unit of Authority: The School......................137
Unit of Authority: The Parent............139
Findings: Local Is As Local Does..............142
Future of Local Control.......................144
A. LOCAL CONTROL PARADIGM.........................156
B. CONDITIONAL MATRIX.............................157
C. INTRODUCTORY LETTER............................158
The history of education in Colorado tracks back to the early settlers who, as
they founded mining towns, also established schools for their children. In 1877,
Colorado's first General Assembly officially delegated this responsibility to the people
"in the scattered neighborhoods of the raw, undeveloped wilderness" (Williams, 1969,
p. 160). The law required parents having at least ten school age children among them
to petition the county superintendent in writing to hold a meeting to discuss the
organization of a new district. Unbeknownst to these parents, they were attending the
first school board meeting of the new district and, thereby, becoming the first
policymakers of the district. Each school was a school district by 1935, Colorado
having more than 2,200 districts. From the 1930s to 1990s, Colorado consolidated its
schools into 176 school districts. Since the early 1990s, the state legislature has
formulated state policies on standards, charter schools, and third-grade literacy. All of
these policies appear to step into the territory of instruction, the long established turf
of local school boards. The purpose of this research is to develop a deep
understanding about how leading legislators think about local controlits importance
and limitsand how these views affect their actions. The purpose is also to frame the
issue of state and local control so that careful deliberation can occur among legislators,
school board members, educators, and communities as the future role of educational
reform and governance is constructed. The question for this study becomes double-
barreled: What does local control mean, and when does the state intervene and further
control or constrain the authority of local boards?
Williams notes that, while education as a local concern was a prevailing point
of view in all states in their early histories, "it received exaggerated emphasis in
Colorado. A prime educational problem, therefore, has been to establish the concept
of a wider responsibility for education than that of the local district or even of the
county" (Williams, 1969, p. 147). Understanding the notion of a wider responsibility
for education begs for a discussion of What is local control?
While the U.S. Constitution is silent regarding education, every state
constitution contains at least one education clause (Citron, 1982). In Rich Schools.
Poor Schools. Arthur Wise (1968) points out that school districts are generally
subordinate in status to the state. They are held to be "quasi corporations," a purely
political or civil division of the state deriving authority from the state. "A state may
delegate its authority to establish districts... or it may make creation of a district
contingent upon consent of the inhabitants affected" ( p. 102). Historically, "As
education became available for all, all were compelled to avail themselves of it" (pp. 6-
7). The laws of compulsory attendance, while never contested in the U. S. Supreme
Court, signaled society that the local school belonged as much to government as to the
Conflict in Colorado often emerges between the state legislature (and the
executive branch to some degree) and local school boards regarding the interpretation
of article EX, section 15 in the Colorado Constitution.
The general assembly shall, by law, provide for organization of school
districts of convenient size, in each of which shall be established a board of
education, to consist of three or more directors to be elected by the
qualified electors of the district. Said directors shall have control of
instruction in the public schools of their respective districts.
As noted, the constitutions of most states contain a similar concept, but this provision
creates unique language among those constitutions by delegating instructional
authority to local boards of education. Until the last two decades, districts in
Colorado found little resistance to local assumption of both fiscal and instructional
authority. Notwithstanding many decades of the exercise of local control, the legal
relationship between districts and the state is unitary meaning districts must operate
within a policy framework laid down by the legislature and be accountable to the state
for their performance. The purpose of this study is to answer the question of how
legislators view and interpret this provision as they formulate educational policy.
Before addressing the question of how legislators interpret the meaning of
local control, we need to understand how local control has been viewed in the past and
why it has become an issue in dispute. Frances Fowler captures the debate well when
she says Local control has long been one of American educations most sacred cows.
Throughout most of the twentieth century, the invocation of its name in an argument
has sufficed to throw worshipers of lesser deities into confusion (2000, p. 123).
While Williams may be correct that local control received exaggerated emphasis in
Colorado, Grodzins reminds us that in the American system of government, the
general view is the view of the three-layer cake of government, the institutions and
functions of each level being considered separately (1966, p. 8). Americans regard
the layers of their government cake as being national, state and local. Historically,
the shared functions of these levels of government are neither well understood nor
appropriately defined in the minds of citizens. Consequently, the sacred cow of local
control has enjoyed exaggerated emphasis throughout our national political system.
Grodzins further instructs us in our government cake making by comparing the
shared functions of governments and the complication of determining the locus of
decision making power.
So the functions of government are not in neat layers. Rather, they are all
mixed up: marbled, to use the bakers term. And in no neat order: chaotic,
to use the reformers term. Unless one sees the American federal system
from this perspective, he misses the most important feet of all: the system
is, in effect, one government serving a common people for a common end.
(1966, pp. 10-11)
Bakers and reformers terms are both relevant to todays legislators. The reason local
control pops up as an issue now lies in the growth of state authority fed by three
ingredients: (a) the marble cake concept or the contemporary approach to dividing
power between different levels of government, (b) the transformation of state
legislatures and governorships from weak and even corrupt branches of government to
reinvented, congressionalized and presidentialized bodies of policymakers, and (c)
a more assertive interest in trends and reforms in education.
The revelation of this study can be stated succinctly: It is not so much that the
locals in Colorado have lost control as it is that the state has found reform both in its
own organization and in state activism in education. What Frances Fowler (2000)
articulates about the transformation of state governments over the past quarter century
can be applied to Colorados legislative and executive branches as welL She describes
a previous power vacuum at the state level
State legislatures and governors enjoyed little respect.... governors were
held in low esteem... most governors were older men who had long
served as party hacks... state legislatures were typically dominated by
white small-town lawyers, bankers and businessmen who promoted the
interests of rural constituents and opposed needed modernization as too
expensive, (pp. 129-130)
The twentieth century saw Colorados state government change from a rural
managed system to one ruled by: changes in the electorate ( a higher concentration of
population in the metro areas), constitutional and legal reforms of state government
(taxing and spending limitations, higher pay for legislators, more government in the
sunshine), fiscal crises for both state and local government, and the globalization of
the states economy. This last change warrants further examination. Fowler again
strikes pay dirt when she delves into todays Competitive Federalism and the role of
education policy in a new global economy. She reminds us that most states have trade
offices in other countries today. States find themselves in competition not only with
other states but with other nations.
They use several tactics in their competition loosen environmental
regulations ... weaken labor laws ... offer tax breaks.... Another is to
provide a local workforce with the necessary skills and appropriately docile
attitudes. In some cases, they may also wish to use some academically
superior public schools and school districts as bait to attract top executives
to settle in their state. In other words, education policy is an important
aspect of this new competitive federalism. As a result, states can no longer
afford to leave the schools under largely local control. Increasingly, they
are placing demands, setting standards, and enforcing accountability
programs. They want to be prepared to compete with producers of goods
and services worldwide, and they have no intention of letting local
controlno matter how sacred a cow it isstand in the way. (2000, pp.
While Fowler gives a rationale for the states more assertive interest in
education trends and reforms today, Loveless portrays another image that fits
Colorados state-local scenario: the image of rivals and allies. The evolution of the
public school system, one subject to the control of local, state and federal
governments, has led to an uneasy alliance" between the school and those levels of
government (Loveless, 1998). Picture the local school situated in the middle of the
community, supported by resources provided by the community and by parents willing
to send their children to the school The school was once a place where watchful
citizens oversaw the coming and going of students and the daily interplay of teaching
and learning. Now, after waves of governmental educational reform, these same
citizens feel removed and disenfranchised from the traditional partnership between
school and community. Little by little, as Loveless claims, the public has come to
view the public school system as a rival of its other institutions of family, church, and
private business. "We should not assume, notwithstanding its past stability, that this
arrangement [alliance] is impervious to change," concludes Loveless (p. 1).
The image of rivals and uneasy allies provides one way to view today's
disconnection between school and community and, further, between school and
government. Loveless sums up the inherent conflicts in public education: "Conflict
over whether the state or some other institution should have primacy in school affairs
sits just beneath the surface of many debates over educational policies, the instruments
of public school governance" (p. 3). As a researcher, I sought an understanding of the
depth of these historic rivalries and partnerships that have put our school system where
it stands today and where it will land tomorrow. I discovered that in Colorado conflict
does, indeed, sit beneath the surface as legislators weigh educational issues and the
question of who should decide the policies to be applied in those issues.
In the past, studies of local control analyzed issues of equality (financial) or
quality (educational reform). They surveyed constitutional provisions, court opinions,
and the broader bounds of centralized (school district) and decentralized (school)
decision making. Should the schools go to the money or the money to the schools?
This lingering question summarized the tautness and unease between state and local
authority. Since the Colonial period, as education became more bureaucratized, local
control issues became more tied to educational equity and adequacy. Tax funding,
standardization efforts, rural and urban distinctions, and management theories all led to
formal studies of systems of control as opposed to a more structured inquiry of the
people who make the decisions in those systems (Wise, 1968). This study pays
attention to the beliefs and values of leading state legislators who, upon being asked to
reflect on the local and state control context, told me why they make the decisions
they do in that context. It is important to say what this research is not: a compendium
of legislative votes on local control issues, a comparison of revenues between districts
over a number of years, an analysis of public documents or archival materials, an
interpretation of court opinions on local control.
Recognition that a legal principle of Colorados brand of local control had been
established in article DC, section 15, of the state constitution augmented the need to
know more about what meaning legislators, themselves, actually gave to this
provision. The need to discover the effect of these constitutional words in the minds
of legislators created the genesis of my exploration into this topic. Ironically, D. W.
Hensels discovery regarding how the original constitution was misplaced may augur
the findings of this study.
In 1912 a janitor found the original constitution of Colorado in the bottom
of an obscure barrel containing a conglomeration of other discarded state
documents. Such a carefree filing system was symbolic not only of the
indifference to the thirty-six year old constitution, but of youthful
Colorados apathy to established authority in general. (HenseL, 1957, p.
Effectively speaking, Colorado still maintains a youthful inattention to lines of
established authority. Most legislators who were interviewed ascribe to Grodzins
suggestion that a little chaos promotes sharing among governmental levels and
entities. Participation, influence, and sharing become more important to legislators
than an absolute local or state direction in governmental activities.
This research is a study of data generated through dialogue between me as the
researcher and eleven legislators. For me, dialogue as a tool does not connote the
literal sense of a two-sided conversation but more a derivation from the Greek:
dia, meaning through (as in the word diaphanous, meaning to show through)
and logos, signifying word or meaning (Yankelovich, 1999, p. 41). My interviews
found new knowledge not available from other sources. This knowledge came from
engaging legislators about how they view local control, finding out what is valuable to
them about local control, and then integrating their views into a composite.
Illustrated by legislators words on local control are their views confirming
sharing of government power and functions in decision making as well as a sense of
reclaimed respect and power on the part of state government. Legislators convey to
us a sense of urgency regarding the need for effective reform in education that will
result in Colorados being prepared to compete in both national and worldwide
economies. While the gravity of this urgency will not allow the sacred cow of local
control to stand in the way of state decision making, legislators note seeking of
balance, albeit conditional, of state and local responsibility. Were Grodzins here to
observe the local control phenomenon in Colorado, he might remind us that the true
measure of the localness of given functions is not which government performs them.
Rather it is the extent to which local citizens are able to influence governmental
activities, regardless of which government is involved (Grodzins, 1966, p. 212).
Colorados legislators appear to believe with Grodzins that this mixture of control
mechanisms is the American system.
Chapter Two, Review of the Literature, backgrounds concepts and
relationships significant in describing the story of evolution of local control. It also
provides larger context for local control by presenting ways of thinking about
differentiated governance, in general. Recent studies describe state government as an
ascending power and local government as a declining power. Through a synthesis of
the literature, we track the tension inherent in the challenge of striking a balance
between state and local levels of control. Finally, the section entitled Legal Context
of Local Control elaborates upon Colorado's constitutional provision (giving
instructional authority to local school boards) as a rare but not absolute protection of
local decision making.
REVIEW OF SELECTED LITERATURE
Where did the phenomenon of local control come from and where is it going?
In the technical and non-technical literature we can read the story of the evolution of
local control from its origins in rugged individualism to its present status of a slow
shifting of authority leading to a gradual hollowing out until only its empty shell
remains. Even in Colorado we can hear some creaking of the joints of our age-old
rugged individualism. That concept has long been respected and highly touted in the
acts and constitutional provisions establishing our public education system. In this
chapter I have organized the review of the research literature according to the
concepts and relationships deemed significant to describe the evolution of local
control Those concepts form a local control paradigm (Appendix A) tracing: causes,
context, conditions, strategies, and consequences. These become themes depicting
the interaction and tension between local control and the state resulting in actions and
reactions that have changed the relationship between the two.
I focused first on the evolution of local control from Colorados days of
rugged individualism to its Constitutional Convention in 1876 that produced unique
constitutional provisions enabling local control while at the same time enjoining the
powers of the legislature, local school boards, and later on, the state board of
education. I wanted second to examine a wide range of conditions from all levels
(national, community, organization, group, and individual) that relate to the processes
of interaction and the consequences of actions by state policymakers (Appendix B).
The development of a paradigm and a conditional matrix of local control guided my
understanding of local control as an evolving phenomenon (central idea or
happening). The paradigm took the shape of a linear historical continuum. The
matrix formed a circular sketch of the conditional relationships existing between the
actors and the actions that manage the phenomenon of local control As I examined
the literature, I kept in mind the question of what is defensible about local control Is
local control archaic, inanimate, mythic, lost? I was also mindful of a warning from
Strauss and Corbin to qualitative researchers: You do not want to be so steeped in
the literature that you are constrained in discovery. Let category emerge (1990,
Levels of Government
A discussion of local control must begin with the larger context of federalism
or what political scientists call the American system of federalism. Some refer to this
as a three layer cake model with the local level reflected as one layer, the state and
federal governments as the other two layers Morton Grodzins The American
System describes this sharing of power concept of government as resembling a
marble cake as opposed to a layer cake of formally structured levels of
governance (1966, p. v). In Americas early days, however, the system operated
more like a layer cake with governments separated by geographic distance and a
longstanding fear of putting trust into a centralized government. Local government
forms the bottom layer of the cake according to Grodzins.
The view of the federal system as a three-layer cake invariably sees the
national and state governments as separate layers stacked neatly above
local government. Close under the bottom layer, as the platter on which
the cake rests, is the mass of citizens. In less image-laden terms, it is
almost universally stated that local governments are closest to the people.
(Grodzins, 1966, p. 190)
School governance follows the same layered pattern. When the United States
federal constitution was ratified in 1789, there was no mention of public education.
Once states recognized their responsibility in this area and passed compulsory
attendance laws, they "delegated all executive power and even many legislative
powers (e.g., the power to tax property) to local school boards (Theobald, 2000, pp.
3-4). The distrust of state and federal governments together with the conviction that
local people clearly believed they knew the community and its children the best led
to the conclusion that local government was the bedrock of American democracy
(Theobald, 2000, pp. 4-5). First & Walberg (1992) add to the strength of this
conclusion by citing an early state supreme court case in Michigan.
In Stuart v. School District Number 1 of the Village of Kalamazoo (1874), the
Supreme Court of Michigan upheld the decision of the local school board to maintain
a high school even though it lacked express legislative authority to do so. Although
this case is most often cited for its importance with regard to the establishment of
free, tax-supported secondary schools, it is also of great significance for school
boards. It stands for the proposition that local boards have implied power to act as
they deem appropriate in matters of educational policy and school governance, (p. 6)
First & Walberg continue establishing the historical and legal status of school
boards by describing them as a creature of the state. They narrow the authority of
the board to whatever is entrusted to it by the state legislature.
It is a general and undisputed proposition of law that a municipal
corporation possesses and can exercise the following powers and no others:
First, those granted in express words; second, those necessarily or fairly
implied in or incident to the powers expressly granted; third, those essential
to the declared objectives and purposes of the corporationnot simply
convenient but indispensable. Any fair or reasonable doubt concerning the
existence of power is resolved by the courts against the corporation and the
power is denied [McGilvra v. School District (1921), p. 818]. (1992, p. 10)
The tradition of local control is perhaps the strongest in education. Public
polls bear out the belief that the best decisions are made closer to home rather than by
a distant hierarchical bureaucracy.
In a 1990 CSB News poll that asked respondents whether the federal
government, the state government, teachers, local school boards, or parent
groups should have the most say in deciding what is taught in the
public schools here, only 36 percent chose either state or federal
government. The local school board won the favor of 20 percent, the
same percentage who identified parents. In the same year, an ABC
News poll found that 50 percent of Americans believe that local
government should have the most to say about what is taught in public
schools. (McDermott, 1999, p. 16)
Colorado has taken local control of education farther than most states.
Williams and Hensel provide us with a look at Colorados historical forces
causing a strong tradition of local control in education. In his history of the Colorado
Department of Education (1969), Williams records the emphasis on rugged
individualism and self-reliance of Colorado citizens as the basis of the strong local
control philosophy in existence today. Hensel (1957) sees an inherent conflict
between sections of Colorados constitution as it grants authority to the state to
oversee a thorough and uniform education and, yet, gives control of instruction to
local boards of education. Hensel finds it obvious that the constitutional convention
preferred to vest control of instruction specifically in the district boards of education
rather than to remain silent on the question. The ebb and flow of the
interrelationship between states interest in public school education and the clear
mandate of local control of instruction consistently appear to have influenced the
evolution of Colorado public school policy (p. 369). Gradually, the causes of local
control formed its context.
Legal Context of Local Control
Article IX of the Colorado Constitution creates a constitutionally mandated
governance structure of the public education system. The Brief for Intervenors-
Appellants in the Lujan case makes the theoretical claim that political control,
constitutionally vested in elected school boards, provides a responsiveness to the
wishes and ideals of the citizenry not otherwise realized.
Under the provisions of Article IX, the local school districts are granted the
authority to control instruction in the local schools, which includes the
right to raise funds from local sources and to budget those funds. These
rights appear to be beyond the power of the legislature to abrogate.
Moreover, local control of local schools is the single most important
determinant of educational quality. (italics added) Responsiveness to local
needs and conditions cannot otherwise be adequately accomplished.
Therefore, preservation of the constitutionally mandated structure of the
public schools, including local control, is a sufficient governmental interest
to satisfy any applicable standard of equal protection review. (Lujan, 1982,
On the other hand, the primary issue in the Lujan case challenged the overall
scheme of funding for Colorado's public schools as violating both the equal
protection clause of Colorado's Constitution and the state's constitutional mandate
that a "thorough and uniform system of public schools be provided" (Colorado
Constitution, article IX, sec. 2). The Colorado Constitution, itselfj frames the issue of
the importance of the balance of control for improved educational performance in
schools. The system supports the historical development of public education centered
upon the philosophy of local control versus the school finance system that must
support a "thorough and uniform system of public schools." This framework defines
a clear interdependency between state and local interests. Grodzins might use
hyperbole to point out that such interdependency symbolizes the very soul of the
American system Its the gourmet approach to the marble cake of government: the
sharing of functions and the mixture of laws.
Colorado school board members and legislators alike find themselves caught
on the shifting sands of theory espoused versus theory-in-use. Educational legislation
enacted by the state in the 1990s produces confusion in the minds of school board
members about the state's apparent "abrogation" of local control powers. While
school boards have grown accustomed to the volumes of statutes related to revising
school financing, the attention of the legislature in the last decade to student
performance causes concern. School boards note an unprecedented level of
legislative activity since 1990 in reform initiatives such as standards-based education,
charter schools and literacy instruction. Even in the area of school finance, the
legislature has been able to impose caps on local spending (aided to a large extent by
such constitutional amendments passed by the taxpayers as Gallagher and Tabor).
Recently, the state faced a new challenge to its school finance law in the January,
1998, case of Giardino v. State Board of Education in which the same issue of a
"thorough and uniform system of public schools" was challenged, this time on the
evidence of crumbling school buildings. The question becomes, barring a remedy
imposed by the courts, under what conditions do legislators feel they must override
local control? These issues tend to divide school board member from school board
member as well as legislator from legislator.
Tradition and Mvth of Local Control
Loveless (1998), Brunner (1998), Theobald, and Bardzel (2000) give us the
historical and philosophical causes of local control. Williams (1969), and Hensel
(1957) give us Colorado specific history and philosophy regarding the forces or
causes of the strong tradition of local control of schools. Tom Loveless traces the
evolution and transformation of the American school from its origins in the
"fundamental social units" of family, church, and community to a fully
institutionalized public school system "operating under a formal system of public
authority.... Schools won [their] remarkable position in society through an alliance
with the state... (p.l).
Brunner suggests that a problem ("the river of disconnection between public
schools and their communities") is caused by policies that govern "formal and
informal relationships between schools and society" (p. 260). Her argument describes
how the originally unifying aspects of religious, political, and economic connections
have become "fractured" and have left a gap between schools and their publics.
Theobald and Bardzell (2000) remind us that for much of our nations history, states
delegated all executive power and even many legislative powers (e.g., the power to
tax property) to local school boards (p. 4). These authors acknowledge a shift in
initiativeaway from local school boards and towards state-level institutions over
the past two decades (p. 4). They attribute the increase in state activism to the
competing social values of equity, efficiency, and liberty which result in different
forms of state activism (pp. 8-9).
McDermott (1999) asks about local control:
How well does it perform, then, at the task for which it has been generally
well regarded, that of providing a means by which citizens can become
involved in and influence the process of school governance? On the whole,
the answer is not well. For the most part, the general public is not
attentive to the activities of its local boards of education and does not
participate in the boards decision making.... Even on the fiscal issues,
local boards of education have very limited room to maneuver in response
to the heightened public engagement, (p. 54)
McDermott continues with deploring the ineffectiveness of the principle of public
participation as she notes that nearly everything that boards of education do is
shaped by a principle of unanimity: boards rarely disagree in public or make public
their disagreements with professional administrators (p. 80). In reality, concludes
McDermott, the context of local control does not fulfill its long held promise of local
participation in a truly democratic process. Competing views abound. While some
would say active, regular participation is necessary to democratic governance, others
would not. The design of representative government allows public oversight without
active participation. The theory of episodic governance suggests the public becomes
involved in school governance when they become dissatisfied with decisions and
actions of the local board. Otherwise, they are content to let the elected board govern
the schools. This view is sometimes called the dissatisfaction theory.
Fowler (2000) joins Bauman (1995), Danzberger (1992), Weiss (1990) and
others in warning that even though Americans worship at the shrine of local control.
.. as the new millenium begins, there are signs that local control is weakening as
more and more power over educational resources and policymaking shifts to the state
level" (Fowler, 2000, pp. 123-124). Defining a new competitive federalism as one
in which states must compete in a global market as well as with each other to entice
businesses and develop financial resources for delivery of their programs, Fowler
claims states can no longer afford to leave the schools under largely local control...
. and they have no intention of letting local controlno matter how sacred a cow it
isstand in their way (2000, p. 143). Fowler leaves little to the imagination as to
the fate of local control However, because local control has sacred status in many
American minds, authority will probably shift slowly and the process will be a
gradual hollowing out of local control until only its empty shell remains, rather than
a sudden revolution (2000, pp. 143-44).
Loveless (1998) suggests that education reform movements tend to create
conditions that separate schools from the district system in which they exist.
Conflict over whether the state or some other institution should have
primacy in school affairs sits just beneath the surface of many debates over
educational policies, the instruments of public school governance.....I
argue that contemporary educational reform movements carry within them
the seed of educations earlier conflicts, that these reform movements may
significantly undermine the school-state relationship.... Indeed, the
excellence movement could affect all schools association with lower
levels of government. (Loveless, 1998, pp. 3-5)
Bauman (1995) describes a strategy of an increasing interest in private
approaches to education as he warns that school boards must reform education or
relinquish both local and state control
The continuing privatization of American life, combined with the
influence and popularity of the private sector in educational governance
are likely to sustain pressures for market-based schools of choice. Private
approaches to governance are fundamentally different from public
decision making systems.... A combination of political and social forces
in the 1990s could bring about significant change.... A political shift is
apparently taking place as more private organizations are being asked to
manage public school systems and new versions of market-based reforms
emerge, (pp. 168-169)
Bauman points out that the 1980s were recognized as a decade when the states
were in a leadership role, with top-down reforms driving local policy. The 1990s
bring a fundamental challenge to democratically elected school boards and local
district governance. More of the "reform or relinquish" advice to school boards
appears in Danzberger's (1992) work on school board governance in which she warns
that school board leadership must change in order to become a force for reform and
creativity, and to support for the needs of children. If these changes do not occur,
cautions the author, then "the debate over education will be hollow, filled with
wonderful concepts and ideas and without a structure that can make reform a reality"
Astuto et al. call for a similar examination of assumptions about educational
If we are to avoid what Sarason (1990) labels the predictable failure of
educational reform, we must examine the assumptions of policy makers,
reformers, and the public and initiate a debate that allows for the
consideration of radical reform. Schools for the 21st century must not be
envisioned as merely more efficient 20th century schools. They will be
either radically different or essentially the same (Elmore 1990, pp. 289-97).
The radical changes needed will violate some of the assumptions held by
all, since our own assumptions, liberal or conservative, are derived from
our experience with todays and yesterdays schools. (Astuto et aL, 1994,
Criticisms of Local Control
Chubb and Moe (1990, pp. 101-140) have little patience for local control,
school board governance, or school control by any arm of government. They advise
total abandonment of democratically controlled schools, in favor of market control,
which they call "public school choice." Through a statistical analysis of student
achievement and school organization, the authors find "proof' of their claims.
"Democratic control normally produces ineffective schools. This is how it works.
There is nothing in the concept of democracy to require that schools be subject to
direct control by school boards, superintendents, central offices, departments of
education, and other arms of government" (p. 229). Chubb and Moes hostility to
elected board governance and advocacy of a consumer market is also based on their
observation that school boards are often taken over by single interests who have a
particular reform or program they are pushing. Once these groups get their programs
in place they are difficult to disestablish because the program is then defended by
staff hired to operate it.
Weiss describes market control through a "resources in the hands of the
consumer" theme. She likens market control to the public-education-as-contract
paradigm. "Schools exist in their current form only so long as someone is willing to
enter into exchanges that provide the necessary resources.... Such decisions to spend
are made through a political process rather than by a unitary customer... they are
decisions to spend guided by the state's or community's pursuit of value" (p. 110).
Weiss lists the market factors as "(1) the willingness of states and local communities
to provide funding to public schools within their jurisdictions; (2) the willingness of
people with talent to work as teachers; (3) the willingness of parents to live (and pay
taxes) in given jurisdictions; (4) the willingness of children to attend school" (pp.
109-110). These are the "market flows" (p. 113) that Weiss suggests bring both
resources and services to schools. The downside of a reliance on market control,
according to Weiss, is the amplification of "initial inequality in the distribution of
resources" (p. 115).
An understanding of market flows necessitates consideration of the historic
purposes of public education in the United States. In 1934, Lee O. Garber conducted
an historical review of the debates held at constitutional conventions where thirty
seven states hammered out the reasons why they should provide public education.
Four purposes emerged with a consistent order of importance to the participants:
public education was necessary for the political safety and well-being of the state;
public education promoted the economic well-being of the state; public education
promoted the elimination of such social evils as crime and pauperism; public
education promoted the well-being of the individual (Wise, 1968, pp. 112-117).
Looking at contemporary generational trends and obsessions with a quest for "self" a
fixation on self-indulgence, we see a shift in effect. The number one purpose appears
to have become education for the well-being of the individual with the welfare of the
state dropping in order of importance. Privatization, charter schools, and vouchers
symbolize the consumer's need to create a marketplace where market controls can
Frazier (1987), Pipho (1990), and Walberg & Walberg (1994), separately but
uniformly deliver the message that it must be recognized that governance has shifted
in this century from extensive powers and duties of local boards to federal
intervention and action from Washington and to state involvement in school reform.
To this, Frazier (1987) adds:
Aggressive governors, sophisticated legislators, more involved state board
members, and strengthened state departments of education make the state
scene a for different one than it was when the educational train left for
Washington in the 1960s. With critics urging reform and change, there is
political capital to be gained by responding to the polls. Beyond this
stimulus, however, is a desire on the part of most of the state actors to
fulfill well their constitutional and/or statutory responsibilities relative to
education. If something is wrong with education, they reason, then it is
their job to fix it. This means active involvement in all aspects of
education, not just provisions for school finance, (pp. 106-107)
Pipho (1990, p. 74) describes a "crazy quilt of different degrees of state
control" in the countrys system of public education. "Since the beginning of the
education reform movement in 1983, state control over education has increased...
local school boards, teachers, and administrators,... were also caught up in the
public mood for reform, and their support...made this something less than a one-sided
grab for power." Walberg & Walberg (1994) cite trends over the past decade in state
policy that effect increased state shares of school revenues and decreased local shares
of revenues. They conclude : "On average, higher achieving states have smaller
districts, smaller schools, and smaller state shares of school expenditures" (p. 19).
Fowler (2000) forecasts a weakening of local control in the new millenium.
The simple observation, But that would weaken local control was often
enough to end a debate.___There are signs that local control is weakening
as more and more power over educational resources and policymaking
shifts to the state level. Yet, for the most part, this change has not resulted
from new beliefs and values----Rather, it results from a convergence of
national and even international political and economic trends, (pp. 123-
Grodzins; Marble Cake Thesis
The concepts of these researchers support Grodzins hypothesis that the
division of responsibilities among federal-state-local governments simply constitutes
the American way. The relationship is not only intimate but is functionally
analogous to a marble cake of shared activities and services even though it is formally
structured (like a layer cake) in three planes (1966, p.v). Fowler makes the same
point that the legal relationship between states and school districts is unitary.
Unitary and marbled well describe the fluid and dynamic characteristics of a
constantly changing and sharing of government functions. Straayer adds a point
about Colorados legislative dominance as compared to other American
Our political history shows that the American people have a fear of a
strong executive and a preference for legislative dominance. In many
western states, the late nineteenth-century experience with political
corruption and the resultant populism encouraged people to weaken the
powers of governments even further. The fifty American states vary in the
relative power of their legislative and executive branches, but in Colorado,
the relationship is clear: Ours is a system of legislative dominance. This is
evident in the budgetary process, where the legislature and its six-member
Joint Budget Committee control the budget. And although the governor is
constitutionally required to prepare a state budget, it plays a limited role in
determining the states financial priorities and policies. (Straayer, 1990, p.
It should be mentioned that the recipe for governmental marble cake contains
a little chaos... this chaos promotes sharing because it prevents any single
government or governmental plane from gaining exclusive jurisdiction and power in
any area of governmental concern (p. v). Grodzins labels this great overlap of
public entities as the chaos of responsibility (p. 127). The marble cake model
correlates with the model of mutual influence (Fuhrman & Elmore, 1990, p. 90).
Here, the activism of one level of government conditions the activism of another
ensuring a collaboration beyond a zero-sum model.
Local Control as Marble Cake
The question becomes is local control really on the decline or did it ever exist
in the unqualified near-absolute independence the locals were once supposed to
have (Grodzins, 1966, p. 380)? Our appetite for local independence was fed over
decades by an unbalanced diet of free, responsible local government (p. 360).
Francis Fowler (2000) illustrates the longstanding misunderstanding that exists
regarding relationships between the national, state and local governments.
Because the relationship between Washington and the states is a federal
one, many Americans assume that the states have a federal relationship
with their local governments, including school districts. For example, this
author has heard school board members complain loudly about state
mandates and exclaim in public meetings: Who do those guys in the state
legislature think they are? We were elected by the people to run this school
system! (pp. 125-126)
Fowler as much as suggests that we all need a review of our ninth grade civics
lessons. The relationship between states and local governments is not federal, but
unitary (p. 126). The reason for this mistaken perception of legal status of school
districts derives from the behavior of states until approximately three decades ago.
Until then states were willing to let public education remain a state authority locally
administered (p. 126).
Grodzins helps us understand that this independence was always qualified
(p. 380). In a gentler way, he instructs us by laying out a rationale for the operation
of government in a highly interdependent culture.
Governments are means, not ends, and exist in the United States to fulfill
the peoples goals. Democratic governments properly serve no other
purpose. Neither a state nor a municipality has a vested interest in a
revenue to be collected or a function to be performed. Their larger goals
are identical. And their functions are bound together. States and localities
and the national government share functions. There is virtually no field...
that is the exclusive province of the national government. There is
virtually no field (not even schools) that is the exclusive province of the
states and localities together. (1966, p. 364)
Malen and Muncey (2000) confirm the contention that conflicts about how
governmental responsibilities are to be divided are implicitly, if not explicitly, a
fundamental feature of the more recent rounds of education reform legislation and
litigation (2000, p. 315). Malen and Munceys analysis goes onto describe the
illusion of the states relinquishing of power and the pattern of the schools
reclaiming of power. Through various combinations of symbols, sanctions, rules,
regulations, and exhortations, state policies seem to be creating ca new set of givens
that limit the latitude of site actors (p. 229).
Proponents of a balance of control such as Fuhrman and Elmore call for us to
recast the notion that state-local relations are a zero-sum game (leaving more control
in some quarters while reducing it in others), and accommodate the interdependent
character of control between local and state policymakers. Fuhrman and Elmore
(1990), Firestone (1989), and Frazier (1987, p. 114) all call for a decentralized
system that nurtures a delicate balance of the "major forces involved in that
New conceptions of state-local relations must account for the ways in
which states mobilize public and professional opinion, districts orchestrate
state and local priorities around schools and classrooms, and local political
entrepreneurs influence state policy. The result is often that the local
effects of state policy are greater than those one would predict on the basis
of state capacity, and localities often gain influence as a result of state
policymaking rather than lose it. (Fuhrman & Elmore, 1990, p. 82)
Wirt and Kirst (1997) debate the possibility of local control, the expanding
role of state government in influencing policy direction, and the development and
future of federal involvement in education (p. 1).
Why should the local role in education policy be maintained and even
strengthened in certain states where it has declined precipitously? As one
1. Public opinion still supports more local influence and less influence
for higher governments.
2. Local school politics tend to be more democratic in several important
ways than are decisions made at higher levels.
3. While there will be tension between state and local policymakers, the
result is policy that is better adapted to diverse local contexts.
4. Further erosion of the local role risks diminishing public support for
the schools, (p. 140)
The authors support Fuhrman and Elmores creative tension concept by suggesting
the existence of a nested policy in which the states provide the general contours and
the local districts fill in with more specified policies. This condition creates a
functional tension that tends to provide more appropriate and adaptable policies
than statewide specification (Wirt & Kirst, 1997, p. 141). As researchers, Wirt and
Kirst evaluate the question of the governance role of school boards.
Suggesting that changes may be needed in the structure and roles of school
governance cannot be equated with a conspiracy to remove the schools
from citizen control. Whether one agrees with specific ideas for structural
changes or notideas that range from municipal authorities appointing
school boards to state licensing of individual schoolsthe debate does not
exclude citizens from exercising some type of political control of the
schools. School boards are deeply embedded in U.S. political culture, and
proposals for radical change in their roles will encounter well-organized
grass-roots resistance, (p. 148)
Finally, Frazier (1987) articulates the collaborative arrangement that he
suggests will recast the network essential to maintaining an effective public education
A new state role needs to emerge from the present, overly directive pattern
of educational reform. If a nurturing role fails to evolve, the system could
well experience an internal decaying that eventually leads to yet another
shift in the locus of power. This time the transfer will not be to the federal
or local level but rather to new structures or delivery systems having a
power base driven by the individual consumer. The message should be
obvious. Those persons seeking to implement significant educational
change must be aware of their obligation to do this in a framework of
research, inquiry, openness, and collaboration to the end that all levels of
the system are strengthened or the change agents themselves will
undermine the existence of the system, (p. 116)
Firestone gives us a reality check in this realm of change and a new state role
by reminding us that while policies often take five to ten years to realize their full
impact on reform, legislators must operate on an annual basis to effect their change
policies (1989, p. 22). As a researcher, I am both puzzled and disturbed by the
meaning of data in the field as I see and hear the actions and interactions of state
policymakers who by the nature of their role literally manage the actions pertaining to
the local control phenomenon. I want to investigate the reality of local control by
raising questions and seeking answers within a set of parameters that invite rather
than exclude discovery, thus setting the stage to build theory.
Implications of the Research
The findings of the research cited here hold implications for further
deliberation about multilayered control issues that can provide a possible frame for
the debate about whether to centralize or decentralize authority in education
policymaking. The purpose of the study is to frame the issue of what Colorado's
constitutional provision means to state legislators and to determine how that
interpretation influences their educational policymaking. The research appears to
delineate a spectrum in the evolution of the concept of local control. The spectrum
includes: reform public education or relinquish local and state control to market
control; recognize and accept that local powers and duties are diminishing; recast the
notion that state-local relations are a zero-sum game, and accommodate the
interdependent character of control between local and state policymakers.
The study will begin by examining the perspective of state policymakers. It
will examine state policymakers' opinions as a basis for framing the issue for further
exploration in a larger dialogue among legislators, school board members and
communities at large. Such dialogue is beyond the scope of this study, but further
inquiry can lead to the "deliberative democracy" called for by Daniel Yankelovich
(1991). Since the interpretation of local control carries implications for the quality of
education in all Colorado communities, a process for engaging the public in
deliberation on the issue can lead away from .. shallow opinion to informed
judgment. Public judgment means a particular form of public opinion that exhibits
thoughtfulness, weighing of alternatives, emphasis on the normative, valuing, ethical
side of questions" (p. 5). Interviews of legislators on the subject of control will help
constitute a range of choices in the issue that ultimately can be weighed by whole
This chapter describes the methodology used to gather data from legislators
about local control of education. Covered in this chapter are a rationale for using
qualitative inquiry, methods and procedures of the study, the sample, collection of
data, and the documentation of data analysis. The chapter closes with the limitations
of the study.
Few political traditions hold more esteem or confusion than the concept of
local control. The confusion often leads to bitter turf battles between levels of
government. The purpose of this research is to develop a deep understanding about
how leading legislators think about local controlits importance and limitsand
how these views affect their actions. The purpose is, as well, to frame the issue of
state and local control so that careful deliberation can occur among legislators, school
board members, educators, and communities as the future role of educational reform
and governance is constructed. My daily experiences at the state Capitol during
legislative sessions over the past six years impelled me to design a study to
systematically trace the phenomenon of local control, what has affected the
phenomenon and what the consequences are of the actions and interactions of state
policymakers in this context.
I selected a qualitative approach to cany out this study for three reasons: (a) I
wanted to see, hear, and feel the real world views of legislators about the
interdependencies of the various propositions of control: constitutional, legislative,
market, and non-zero-sum dynamics of control. (b) I wanted to engage in a face-
to-face dialogue with legislators as they brought into the open the intertwining of the
facts and values underlying their assumptions on local control (c) I wanted to
construct an analytic story to help explain the complexity of the issues confronting
state and local governments as the future of educational governance and effective
learning and teaching is considered.
My reasons for designing this study and the basic characteristics of a
qualitative study design fit together to offer me an in-depth procedure to explore this
complex and socially constructed problem. As a qualitative researcher, I tried to
adhere to Mariams six assumptions about the methodology of a qualitative design.
He suggests that the concerns and interests of a qualitative researcher include
process, meaning, and the researcher as primary instrument for data collection
and analysis. He lists fieldwork, descriptive research, and the inductive
nature of research as the assumptions underlying the distinctions between a
qualitative and quantitative study (Creswell, 1994, pp. 144-147). Building on these
assumptions, Strauss and Corbin illustrate an important quality needed by the
qualitative researcher, theoretical sensitivity (1990, p. 41). Theoretical sensitivity
refers to the attribute of having insight, the ability to give meaning to data, the
capacity to understand, and capability to separate the pertinent from that which isnt
(Strauss & Corbin, p. 42). My personal and professional experience in policymaking
and lobbying provides the foundation for this theoretical sensitivity critical to a rich
In order to fairly reflect how legislators think about local control, I first
analyzed the specific actions of the state legislature, in the form of laws enacted, that
illustrate the action/interaction strategies regarding local control Second, I focused
on state policymakers themselves to learn how they handle or manage interaction
strategies leading to action pertaining to local control. When and under what
conditions do they intervene in local control issues?
The role of the research was to begin to frame the issue by first clarifying
what state and local roles in public education are in the minds of legislators and what
interventions through state and local control are appropriate to make meaningful
differences in educational policy to address how well schools work. I interviewed
legislators to gather information in a first-hand manner. As a researcher, I was
committed to understanding the perspective of the participating legislators to render a
"true to life" picture of what was said. The approach followed the methodology used
in a recent study, The Politics OfRemedy: State Legislative Views On Higher
Education (Ruppert, 1996). The findings of this study revealed emerging theories
comprising grounded research rather than imposing theories at the outset. My biggest
challenge as researcher was to build on the relationships and trust I had formed in six
years of advocacy work at the legislature on behalf of the Colorado Association of
Eleven legislators who were key actors in education were chosen for
interviews. Influence, experience and committee chairmanship comprised the criteria
for sample selection. The sample included sponsors of significant education bills;
specialists in school finance; house and senate leadership positions; opinion leaders
along a wide spectrum of views on public education. Experience in the legislature
ranged from two to twenty years. Three of the eleven have served as members of a
board of education. One has served on both a local board of education and on the
Colorado State Board of Education. One has left the legislature and now serves on
the State Board of Education. Four of the sample have served as chairs of either the
House or Senate Education Committees. One has served as chair of the House
Finance Committee. One has served as House Majority Leader.
I interviewed eleven House and Senate Education Committee members: five
senators, six representatives. I chose the sample from education committee
membership owing to their knowledge and grasp of the essentials of educational
public policies. Education is a complicated area of law, and, therefore, service on
education committees leads to proficiency and mastery of this specialty. Among
those interviewed were three Democrats and eight Republicans. Chairs of both
education committees were interviewed. Interviews of democratic committee
members numbered three which corresponds to committee make-up regarding party
affiliation. House Education Committee has eleven members, four are Democrats.
Senate Education Committee has seven members, three are Democrats.
The study design includes five activities:
1. I developed a conditional matrix (Appendix B, showing conditional relationships
that exist between the actors and the actions that manage the phenomenon of
local control) as modeled in Strauss and Corbin's Basics of Qualitative
Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques featuring levels of
action/interaction, conditions and consequences to serve as an analytic tool for
investigation of the phenomenon.
2. I used a paradigm to follow the evolution of the local control phenomenon
nationally and in Colorado (Appendix A).
3. I developed, and after consultation with fellow lobbyists, select legislators, and
education policy experts, revised an impartial and non-partisan interview
protocol I used an Interview Guide with topics and issues outlined in advance.
Following a preliminary testing of the interview protocol with four respondents
(included in the final eleven interviews), the findings were reviewed and
modifications were made to the construction of the questions.
4. I interviewed members of the House of Representatives and the Senate
Education Committees for a total of eleven interviews.
5. The final Interview Guide includes these questions formulated as described
1. My research is about how local control has evolved and when and
under what conditions legislators intervene in education local control
issues. In the context of our unique constitutional provision allowing
for local control, what does local control in education mean to you?
2. What legislative local control issues related to education this year?
3. It seems that there is a lot of inherent conflict in these issues. What is
the hardest decision you have had to make on an issue of local control in
education anytime as a legislator?
4. I would like to ask you to rate the extent to which you find information
received from various sources useful or helpful in making policy decisions
related to K-12 education, in general. Using a scale from 1 to 5 where 1
is not useful at all, 2 is of little use, 3 is neutral or no opinion, 4 is
somewhat useful and 5 is very useful, how would you rate information
3a. House leadership?
3b. Senate leadership?
3c. Education Committee?
3d. Other legislators?
3e. Governor's office?
3 Â£ Staff consultants?
3g. Party caucus?
3L Special interest groups?
3j. Business leaders?
31. Research groups?
3 m. Other?
5. In your opinion, how do you view the state's role and responsibilities in
providing public education?
6. How good a job is the state doing?
7. In your opinion, how do you view the local district's role and
responsibilities in providing public education?
8. How good a job is the district doing?
9. Could you give me one or two examples of your experiences in voting
on an issue related to local control in education? What was your rationale
for the vote?
10. The following questions deal with actions taken by the state
legislature in the past with the passage of three specific laws: State
Standards and Assessment Act, Charter Schools Act, and the Third Grade
Literacy Act. Some people feel these acts were an intrusion on local
control. Other people feel these acts were a natural expression of the
state's interest in education reform. How do you interpret the effects of
these acts on local control?
11. How many years have you been in the legislature? How many years
have you been on the education committee? chair?
12. Do you have other comments about local control or this topic in
general that you would like to add?
13. Do you have feedback on the survey itself?
Following an introductory letter (Appendix C), legislators were contacted to
schedule an interview time at their convenience. It was my aim to conduct the
interviews away from the Capitol and dtxring the interim period between sessions.
However, owing to a special session of the legislature during the summer of 1998,1
conducted a few interviews at the offices of the legislators in the CapitoL The
interview protocol was mailed in advance to the legislators so they could review the
questions or have it with them during the interview. Face-to-face interviews occurred
lasting from forty to one hundred and twenty minutes.
Spradleys (1980) interview techniques guided my process. I began by giving
interviewees an explanation of the project then moved to a grand tour question about
local control. I followed with some experience questions. I listened actively in a
supportive and friendly manner. An atmosphere of neutrality was established through
the use of examples of actions taken by the legislature in the past. Careful use was
made of probes (Would you elaborate more on that? Let me take you back to what
you told me, and check to see if I understand it correctly.)
I taped the interviews and listened to each one twice before having them
transcribed. The interview protocol was used to structure analysis, record positions,
and to perform initial coding. The tapes served to confirm and refine coding, and
then to obtain verbatim quotations representative of viewpoints summarized by codes.
Confidentiality was assured through a statement that quotations appearing in study
findings would not be attributed to specific persons.
Findings were derived from eleven interviews with House and Senate
Education Committee members. The qualitative data revealed emerging patterns of
the motives and beliefs behind legislators' actions. Quotations and anecdotes were
used to give life to emerging theories and questions.
After conducting the interviews, I employed the "contact summary report" as
a one-page summary format suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994). With this as
a means of sorting, focusing, and organizing field notes, I pursued the deeper
implications of emerging themes through personal memos. Krathwohl (1993, p. 342)
highlights the appeal of memoing as a means of capturing "the inferences underlying
the codes." Miles and Huberman (p. 74) shed more light on its use through then-
description of memo writing as "little conceptual epiphanies." Krathwohl again
offers a rationale for weaving the conversation of qualitative research inquiry with the
researcher's own internal thinking and dialogue:
A problem Miles and Huberman (1984) note is that we become so
fascinated with the flood of particulars that we "forget to think, to make
deeper and more general sense of what is happening, to begin to explain it
in a conceptually coherent way" (p. 69). Thinking is carrying on a
conversation with oneselfj and memos are records of those conversations.
Strauss (1987) argues that memoing should take precedence over coding or
data recording so that the idea will not be lost. (p. 332)
After transcription, I coded the interviews according to categories of themes
developed from the questions in the interview protocol and from inferential sub-
themes that emerged from the interviewees. Seven themes or start codes (Miles &
Huberman, 1994, p. 58) flowed out of the interview protocol and from the firsthand
questioning of these policymakers as to what causes them to intervene in local control
issues. These were: local control, state role, district role, standards and assessment,
charter schools, third grade literacy, and miscellaneous. Numerous sub-themes (note
codes) emanated from the deeper analytic story as a spectrum of perspectives
formed between the polar positions of What were doing is making public education
more competitive. We arent trying to run them out of business... to [Local
control] is a community-based approach. I think theres a trustworthiness involved in
that. Between these polar positions lies the reality of the many different definitions
expressed in this legislators comment: As you get to an issue that has a state-local
variance, where is your judgment going to end up ... in between that decision,
theres a host of things you have to deal with. The host of things you have to deal
with began to reveal itself in the minds of legislators as conditional aspects of
granting authority to local school boards.
I used evolving hypotheses from these data to generate interpretations of what
I was learning. In 1998,1 developed the legislature as school analogy (School Days
At The Capitol, Billboard, May, 1998) set forth by James Madison and John Stuart
Mill to emphasize what I was encountering as a researcher about the teaching and
learning function of the legislature. In 1999,1 wrote Its Dynamic-Tension
Article IX, Section 15 (Billboard, May, 1999) in which I described another
conceptual epiphany. I suggested that article IX, section 15 of the Colorado
Constitution was the dynamic-tension builder between state and local authority in
educational governance issues. In 2000,1 used Grodzins marble cake concept to
suggest what the locals could do to recapture aspects of local control (Local Is As
Local Does, Billboard, May, 2000).
I used the interview transcriptions to begin a deeper examination with the
interview questions themselves as a way of structuring the analysis. In coding the
interviews, I attempted to follow Corsaros (1995) example of not just coding but
using counting, defining, labeling, and sorting of data to lead to interpretation of those
Pattern coding (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 69) as a means to find
inferential themes upon rereading of field notes provided a workable strategy for
categorizing the actions and perceptions reported to me by those interviewed.
Therefore, a consistent treatment through labeling and coding suggested the need for
an initial coding list" to see what is there" (Krathwohl, p. 337). The list suggested
categories. "... that ought to be hierarchically related so that there are different
levels of coding. But examine the material itself before making these changes, since
closer examination may reveal distinctions not conveyed by the code titles, leading to
their revision." Examples of these categories were: evolution, public good, erosion,
constitution, definition, principles, non-absolute, incentives, and fiscal. Once these
were established, new field notes were coded into these categories and sorted
according to significant characteristics. Strauss and Corbin (1990, p. 97) refer to this
as axial coding or breaking data apart and putting them back together in a
relational form. This provided a new listening opportunity for the researcher to hear
things that were both similar and overtly different at the next interview. This caused
the researcher to go back to the pattern coding to look for higher level themes that
Miles and Huberman (p. 75) suggest entertaining the need for deeper analytic
approaches to the data. "As a study proceeds, there is a greater need to formalize and
systematize the researcher's thinking into a coherent set of explanations. One way to
do that is to generate propositions... reflecting the findings and conclusions of the
study." The propositions fell in the form of emerging hypotheses that lent themselves
to explanation, integration, change, or elimination. It was in this step of analysis that
the researcher began to integrate the lessons and learnings of her inquiry to find valid
meanings and to draw real conclusions from step by step qualitative inquiry
From the development of an interview protocol to coding, memoing,
explaining, and interpreting, an "audit trail" as described by Miles and Huberman (p.
124) evolved and became a useful tool for me and for those who acted as critical
friends and knowledgeable critics. I engaged a cadre of critical friends to provide
external reviews of field notes and to provide alternative ways of looking at all data.
These critics read the major themes as I completed them and offered interpretations
that helped me finally determine the validity of my data conclusions.
Design Limitations (Statement of Bias')
As is the case with any research method, limitations were inherent to the
qualitative approach that required the researcher's attention. In this study, I assessed
my biases prior to beginning data collection. I found that legislators not only
welcomed the absence of an hypothesis on my part, but they anticipated emerging
hypotheses through the telling of their own story. My practice of reviewing
legislation through an objective lens had garnered a fair level of trust among
legislators which I did not violate in this research effort. Confidentiality was a
hallmark of this inquiry. Even though this study was selected as a means of
expanding my personal knowledge of legislator opinions, beliefs, and attitudes that
influence their decision-making, it should be noted that my public policymaking
experience provided a prior general knowledge base of the issues and perspectives of
state and local policymakers.
I sought to overcome my bias by being as objective as possible in gathering
data. No incidents occurred during interviews regarding personal experience with me
as a lobbyist, for example, no legislator raised an issue about the position of my
organization on the bills we discussed. I did not influence them in any way. At the
same time, my observations of legislator actions, testimony, and votes tested the
validity of the answers I was given in the interviews. Legislators, in most instances,
appeared to forget that I had detailed knowledge of their actions and decisions on the
issues of local control even though, many times, I had been on the other side. I did
not proceed looking from the perspective of an educational lobbyist. Rather, I
proceeded with the intent of understanding the values legislators had so that there
would emerge a basis for informed dialogue leading to a process for making informed
The study has raised as many questions as it has answered, specifically about
the future of local control. However, as a researcher, I believe that I have had the
opportunity through qualitative inquiry to enhance the impact of educational research
in a useful way for policymakers. David Berliner (1997, p. 14) further states the need
for educational researchers to "explain the complexity of the issues that many of the
15,700 local boards of education and the 50 state boards of education confront." This
analytic story about the evolution of local control not only traced the path of local
control from its origins but revealed the conditional and consequential relationships
that led to actions that formed and reformed the phenomenon. Potentially, emerging
theories from this inquiry will inform future policymaking at the local and state levels
through new perspectives relating to governance in public education. The findings of
this study should permit logical generalization and application to future deliberations
of legislators, school board members, educators, and communities as the future of
school boards in educational governance and effective learning and teaching is
considered. Believing that democracy begins with conversation, not with elections, I
hoped to construct, along with the legislators I interviewed, what Miles and
Huberman (1993, p. 91) suggest is a "deeper story" about the conditions that give rise
to specific sets of action/interaction pertaining to the phenomenon of local control and
the resulting consequences.
VOICING: WHAT LEGISLATORS SAY
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there existed a beautiful place. There
were high mountains and broad plains, modern cities, small towns, acres of
farm land and great expanses of forest. And like the land, the people of
this place were varied and diverse. The 176 school districts of this place
were each unique___Every school district was governed by a group of
people who lived there__They were the most local of all local
governments____So important was this local governance to the people of
the state that they enshrined it in their constitution. (Poncelow, 1999, p. 1)
This is not the story of local school district governance lamenting forgotten
strengths, faded wisdom, or fallen hopes. Rather this story raises the voices of
legislators as they examine their understanding of their own actions and the impact of
those actions upon the phenomenon of local control. Through these voices we can
begin to comprehend the complexity of the beliefs and values held by legislators as
they study and decide state and local interests in public education. While this chapter
provides a narrative, chapter five will construct a deeper story (Miles & Huberman,
1993, p. 93) in which the reader can hear the account of legislators views in a larger,
consolidated context, one that presents a reflective base.
Local Control: Characteristics
An analytic story about the phenomenon of local control begins with a grand
tour question of legislators: What does local control in education mean to you?
The journey commences with legislators views of the evolution of local control and
leads the interviewer onto their constitutional interpretations, principles and
definitions. Our travels include a visit with legislators concerning their insights about
the deep dissatisfaction of citizens with their government and the need for a more
deliberative democracy. As tourists in this land of legislative perspectives about
educational reform and democratic decision making, we should first take an aerial
view of the features of legislative thinking about local control, before we travel to the
legislative landmarks of standards and assessment, charter schools, and third-grade
literacy. Our examination of the topography of the local control landscape begins
with the constitution as the law of the land. However, this political document
inserts immediate tension into the scene by dividing the authority for establishing and
governing public schools in Colorado between the legislature and the local school
district. Some legislators see their authority in the fiscal realm as over-riding the
locally elected school boards constitutionally granted curricular authority. These
legislators see merit in the mild threat posed by the state as it contributes more and
more to the funding of education and, in return, mandates accountability on the part
As we wander around in the presence of legislative thinking, we begin to see a
difference in opinion about the meaning of effective governance: Are school boards
elected to be day-to-day managers or implementers of broad policy and visionary
leadership? Many legislators feel that the constitutionally embedded legal definition
of local control conflicts with a more decentralized, parent-oriented definition. So,
said one senator, .. somewhere were going to have to find a balance, or some way
to redo our districts, that theyre more responsible at a local control level for the
Two of eleven legislators interviewed framed the issue of local control in an
historical perspective. Both are experienced legislators. The first legislator began by
describing the conflict of the Colonial era when colonists were disputing not just
taxation and the Stamp Act itself but the idea that the British were infringing on
peoples ability to function. I think people were disputing the coercion, that
influence, that .. diminished [their capacity] to make decisions. This same
legislator cautions that the use of local control as a basis for policymaking should be
measured by a standard of what is best for the entire system: local, state, federal.
We have to be very careful that this community-based approach is really
the answer to the betterment of a community and then a state and then a
I think local control has a historical significance, but, over time, I think its
become a cliche as I say, or almost a misnomer in many ways. I think its
more reflective of an independence on the part of Americans in general and
Coloradans in particular. They want to be able to, as a community, chart
their destiny. It was dear to those people back then, and I think that has
kept on for 200 plus years in America where we have this ideal that we are,
you know, still wild and wooly.
The second legislator went back to Colorados early history and the evolution
from small schools where the townspeople would hire the teacher to elected county
superintendents to So when the constitution was then changed to take out the county
superintendent, they made sure they kept local control. This legislator disagreed as
to what article IX, section 15 says and how it should be interpreted.
It says local control I dont think it says local board. Thats an
Another legislator alludes to the interdependency between the states
obligation to provide a thorough and uniform system of education (fiscally) and the
districts responsibility to manage curricular authority. This representative observes.
The ultimate in local control would be that all decisions would be made at
the local school or school district. And this also implies that for fruitful
control, fiscal support would be derived from the local community. Now,
we realize that that is not possible.
This same legislator suggests that local control of the good old days has been lost
due to inappropriate and unnecessary state intervention.
Many legislators express that without local control of fiscal policies, local
control in curricular authority alone does not allow districts to chart their own
... if you are strapped for money, just to deliver the basics, youre not going
to do anything real creative. (Representative D)
Yet another Democratic legislator, less experienced, adamantly refuses to
support any proposal that might come to the legislature to allow every district to be
on their own financially. To this lawmaker there are limits to local decisions when
they conflict with state interest. This legislator could not revert to the days when
districts could ask their citizens for a budget without the equity constraints imposed
by the state.
At some point, someone, Im pretty sure, will come forward and say,
Listen, lets just scrap the whole program. Well have some property tax,
and if we want to do a sales tax in our jurisdiction, we ought to be able to
do it. That, to me, will be a local control issue, because people will say,
Well, in our communities, we can sell a sales tax. We can sell a sales tax
of 10%, and our communities would agree to it. That, to me, is a
problem, because that would be the first time Id ever have to say, I dont
know that thats truly a local control issue. Its clearly a statewide issue.
This legislator appears to agree with the plaintiffs of the Lujan case even
though the legislator arrived at the Capitol after the case unsuccessfully challenged
the overall scheme of funding for Colorados public schools as violating both the
equal protection clause of Colorados constitution and the states constitutional
mandate that a thorough and uniform system of public schools be provided
(Colorado Constitution, article IX, section 2). The two senators cited here share
neither the same political affiliation nor the same meanings of local control Senator
B relies on the historical validity, Senator D confesses to a distrust of the
constitutional validity of local control.
Some key actors drew on constitutional language for their views on local
control Colorados constitution makes specific references to local control in
educational policymaking through certain stated provisions. This inquiry reflects an
interest in whether or not legislators have familiarity with the constitution and on
their perception of the specific state mandate in the constitution regarding educational
Colorados own constitutional provisions define a clear interdependency
between the state and local interests. The Colorado Constitution, itself, flames the
issue of the importance of the balance of control between fiscal policies and
curricular authority. Article IX, section 2 embodies the former.
The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the
establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of flee
public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, may
be educated gratuitously.
Article IX, section 15 manifests curricular authority:
The general assembly shall, by law, provide for organization of school
districts of convenient size, in each of which shall be established a board of
education, to consist of three or more directors to be elected by the
qualified electors of the district. Said directors shall have control of
instruction in the public schools of their respective districts.
Williams notes that, while education as a local concern was a prevailing
point of view in all states in their early histories, it received exaggerated emphasis in
Colorado. A prime educational problem, therefore, has been to establish the concept
of a wider responsibility for education than that of the local district or even of the
county (Williams, 1969, p. 147). Today, the problem may have reversed itself
according to some legislators who worry that legislators dont look deeply into the
constitution, constitutionality of things.
In my opinion, I dont think legislators rely on either the United States
Constitution or the Colorado Constitution in developing their principles on
how they believe a policy matter should be decided. I feel as though I need
to chart a course of policy based on the United States and the Colorado
constitutions. And so I take the constitutions very seriously, and if I cant
get past those, Im at a real stumbling block in terms of trying to do certain
This senators observation is supported by an incorrect interpretation of the words of
the constitution by another senator. It says local control. I dont think it says local
board. Thats an interpretation, Senator B said.
One experienced and influential legislator declared an interpretation of the
constitutions article IX, section 15 to mean that instructional authority could lie with
a locally elected board at the school level rather than at the district level. This notion
of local control suggests that in the minds of some legislators the concept is not
certain or that it is not based upon a strict authority interpretation. Some legislators
have raised the point that it is legitimate for the curriculum of the school district to
reflect the value system and educational emphasis which are the collective will of
those whose children are being educated and who are paying taxes to support the
schools. A bill in the 1999 legislative session (SB 202) proposed to permit a clear
majority of the parents and legal guardians of the students in a school to convey the
collective will of the community and to have the ability to determine the educational
programs offered by the school (Section 1, SB 202).
The following dialogue comes from the discussion on the Senate floor of SB
202 on March 19,1999.
Senator X: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Well, Senator Y, I don't dispute
that the goals of your bill are laudable, and that your constituents have
some frustrations in Harper Valley School District and perhaps in other
school districts as well. What I have a hard time getting past, however, is I
believe it's article IX, section 15 of our constitution dealing with school
districts and boards of directors, which concludes saying, "Said directors
shall have control of instruction in the public schools of their respective
districts." That's why I not only have a hard time with this legislation that
attacks that from the local level, but I also have a hard time when the
legislature dictates from above what instruction should take place in the
local school districts....
Senator X: I fear that there is a constitutional question with your bill,
Senator Y: Senator X, we went to the constitution and looked up some
court cases in that area. And the first part of the bill reflects that (pause) is
(pause) as local as you can get, and the parents and the neighborhood, is
how the court ruled. And I'm not telling anybody what to teach not a bit.
I am giving it to the parents and the teachers in the local districts, not me.
Senator X: And Senator Y, I grant you that this is an opportunity for the
parents to do that. However, not withstanding the court's opinion, the
constitution clearly says, "said directors shall have control of instruction in
the public schools of their respective districts." If the courts have found a
way to interpret that differently, I guess I should say I'm not surprised.
However, it appears to me that if the folks who wrote this constitution had
meant that to say "parents," they would have said parents rather than
There are varying opinions as to what the unit of local is in local control.
Some seem to think it is the school board; some think it could be exercised by a
school council; others think individual parents are the appropriate focus. While a
majority of legislators do not define local control as the parent, at least one
experienced legislator favors a non-absolute interpretation of the constitutional
provisions and seeks to influence district policy through such an interpretation.
What all the bills are doing at this point, that you find us carrying, is trying
to give more control to parents, instead of boards. And is that what you
call local control? It depends on how you want to define it. Do you define
it to the elected board, or do you define it to the parent? And because we're
hearing from the parents, we as legislators then are defining it as the parent,
A few legislators ponder the feet that the Colorado constitution both gives
and limits power. It states that education is a joint responsibility, separated and
divided among the legislature, the State Board of Education, and local boards of
education. A healthy tension does exist among the three groups of elected officials.
One legislator sounds almost resigned to a sense that notwithstanding constitutional
provisions, local control is not an absolute but more of a fluid concept molded by
historic and unchallenged actions and interactions between the state and local
Well, even though local school boards are charged with curriculum
development and curriculum determination, the states, for many years,
have had laws saying You have to teach about American history, you have
to teach about government. And we havent really questioned that, but
that seemed to be a state prerogative. Maybe we have the best of both
worldsthat if we did not have this provision in the constitution, we
wouldnt have the creative tension between what is the prerogative of a
school district and that of the state.
Another legislator who carried the school finance act in earlier years describes
a standard by which to measure constitutionality of legislative measures.
If the state is charged with a thorough and uniform education, then I think
the state can define outcomes, but not necessarily process. ... I guess I
always thought of local control for education in a way that its complying
with the constitutional requirements for the unique needs of the locality in
which the school board resides.
Legislators, for the most part, have difficulty defining local control. Most of
them will say that in educational matters local control means control over the
curriculum, at least, as to what is being taught on a daily basis. Many define it as a
concept, a philosophical way of thinking that most things happen better at its lowest
level. A number of the legislators define it in terms of local people deciding the
fate of their future. More than one chose to relate it to the broader needs of the
regular citizen. Which is more local? Well, the citizen is, reasoned one legislator.
Educationally, several legislators implied that local control should go as close to the
individual as possible and still have the wherewithal to be able to be responsible,
which can create the accountability. One experienced legislator specifically points
to control at the school level as embodying the best definition of local control
To me it means that basically they operate the school. And the more local
it becomes, I think the better off at the school level not particularly the
board level And I know boards don't want to hear that But I think at the
school level, where parents can have input much more so than they can on
a board. Now, in a small district they can on the board. When you only
have 500 kids in a district sure, because that's about the size of a school
You have that input. But when you get as large as Denver and Jeffco and
Cherry Creek and Colorado Springs, people feel like they're forgotten.
And so I think we have to look at an avenue where we have more parent
involvement. And I dont know how we do it yet but hopefully I'll think of
To many legislators the legislation taking away local control of school district
smoking policies provides one of the most relevant examples of the definition of local
I think the smoking bill, more than any other one, exemplifies the issue. If
I were a school board member listening to the evidence, given my own
dynamics and the school districts that I live in, I would vote yes to have
all tobacco-free buildings and grounds. As a legislator, though, I dont
know all of the dynamics of the 176 school districts. If the evidence is so
persuasive, take it to the school district.
Some legislators view local control as a boundary and define it in terms of
what constitutes intrusion on local control.
As far as legislators voting, I think its, to a large degree, whether or not
they agree with whats being proposedI really do. I go back to the Third
Grade Literacy Act. I probably would have supported the effort the way it
was originally written that would have required students to be held back a
grade. But then I really understood the argument that Well, now youre
really dictating to the school what their policy is going to be. So the
change in that, to make it provide remedial training to bring them up to
speed, I think is the appropriate way to go.
For at least one legislator, another part of the concept of local control is the
issue of fairness.
I guess the only thing I would say is if the locals want local control, they
should be consistent, they should be fair, and not play favorites.
Principles: Use of the Mild Threat
In seeking to understand the conditions under which legislators intervene in
education local control issues, it is necessary to trace the subtleties of how they bring
their judgment to bear on an issue. Legislators seem to operate on a set of principles
of which local control is only one. Their beliefs stem from the need to evaluate the
policy on the basis of what will contribute to the betterment of a community. The
driving force appears to be Does it truly serve the public good? Three legislators
commented on how their colleagues struggle with the nuances of representative
democracy and proper responses to every good idea and the pressure brought by
any organized group.
And so at some point, a judgment has to come in. And I think a lot of
people dont understand that about representative democracy. They still
view democracy as, you should be voting the will of the people. Number
one and even if its die will, is it tied in to correct with the constitution and
with my principles?
As you get to an issue that has a state local variance, where is your
judgment going to end up?_____in between that decision, theres a host of
things you have to deal with.
I have a very simple guideline that I use, and that says that we ought not to
make a law for every good idea. My belief is that if the argument is so
persuasive in House Education Committee, then it ought to be equally as
persuasive in a local school board meetingand that if its not, then thats
their decision and not mine.
I think many legislators give credence, if not lip service, to the whole
principle of local control. But the reality is, Ive discovered, that any
organized group can bring pressure on the legislature. And if they cant get
it done in their home district, they can come to the legislature and get it
done more easily and efficiently.
This last observation refers to an emerging theory that the legislature tends
more and more to impose its vision of public good through the state democratic
process than the local democratic process. You now have a system of legislative
review of the decisions made at the local level. The local board decides whats in the
best interests of the community- If the people who lose do not like the boards
decision then they can go to a different elected body and ask them to make a decision
based on that entitys beliefs about what is in the best interest of the community.
Often, it may be the case that the people who ran for the legislature may hold a
different philosophy than the locally elected officials. Therefore, the legislature is
making a response to the people who are complaining and, perhaps, misrepresenting
or misunderstanding that those people have lost in the democratic process.
The tobacco-free bill provides an example of the conflict between a local
school boards judgment as to what is in the best interest of the public and the
legislatures judgment. This bill posed a dilemma for many legislators as they tried to
balance their own preference on a health issue with a logical principled conclusion
regarding allowing the school district to determine the public good and whether it
wanted to have a smoke-free environment.
If the school wants to have a smoke-free environment, they can do that. To
say that I voted strictly because of local control would be inaccurate. I
went through a process long ago on tobacco issues where I come out,
because I come out of an analytical or a logical principled conclusion and
not because local control happens to be two convenient words to rely on.
On the same issue, other legislators demonstrated just how short legislative
patience can be from year to year. If local boards do not take their responsibility to
ensure the public good then legislators feel they must do so.
I guess I kind of switched a little bit from 97 to 98, because I felt it was a
local control issue that they should have done it. We have some locals that
are not fulfilling their obligations. And so this is where the legislature
comes back in and says we have to [intervene].
If an idea is persuasive, then its a good idea. And yet you can take it the
next step and show that school boards, after due process, still fail to act.
Then, I think, the state has an obligation to step in.
One legislator suggests that the very nature of a legislature creates inherent
conflict. Essentially, this legislator describes a theory espoused versus theory in use
scenario. While holding strong beliefs about the value of locally determined policies,
nonetheless, this policymaker rationalizes that many state policies are for the
perception of the pubic to show that the schools are improving, doing better, doing
I will try very hard not to violate what I believe local control to be, but the
legislatures a different place. The legislature is a reactive at worst,
responsive at best, deliberative body. It is not a prevention body, its a
reactive, responsive one. And when people dont feel in control of their
processes, they move to the next level with their complaints and concerns.
Another legislator offers the theory that a certain creative tension emerges
from the uneasy alliance between state and local powers. In this case, a certain merit
resides in the presence of a mild threat.
Its [local control) not an absolute principle, and you try to avoid it
[erosion]. Maybe we have the best of both worldsthat if we did not have
this provision in the constitution, we wouldnt have the creative tension
between what is the prerogative of a local school district. And I think that
maybe we have the best out of the bargain in that both are watching each
other, or doing what they need to do. And so school districts are going to
do their best job so local control wont erode more. And I think it works.
We are seeing this with the Accountability Act. Its just kind of a mild
While some legislators are content to stop with a mild threat, others believe
the state must step in and try to pull all of them into an equal footing. This position
surfaces a paternalistic view of local control.
In situations like just last year with accreditation. With some schools, you
almost had to kind of pull them into it as with standards and assessments.
The way that thing finally came out was it still left the control up to local
districts, as far as what they do within the school. It just said, You are
going to meet these standards to be accredited. And theres another
situation that does, in fact, go over the line. That is stepping in and taking
controlthe state is taking control and saying Locals, you havent done
the job. Now we have to set a standard for you.
Two other very experienced legislators who both served on the House
Education Committee concur that when local districts have not done their job, the
state can step in.
And so, yes, you could say its an intrusion on local control, but by the
same token, I think that its a definition of the need of the community---
the state at large.
In addition, even though this legislator voted against the charter school bill
one year, there was no hesitation to clarify the situation the next year for the good
of the charter school and home school communities.
The year after charters came in, I carried the bill that said if your kids go
to charter (schools) or are home schooled.... you can participate in
extracurricular activities at the attendance center.
This action exemplifies political control and its impact on legislative
intervention. The second legislator voiced near outrage at school boards not taking
leadership regarding student discipline.
I think one issue that always bothered me was that the local boards didnt
take more of an active role in discipline, that we had to pass a law.... I
never, ever understood that! Why couldnt they go out and do their own
discipline? Why did we have to pass a law?
A noteworthy contrast lies between two legislators who respond to the
question, What was the most difficult decision on an issue of local control you have
had to make? One responded.
Ive never had a real tough time making those distinctions between whether
its really a statewide issue for all kids across all boundary lines versus
what happens in one of the 176 districts.
The other legislator referring to a bill requiring a certain curriculum be
taught reflects political control and its impact on why legislators intervene.
Theyre my constituents. But I really did not agree with what they were
doing. I really disagreed with doing it, but I voted for it. That was the
biggest conflict I had.
Only two legislators directly referred to the will of the people as a rationale
for policy decision making among their peers. Neither approve of this reasoning as
the sole basis of a vote. Both note that this is a shallow way to determine a
representative position and that representative democracy entails far more than
voting the will of the people.
The will of the people. And the people, the people, becomes a much
smaller group wanting something before the legislature than I ever
dreamed. There can be very small groups that have tremendous influence
because of their organization and direct persistence.
The latter observation begins to take into account an emerging theory among
some legislators that it is acceptable for those people who lost or have complaints
about decisions of one democratically elected entity (such as a school board) to
appeal to another elected entity (the legislature) to get what they want.
To just say that you act merely at the will of the people is a shallow way to
be a representative exercising judgment on their behalf. Many of our
colleagues... feel that the will of the people is generally what should be
driving their policy decisions. At some point, a judgment has to come in.
And I think a lot of people dont understand that about representative
A third experienced legislator expresses a dissimilar view using the argument
of the institutional view of local governance and that constituencies of state and local
government are different.
The legislature exists to serve the public, not local government. We have
constituencies just like local government does. Local government is there to
serve their constituency, we're there to serve ours. And part of our problem
in this state is we haven't had good dialogue and good communications
between that local government and the legislators.
While the point here seems to discount the feet that the same people who elect
school boards elect legislators, nevertheless it acknowledges the need for a good
dialogue between local governments and legislators. This becomes pertinent as we
listen to legislators discuss the reasons for the erosion of local control
Statements of legislators regarding the erosion of local control range from I
thinlc were getting further away from local control to T think theres probably been
a mild erosion, but the erosion has been worth it in the gain. Legislators describe
the conditional and consequential relationships that lead to actions that form and
reform the phenomenon of local control. When asked about actions taken by the state
legislature in the past with the passage of three specific laws: State Standards and
Assessment Act, Charter Schools Act, and the Third Grade Literacy Act, legislators
depict conditions of political pressure, public pressure, public good and subjective
voting by colleagues as the qualifying factors resulting in an erosion of local control
I realize that the standards are for the perception of the public, to show that
the schools are improving, doing better, doing well, but I believe that
curriculum should be localized.
I think its become a very subjective term, because you see people on
different ends of the spectrum supporting something that is very dictatorial
from the state level and then theyll argue against something else on the
basis of its anti-local control
Well the effects (of the acts) clearly take away some ability of local
control not all ability, but some ability. Yeah, somewhat they infringed on
local control And, in part, thats one of the reasons why I didnt support
any of these bills.
All three of them (the acts) erode the principle of local control. But I
suppose local control is not an absolute.
Theres a whole host of them [intrusions on local control]... and as we
force more and more expected results, and we basically put everything on
an accounting standard, we do away with that uniqueness. And I think it
doesnt allow school boards to react to the communities that they serve
They probably are. Butifthey'renotgoingto dothejob, we have to. It's
as simple as that.
Deliberative Democracy: Who decides?
We need to get, Im not saying we should back off totally, but we should
have confidence in our school systems and in the standards that weve set,
and allow as much control, good word, at lower levels. And I think that if
we would get rid of some of the administrative establishment, go a little bit
more towards giving significant control to local schools, under a
superintendent with an adequate staff we would then see sort of and this
sounds political again, I dont mean it, but sort of an element of
competition created, and schools that were very successful, other schools
would come to them and say, How did you do this? We need to learn
from you. And there wouldnt be the dog-eat-dog kind of stuff that we
tend to precipitate, in part, by the legislature.
The only thing that will really correct the problems in public education is
competition and choice, because those market forces will force everybody
to do their job better, because if you dont, you lose.
Charter School Act, yeah, I think that... We want a supermarket. I say
"we want," the trend is toward a supermarket approach to education, so that
unlike Henry Ford when he and Taylor invented the assembly line and you
could have any Ford in any color, as long as it was black. Now we're
saying, "You can have any education between white and black, since white
is absolutely void of color, and black is all colors." So we will do
everything in between. And in some respects, we say that, but in other
respects, we don't provide the resources.
While the first legislator speaks self-consciously about competition, the
second boldly voices a belief in competition and market forces as the only viable
corrective to the existing problems of public education. Chubb and Moe advise total
abandonment of democratically controlled schools, in favor of market control, which
they call public school choice, (p. 225 ). Likewise the Separation of School &
State Alliance declares:
When school size is determined by market forcesrather than political
forceswell move from politically-sized schools of600-4,000 students to
student-sized schools of25-500... These schools will diversify their
programs in their attempts to attract students. Theyll advertise not only
their academic, sports, and arts programs, but many will stress how theyll
support, not undermine, the parents moral and spiritual beliefs. (The
Education Liberator, September 1998, VoL 4, No. 1, p. 1)
A third legislator, the recognized expert of school finance, does not advocate
replacing political action with consumer choice. However, this legislator warns that,
while funding is the primary responsibility of both state and local government,
because of our elected position, our role [the state legislature] must be to have a
quality education also which is where you come into conflict with local control
In this view, the local board supplies services.
Personnel recruitment, food, transportation... .look out and be that
protector of the taxpayers dollar, more so than of the curriculum. I think
the curriculum should be for the local school. And I feel pretty strongly
While this legislator shows an understanding of the complexity of education
governance, the strong inclination here is to redo our districts so that theyre more
responsible at a local level for the people. If this is accomplished, then we can step
back and just do funding.
The following legislators examine education governance through the lens of a
I think that one of the things thats troubling me right now is that the
school districts in our state are not keeping the citizens of the regions for
which theyre responsible, properly informed. I think local control would
be better served by making sure that the public is better informed,
particularly parents and so on. And also by certain actions and economies
that could be achieved. Sometimes I think, this is very personal and not
objective, I think that sometimes the superintendents have too much
counsel and advice from too many people.
The public, I think, is so disenfranchised, they dont even try. Quite
honestly, I help a lot of individual constituents with problems they have
with various bureaucracies. And theyre generally amazed that anybodys
even willing to listen to them. But the general perception of the public is
that public officials dont want to listen, theyre going to do whatever they
want to do, so the public doesnt even try to talk to us.
Even at the local level. And maybe its worse. Ill give you a perspective.
Before I really got into politics, I moved to Happy Town. I started
watching how the county commissioners did things. And what they do is,
they go off in a comer and they make a decision. Then they hold a public
meeting to tell people what they decided. So when they held a public
meeting, its already been decided, and public input doesnt mean anything.
So people quit coming to their meetings. Why bother? I got together with
about six other people, and we formed a group called VOTE, Voice Of The
Electorate. And what we did, we were neutral, nonpartisan, and we had
controversial issues. Wed invite the county commissioners, wed invite
the other side of the argument, and wed hold a public meeting, both sides
would present their side of the issue. Then the audience would have a
chance to ask questions. It was all done before a decision was made. And
people started coming to those meetings, because now they felt
empowered. But Ill tell you, the county commissioners couldnt hold a
public meeting and get that kind of participation, because its tainted.
Theyre there to shove something down your throatwhereas we could do
it as bipartisan, because we werent promoting either side, we were there to
present both sides and educate people.
As local school boards, I think you have the same credibility problem. If
they try to hold a forum like that, its not as effective. I would like to see
every community have a group like we had.
Listen, listen, listen. Saxon math is a prime example. And you have it
everywhere, you have it everywhere. I go to the Chamber meetings, and a
lot of'em don't have kids at school, and they're just as frustrated. Once
we're elected, then we become the spokesmen for the academic gum in the
system, because they must know more, they've got the background.
The &st legislator wants the public to be properly informed but states a
personal perception that superintendents have too much counsel and advice from too
many people. The second and third legislators express a much deeper discernment
of the dissatisfaction of citizens with government, in general. This understanding
seems to grow from an observation that governance, particularly local governance,
insulates it self from citizen scrutiny and public dialogue about policy issues. Such
insulation evidences itself through the tendency of school boards to listen only to the
experts, their superintendents. This causes the disconnection between the public and
its elected representatives. As the third legislator said its as if Once were elected,
then we become the spokesmen for the academic guru in the system, because they
must know more, theyve got the background. The second legislator goes on to
describe a public engagement process that includes a role for the public to have its
voice heard prior to the final decisionmaking of elected officials.
These perspectives stop short of endorsing a deliberative democracy process.
Nonetheless, the implication suggests that in order to avoid the shove something
down your throat syndrome so debasing to representative democracy, it is necessary
to engage the public through the weighing of alternative choices argued with equal
authority and reasoning in order to allow citizens to impact local issues. This
legislators strongest point lies in the statement that individual constituents are
generally amazed that anybodys willing to listen to them. The public must listen
to be properly informed as the first legislator desires, the second legislator feels that
school boards must listen to the public first. The third legislators sentiment supports
the listen first view relating to a citizen task force experience.
I was in a meeting last night, a task force we put together on Columbine.
And we were talking about school environment, and how we can get more
involvement and more communication.... And the one man sitting there..
. said, Well, I dont want to sit here and go through all this, and have no
results. And I said, Well, Im not adverse to taking it to the school
board. And he said, Yeah, but the first thing theyre going to say is
How many people agree with you? before theyll even listen to you. He
told me somethinglistening.
State Role: Pay the Piper. Call the Tune
Most legislators interviewed believe the states role is to adequately fond
public education. Yet, at the same time, they speak of increased state funding as a
threat to local autonomy. This conflict becomes apparent in the view of a legislator
who has served many years on the education committee. The legislator condemns the
state for wanting to infringe on local control but also for refusing to recognize the
high cost of doing business.
Another legislator who is the most extensively experienced in education fiscal
issues openly admits the conflict.
The states role, number one, is to fund education, according to the
constitution. And because of our elected position, our role must be to have
a quality education also, which this is where you come into conflict with
the local control__thats how we ended up with standards and
assessment, because we felt that the job wasnt getting done.
One policymaker makes this charge against the state.
The state denies its responsibility to support the whole educational process
that is so vital to us as a political, economic, social entity.
This belief comes from a legislator who served on a school board conveying the sense
that the state could actually enhance local activism through fulfilling its fiscal
Legislators refer to a lot of conflicts in the funding mechanism, and to the
importance of addressing the fiscal inequities. Many (mostly Republicans) hint at
the aphorism: He who pays the piper calls the tune. One warns:
If we move in and start doing all this funding, you know what's going to
happen over ten or fifteen years.... It troubles me that our financial
contribution continues to increase, and the local contributions continue to
decrease.... Because I think were getting further away from local control.
While many people lay blame at the door of the legislature for lack of
adequate funding, constitutional amendments passed by the voters over the past
decade greatly complicate what the legislature can do to increase spending levels in
K-12 education. These amendments also hamstring the ability of local governments,
especially counties and school districts whose tax base largely depends on property
tax revenue, to pay for the higher costs of government due to inflation and the influx
of new residents into the state.
The Constitution requires the state to provide a thorough and uniform system
of public schools. If the states role is to adequately fond public education, how does
the state calculate an adequate base cost figure? How does the state adjust the figure
to meet the unique needs of 176 school districts? The question of adequacy of
funding in school finance poses the dilemma facing state and local district
governments in the next millenium. Owing to term limitations for state legislators,
many of those interviewed here will not be around to settle this question.
Along with a constitutional requirement to fund public education in a
thorough and uniform manner, the state requires attendance under the compulsory
attendance statute. One experienced local school board member turned legislator
maintains that districts were intended to set policy for the education of students with
the fiscal support for that process... larger as it went down to where the kid was,
because thats where the major influence and decision-making would have more of a
direct effect. However, this legislator observes a shift in thinking at the
Because I believe that the people who represent the public here believe that
the public is dissatisfied and unable to make an impact at that lowest level
where theyre supposed to be making the greatest impact. The state uses
compulsory attendance laws to underscore its role and to take more
responsibility to educate kids.
In other words, since the state requires attendance at school, it must exert
more influence on the school. This rationale for more state influence belies the intent
of the compulsory attendance law which was to legally ensure that parents sent their
children to school while also ensuring that what happened at school would be locally
determined. Seemingly, the rationale for more state influence lies in the belief that
legislators represent and mobilize a dissatisfied and otherwise powerless public.
What are we doing? asks the inexperienced legislator who sees the state as
watchdog and gatekeeper. Not only does this legislator worry about who is
teaching our children but also what we are teaching them.
I guess I would say that we are the gatekeeper, the watchdog. We are
watching now the quality of the teacher candidates that's coming out of the
higher education. We are watching, through the assessment, what that
child is, what our product is. And I think it is the duty and the
responsibility of the legislature to make sure what we are teaching is going
to benefit that child so that he becomes a productive member of society,
because that is an ongoing cycle. And I think we just need to be careful as
to how we are teaching them and what we are teaching them. We've gone
from whole language now back to whole language and phonics. And now I
see that we're starting with whole math, and that concerns me. It takes
about ten years to find out that we have destroyed a generation of children
through the methods that we have used. What are we doing?
The implications of statewide assessments lead to a heightened interest in
curriculum and an increase in state activity in curricula. In Colorado, curricular
authority is constitutionally vested in the locally elected school board. This legislator
believes state reforms should result in substantial changes in local behavior, Le.
changes in methods and curriculum.
In contrast, a legislator with vast experience in education policymaking
worries that with state assessments we will have a state curriculum. Owing to
experience and a sense of history of the evolution of local control, this legislator
believes state reform as it appears in the Concerning Standards-based Education in
the Public Schools Act exerts a strong influence on what is taught in the schools and,
therefore, ... its taken away local control in terms of curriculum, which is the basic
building blocks of what the state had in local control in the constitution.
Another legislator with extensive experience in policymaking recounts a
strong belief that curriculum should be for the local school.. curriculum should be
very localized. When asked what was the hardest decision the senator ever had to
make on a local control issue, this was the answer:
Its probably curriculum... when we did assessments and standards.____I
opposed it because it had no local control in it at all.
This legislators amendment to House Bill 1313, the Standards and
Assessment Act, called for districts to meet or exceed state standards. While this
amendment allowed districts to develop their own standards, it is important to
understand that this legislator firmly believes that article IX, section 15 of the
constitution does not vest the local board with curricular decisions but can easily be
interpreted to mean that parents and staff of the local school should determine
In 1998, HB 98-1267 became the centerpiece of education reform. The law
brought standards, assessment and accountability together as a method to make sure
that the schools are providing the education that the kids need, said one legislator.
He sees accreditation as the states role, but then just make sure the datas available
This opinion is shared by a legislator, who, having the most experience in
both school finance and in the mobilization of public opinion as a state influence
strategy, with great candor acknowledges accreditation as a lever to pressure local
We all knew when that bill passed, that the worst that would happen is the
school would not be accredited. But we don't expect that to happen. We
expect the schools to say, "Whoops! I don't want that monkey on mv
Some legislators believe that the standards and assessment act together with
the accreditation law will make public education more competitive. To understand
the market and competition theories as the fix for what ails public education is to
understand the views of certain legislators who have come to the General Assembly
as first-termers and who (owing to term limits) became education committee
chairmen in their first terms. The first and strongest market view stems from a belief
that local control should lie with parents who hold the truest beneficial interest in
public education. One legislator names school choice as empowerment for parents
I dont think its anti-public education at all. Its an expansion of public
education, and expanding it so that we can meet the needs of various kids.
An important occurrence during this interview was the campaign for
Amendment 17, a state ballot initiative permitting tuition tax credits for certain
parents to use to send their children to private or parochial schools. This legislator
supported that amendment. With the prospect of such a new constitutional
amendment in mind, the legislator develops the market concept further by suggesting
that in rural areas where there are not a lot of private school opportunities, youll see
public school teachers breaking off to start their own schools, and providing a
specialty for parents.
To underscore a belief that state reforms could substantially change local
behaviors, the legislator recounts a story of a neighbor who could not get
the attention her child needed in the public schools.
She brought him to Denver, put him in another reading program, brought
his skills up, took him back, he was fine. ... My perspective is, the public
education system failed him. That school should write her a check for the
tuition, her travel expenses, her lodging and meals, for bringing him over
here. Now, if the state required that, the local district would find a way to
deliver those techniques in school, because it would be too expensive to
pay somebody for their expenses over here.
If the market theory is to prevail, then statewide assessments become an
important strategy of influence for promoting competition. Just publish the results
and let performance information influence public opinion. Publish and perish
might become the aphorism of the education marketplace.
Thats even more of a threat than the State coming and saying, Were
going to take over, or were going to do other things. The market force is
a much stronger force.
The second legislator holds the same viewpoint.
What were doing is making public education more competitive. We arent
trying to run them out of business, were just trying to say, This is what
we expect. And if youre losing a student, then maybe youre not doing
the job that we expect you to do.
These legislators want to shape the behavior of local districts through market and
competition forces. Their definition of local control orients towards a decentralized
market and away from preserving a more institutional approach. Even though they
claim we arent trying to run them out of business, clearly education becomes a
commodity in their view.
A discussion of the states role and responsibilities in providing public
education cannot ignore the issues of teacher quality, higher education teacher
preparation programs and the presence of a strong teachers association. Both more
experienced and less experienced legislators consider good teaching as the key to
improved student achievement. From the inexperienced lawmaker comes this notion
of focusing on developing highly qualified teachers:
We are watching now the quality of the teacher candidates thats coming
out of the higher education. We are watching, through the assessment,
what that child is, what our product is.
From a very experienced legislator comes this observation:
Gee, its nice to have all your degrees, but being able to articulate that
information from here to there to the student is the most important thing
that we can do. And we need to re-look at just the word teaching. And
our universities and colleges come in on this one.
Inexperience notwithstanding, the first legislator touches on the same
questions that many respected researchers are addressing. Can a child learn what he
or she needs to learn from any teacher?
Thats something I talked to Hank Brown about yesterday at UNC. Why is
it we are not turning out better candidates? Do we need to add more time?
Im not for seat time only, but you know, learning time and training time.
... When you are hearing teacher candidates saying, I dont feel like Im
prepared. I dont feel like I got a good deal in my education, and then you
hear a principal saying, Well, I interviewed 120 and hired 3, and I had 20
openings. Are we wasting our time? Weve got a country to run, weve
got a generation of children here that we need to be concerned about.
Relaxing certification and licensure requirements holds appeal to many
legislators. Were going to have a shortage of teachers, said one legislator. The
answer to that problem is to let student teachers spend more time in the classroom
under a master teachers oversight and less time in the college room. This
But I also see the master teacher tied in with the higher education system,
so that they can identify these master teachers and put the student
[teachers] out with them.
Another more experienced legislator postulates a theory that the decline of
teacher professionalism dates back to the Vietnam War era.
During the Vietnam War you could get a deferment if you were going into
education. So I think in the middle sixties, you had a lot of men who said,
Ill go into education and I wont have to go to Vietnam. And were
dragged down long enough that they got, I say they ended up in education
longer than they planned to be, and all of a sudden discovered they had no
place to go, and became very militant about being stuck in education.
That militancy, theorizes the legislator, led to stronger union demands for
adequate compensation, and, therefore, stronger union organizations in school
districts. This presence became the antithesis of a much more centralized control of
policy through the legislature, speculates this legislator.
District Role: Creative Tension
An illustration that the phenomenon of local control evolves as a result of
more state control comes from an experienced Republican legislator.
And because of our elected position, our role must be to have a quality
education also, which this is where you come into conflict with the local
control... .how do you overcome that without changing the constitution? I
dont know, because I dont think the constitution will change. People
want local control... So somewhere were going to have to find a
balance, or some way to redo our districts, that theyre more responsible at
a local control level for the people.
A legislator who has had experience serving on a local school board offers
this view about the creative tension set up between the state and district through the
And so I think that maybe we have the best out of the bargain in that both
are watching each other, or doing what they need to do. And so school
districts are going to do their best job so local control won't erode more.
And I think it works.
This legislators observation that both [state and district] are watching over each
other, or doing what they need to do, begins to explain the phenomenon of local
control evolving as a result of more state control.
And maybe we have the best of both worldsthat if we did not have this
provision in the constitution, we wouldnt have the creative tension
between what is the prerogative of the local district [and that of the state].
And so were going to do what needs to be done just to show you we
dont need you to intervene.
One legislator (a former school board member) questions whether school
boards understand their role to be a governance and policy group? Or are they an
elected management [group]? The answer to that question from other legislators is
The elected board is there as a fiscal responsibility, in my viewpoint.
Theyre to look out and be that protector of the taxpayers dollar, more so
than of the curriculum.
For these legislators, the corporate model of management provides the best
example district, and... continuity with the rest of the state. Use of the corporate
model illustrates the kind of standard school system that is most desirable for some
The state sets the broad policy background, and then the day-to-day
officers take over the operations and implement those policies. How they
do it, everybody has a different method, different style. Thats how I
Corroboration of this model continues with the statement of another legislator.
I think the district boards could say, I want this kind of outcome. How
you get there, I dont care, as long as I have the outcome. Be the place
where you can get the best value for the dollar.
Not surprisingly, these legislators all shared the belief that districts must be
accountable for effective governance.
As legislators discussed the districts role and responsibilities in providing
public education to Colorado students, they suggested that districts have succeeded in
alienating and disenfranchising the role of the community. Speaking from experience
as a legislator and former school board member, a Republican legislator who is a
strong supporter of public education speaks passionately about the disconnection
between the district administration and the public.
Its almost like putting a wall around your fort, and keeping the public out.
We know better what to do inside the fort. You shouldnt be telling us.
Were the experts on education. And the publics saying, Be damned!
Were taking our kids, our money, and everything else elsewhere. And
certainly our rule-making, because youre not listening to us.
A Republican senator who has less experience than the representative
mentioned above has no less passionate about the disconnect between community
and administration. This legislator offers the same belief that school administration
and staff set the direction for schools instead of the local school board elected to
represent the community.
I think that you can say, We expect this standard, and if you dont perform
to that standard, then go find somebody who likes the standard that you
have. Local governance of our schools I think is a serious question,
because I dont know that its very effective.
The most experienced legislator interviewed disagrees with both of the above
policymakers. This representative sees the role of the school board as paternalistic
rather than collaborative.
You almost have to say in todays environment, local school districts,
boards, almost have to act, in some respects, as surrogate parents, in
protection of the society.
This view is diametrically opposed to a growing view among legislators that
parents are the true unit of local control Supporting this view, an experienced
legislator states a belief that parents are the public.
What all the bills are doing at this point, that you find us carrying, is trying
to give more control to parents, instead of boards.
When asked about the role of the locally elected school board, one legislator
spoke succinctly: Theyre number one. I mean, its pretty much their full
responsibility to ensure that the students learn. This belief corresponds to the notion
that local democracy has a powerful hold over education; school boards should be
effective bodies to lead improvement in student achievement.
A senator talked about vision and being responsive to community needs.
I think what Ive noticed at least in our district is that theyre responsive to
community needs, and theyre looking beyond the immediate frontier.
This statement exemplifies a conviction that local governance, at least in one
instance, successfully determines the vision and mission of the local school district.
Yet a third legislator lamented that there is a supposed dissatisfaction
between the community and its schools.
Im not sure people could articulate why theyre so dissatisfied. Theyre
looking at the results, and theyre saying the business communitys
dissatisfied. The recipients in higher education are dissatisfied- The
community sees youth crime ... is because of the breakdown in the public
For this legislator, the role of the district as perceived by the public has not fulfilled
Only the most experienced legislator articulated the role of a local district as
being directly related to curriculum.
The local districts were always to assure necessary and adequate
While this view does not directly reference article IX, section 15 of the Colorado
Constitution, it implies an understanding of that provision and its specificity for the
role of local school boards.
In stark contrast to fellow colleagues, another experienced legislator states a
view that curriculum should be developed and decided upon at the local school level.
The elected board is there as a fiscal responsibility, in my viewpoint.
Theyre to look out and be that protector of the taxpayers dollar, more so
than of the curriculum.
Moreover, this legislator expounds on the importance of parent involvement.
If we could have the parents in charge of their own school, I would hope
we would bring more parents in, and we would have a better education
because we all know a strong leader, with just the right principal, quality
teachers, and parent involvement are what make a school run and operate
well. Its not the elected board.
When asked to rate the districts performance in fulfilling its role and
responsibilities, the Democrats interviewed expressed more positive beliefs about that
performance. Id say overall, the board is doing probably B+ work, said one
legislator. A second went further in praising the board and administration in another
district by saying They do a very good job compared to other regions in the state, I
think we are far superior. And Im not bragging, I think thats just a reality. A third
Democrat conceded that it depends on the district. This belief may reflect this
legislators knowledge from being a school board member and from sitting on an
Its the will, its the sophistication, its the resources. I think its a mixed
bag. I think there are some school districts that are doing a superb job, and
others are just keeping their noses above the waterand sometimes
through no fault of their own.
This legislator does not see district performance as a zero sum arrangement. Credit is
given by this legislator to the state for its part in the creative tension dynamic that
causes some districts to say Were going to do what needs to be done just to show
you we dont need you to intervene.
In contrast, one Republican said district performance was fair overall.
Another thinks the education community is very defensive and behaves in ways
designed to keep the public out. Educators maintain an arrogance, says a
Republican senator, because they feel Were the experts on education.
Superintendents as education experts become the reason boards exclude the parents
and become the mouthpiece for the superintendent. This senator continues with a
solution to the poor management problem.
I would like to see, instead of hiring an academic for a superintendent all
the time, hire a good business person that knows how to run something,
that knows how to manage. Academics don't always know how to manage.
You need a good manager, because you're managing personnel. You can
rely upon, okay, I can have an expert here on curriculum to feed me as a
manager, information. I'm a manager, I'm not an academic. So feed me
the information, the knowledge that I need, but I can manage and make
things work and operate. Thats my expertise. And I would like to see one
or two school districts try that.
Another legislator acknowledges that we generalize an awful lot that the
school districts arent doing a very good job, but the issue of poor managers
concerns this legislator. After referencing the lawsuit on capital inequities, Giardino
vs. Colorado State Board of Education, the legislator comments:
And the smaller districts, for example, they have allowed their buildings to
deteriorate to the point that some of them are going to have to be tom down
and replaced. Why did this happen? Is it because were not good
managers? The leak in the roof and the sagging roof didnt just happen
The rest believe performance in various districts varies widely. They cite
reasons for the variation that range from size and socioeconomic status of a district to
term limits of school board members.
As you know, they have a hard enough time as it is finding dedicated
people, and then we give them this artificial piece in there that pulls them
out of office.
The theme of how much influence the state should exert on local districts is
expressed by one legislator.
My problem is that the structure allows it to be too subjective, I guess,
because it can be different in every district in the state.
This legislator assigns the variation in performance between districts to too little state
control- Im not sure how you get a uniform level of excellence without being too
dictatorial from the state level.
This comment foreshadows the next section of this chapter. Three legislative
acts show how the state becomes more dictatorial: standards and assessment,
charter schools, third-grade literacy. In the previous sections, legislators declared
their beliefs about the role of districts, communities, the state, and the constitution.
The organization of this section follows chronologically the passage of three major
state reforms, ail enacted between 1993 and 1996. Questioning legislators as to how
they voted or would have voted on these legislative landmarks serves the purpose of
anchoring their beliefs to their actions.
Standards and Assessment Act: Local vs. State Interests
In 1993, Colorado adopted a Standards and Assessment Act which required
the creation of state standards for every core subject and grade level, and the
development of a testing program to assess how well students attained these
standards. This act and legislator reflection on it demonstrates the tension they see
between local control and state control. In the following section, you will see how
legislators thought about the potential erosion in local control by the Standards and
Assessment Act, about how they balanced the state interest and the public good
against the need for local control and how strongly they felt about the need to know
how well students were learning across the state.
Erosion of Local Control
To the question of whether the standards and assessment act of 1993 eroded
local control, Democrats and Republicans, experienced and inexperienced legislators
alike, are divided. One Democrat and four Republicans said Yes, it is an erosion.
One of those legislators put it succinctly.
On local control, I think probably Standards was the most serious anti-local
control effort that weve done. I also think it was one of the most
important things that weve done.
Those legislators who saw the act as an erosion hold differing beliefs about
the effects of that erosion One Republican felt, erosion notwithstanding, standards
and assessments were absolutely necessary, andT think for the betterment of
public education. One experienced Republican senator describes a belief about the
original standards and assessment bill.
I opposed it because it had no local control in it at all, and I'm the one that
wrote the amendment that Representative X ended up carrying, because I