School Reform in Arizona: An Assessment of the Final Report of the Governor's Task Force on Educational Reform

Posted on February 01, 1992 | Type: Policy Report | Author: Terry Moe
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 In May 1991, Governor Fife Symington appointed a 42 member Task Force on Educational Reform to study the condition of kindergarten through 12th grade education in Arizona and to offer recommendations for improvements.  This Task Force, along with a 17 member Subcommittee on Finance and Equalization, worked throughout the summer and fall and it issued its final report in December 1991.


The Task Force's recommendations offer a comprehensive approach to educational reform including major recommendations in the following categories: a) At Risk Population, b) Decentralization/Restructuring, c) Accountability, d) Training and Professionalism, e) Open Enrollment/ Parental Choice,  f) Technology, and  g) Education Finance.


The Barry Goldwater Institute commissioned Dr. Terry Moe,* one of this nation's leading school reform scholars, to review and comment on the Task Force recommendations.  While Dr. Moe concludes that the Task Force recommendations place Arizona in the forefront of educational reform in the nation, the recommendations "...don't go far enough." In fact, Dr. Moe notes that the Task Force has produced  "...a grab-bag that fails to make intellectual sense as a program of reform." The Task Force produced this grab-bag because it was composed of special interests which have a vested interest in preserving the failing educational status quo.  Thus, the reforms produced are a "package of compromises, substantially lacking in overall coherence."


Dr. Moe concludes that the reason for the failure of the task force is that its recommendations: "[d]espite all the revolutionary trappings, ...actually preserve basic features of the current system--notably, its capacity for top-down control--that are responsible for causing many of the problems these reforms are supposed to be addressing."  In other words, the task force reforms will fail to produce tangible results in improved student achievement precisely because they rely on the same top-down, command and control approach that has produced the current failure of Arizona's schools.

Specifically, Dr. Moe criticizes the Task Force recommendations which:

  • Limit parental choice to public schools.
  • Overestimate the cost of including private schools in the open enrollment plan.
  • Manage the decentralization process by more top-down, bureaucratic controls.
  • Require more money for the implementation of school decentralization.
  • Ignore the impediments that are created by teacher's unions.
  • Strengthen, instead of abolishing, the current teacher certification requirements.
  • Make help for at-risk children dependent on the funding of new bureaucracies which will exercise paternalistic, top-down controls. 

Instead of using the failed top-down, command and control approach, Dr. Moe recommends replacing it with a new system based on bottom-up control by parents, teachers, and principals.  This new system would rely on the direct control by parents who would use choice to control the actions of their schools.  This new bottom-up system is also consistent with a large volume of current educational reform research which demonstrates that student achievement improves dramatically under the bottom-up approach.


Read School Reform in Arizona here.

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