Advantages of an open system

Published 10:52 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

by Clay Scott

These last two weeks I have attempted to encourage individuals to think in different terms about their children’s education. A major theme has been the autonomy of the Central Authority. Central Authorities have caused countless social problems, yet we keep turning to them to solve problems. To call this thinking illogical would be kind.

The United States of America rose to world prominence because its people, by means of independent industry, became powerful. It did not happen because ours was the most powerful government. It happened because our government got out of the way, thus enabling the empowerment of individual citizens. We represent the most significant experiment in decentralized power. The result? We are a model for other nations, have the highest quality of life and a list of accomplishments unprecedented in world history.

Despite this, we continue to elect officials to represent us who propose policies of increasingly centralized power. It is like a man trading in his vehicle for a model that is less powerful, fuel-efficient, reliable, comfortable, yet more costly. Nowhere is this insanity more evident than in education policy.

With this perspective, let us consider three significant benefits of an education system with decentralized power.

Freedom. The extent to which parents can choose, both in terms of number of options and variety of options, is perhaps the best measure of parent power in education. When parents can choose, schools are forced to consider students as individuals rather than parts of a group. Preparing our children for their turn as stewards of the American ideal of liberty would most easily be done within a system that models that ideal.

Financial health. The current system has no incentive for keeping costs down. One of the great, and often unspoken, strengths of an open system is that it would eliminate the need for district central offices and much of the state level bureaucracy. In an open system the state’s sole responsibility would be to ascertain the validity of schools’ academic programs through a system of accreditation. The entire system could be replaced by a Department of School Accreditation. Accreditation periods could be 5-8 years and the process could be completed by the schools themselves. Inspections (accreditation visits) could be done by peers, school leaders selected at random from other comparable institutions. A system based on our nation’s independent accrediting bodies, such as SACS, could provide necessary accountability at a fraction of the cost

Better education. The obvious benefit is that schools that don’t educate children would close down while schools that educate effectively would be rewarded with the possibility of expansion. The current system provides incentive for the best educators to leave schools. It would be logical to expect the Superintendent of Schools to be the best educator in the community, yet that position is the most remote in relation to kids. All those brilliant educators who are not currently working in schools could put their respective genius to work in creating new and exciting advances in education. Or they could simply better execute the tried and true methods of old. Any way you look at it, an open system would bring the best talent closer to kids. Teacher’s roles would likely change as well. Survival in an open market requires an established identity. This would raise demand for teachers who fit a given school’s model, thus increasing professional status and possibly income. Establishing an identity also means adhering to an educational philosophy. The “flavor of the month” instructional fads would all but disappear.

There they are, three advantages to a system of distributed power. It is pretty tough to argue with better quality, lower cost and greater opportunity, but some people do. Look out next week for a discussion on the potential drawbacks and arguments against freedom in education.

CLAY SCOTT is a former teacher from Southampton Academy and Franklin High School, and he was also an administrator at SA. He is the co-founder of Telios Academy and doctoral candidate at The George Washington University. He can be reached at