This House Believes in Local Control of the Education System

In 2000, the United Nations convened a Millennium Summit to address the world’s main development challenges.  The identified goals were adopted by 189 nations and set to be achieved by 2015.  Target goal #2 was “to achieve universal primary education.”  Since education is a clearly a universal priority as relate to the economic welfare of the world, there is increasing interest in how to meet educational goals.   Although there is much variation in educational systems and clear differences in the economic situations across the world, one continuing theme exists:  how to best meet the needs of citizens.    Since citizens are a product of educational systems as well as continuing contributors to education, to what degree should they be involved in the education of their children?  Some would propose that in democratic societies, citizens always have a voice in students’ education through the political process.   However, at what juncture should the political process determine citizen involvement and participation?  Should the voice of citizens come from a local jurisdiction or through a national entity?  Questions develop around who has the most right to these decisions, who has the best insight into these decisions, and who is best able to provide for the educational needs of citizens.  The tension between federal or local control has philosophical roots as to the responsibilities of government and continues into the discussion of how to deal specifically with the educational needs of citizens.   The controversy lies in whether local control is superior to national control in the education of citizens.    

According to Oxford Dictionaries Online, the term local is defined as “belonging to or relating to a particular area or neighbourhood.”  Control refers to “the power to influence or direct people’s behaviour or course of events”.   As there is no definition given for the term local control, those terms are combined in common usage and could refer to a municipal government, to a province, regional, or state government.  Although not stated as a comparison, the motion implies a comparison to something, probably a federal government or national ministry.   Education is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction especially at a school or university.”   System is defined as “a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.”  There are many components to an educational system so this term is also broad.  Since the term local control could be interpreted in a wide variety of legitimate ways, to better focus the debate, it would be valuable to indicate the expanse of the term “local”.  Local control could legitimately mean municipalities or the regional government structure.  The ability to influence does not state what type of influence exactly.   Influence could refer to all aspects of an educational system or simply influence/control over certain parts of the system.  Even though dictionary definitions are useful, the terms set forth by the proposition require careful thought and consideration when defining them for use in a debate.

Parents have a right to be involved in their children’s education

The right of a family is central in human societies.   Parents are acknowledged to be responsible for children’s upbringing.   Parental involvement is key to the educational success of children.[1] Evidence of this responsibility and right which parents embrace is illustrated in the ever increasing citizen interest in school vouchers, home schooling, special magnet schools, free schools, and private schooling which allow for parental choice and involvement.  Vouchers allow students to select schools.  Home schooling allows for parents to oversee education and become teachers themselves.    Special and private schools are designed to meet special needs parents envision for their children.  Free schools in the United Kingdom are developing and gaining popularity.[2] In 1991, Sweden began a practice which allowed schools to be established by parents, teachers, charities and business.[3]  Additionally, parents often select to reside in a particular community or region because of the educational systems in place.   Parents embrace their right and responsibility to be involved in their children’s education.

[1] Estrada, William.  Oxford American Education Forum. 22 August 2011.

[2] “Liberating Learning.” The Economist. 11 August 2011.

[3] ibid


It may be agreed that parents have a right to be involved in their children’s education, however that does not exclude that the national government as well has a compelling responsibility for education.   Since the government has responsibility for the future of all of its citizens, then parents and the government are not opposing each other due to their shared goal of excellence in education.  Parental concerns do not necessarily over-ride national concerns.

Local control gives authority to localities to better meet the educational needs of students.

When decision making regarding curriculum and standards occurs, local authority allows for more sensitivity to community needs.  In the U.S. the authority of education was not stated but implied, in the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as left to the individual states.[1] Each state was thus empowered to exercise local control over the business of education which then fell to individual school districts.  This authority allows for each unique district to more appropriately respond to the educational needs of students.   Local districts can adapt to the unique social cultural dynamics of their community and pursue more creativity in addressing educational issues which develop.[2] According to Diane Ravitch, “the states and school districts are more flexible and pragmatic about designing reform to meet the needs of particular schools” due to their proximity to students, schools, teachers and parents.[3] The National Education Association, a teachers association, in the U.S. supports more local control of public schools because of its ability to better address the education needs of students, teachers, and the community. [4]

[1] Miller, Matt. “First, Kill all of the School Boards.” The Atlantic. January 2008.

[2] Whitson, Alex.  “Are local school boards Obsolete?”

[3] Ravitch, Diane. “Get Congress out of the Classroom.” The New York Times, 3 October 2007.

[4] Carey, Kevin. “Toxic Combination.” The New Republic. 12 April 2011.


Decision making at the local level is not necessarily better at meeting educational needs of students.  Local control through boards may be lacking in expertise on educational issues and concerns.[1] Local control can mean political control where favouritism to certain groups can develop.   Districting policies related to school boundaries may further contribute to economic divisions within a community.   Financial decisions can be influenced by special interest groups.  Curriculum and hiring of personnel can be limited to local preferences and standards.  Adapting to the community could equally produce results which do not address the educational needs of all students.

[1] Whitson, Alex. “Are Local School Boards Obsolete?” Childhood Education, Vol. 74, #3, 1998.

Local control is more efficient in delivering education to students.

All school systems must deal with the problems of providing schoolhouses, facilities, support staff and operating expenses.  Since schools operate on budgets, local control allows for a better resource management.  Financial decisions regarding funding the educational system can be more flexible when at the local level.[1] Decisions related to the operation of schools can be made with better insight than those made by the federal government.    Local citizens often pay taxes to support their schools and thus have a vested interested in the efficiency of their operation.  

[1] Whitson, Alex. “Are Local School Boards Obsolete?”


Although the claim has been made that local control is more efficient in managing the educational system, the proposition has not provided sufficient proof for that claim.   The amount of local districts varies widely from country to country as well as within a country.  A locality does not necessarily assume a small size.  Within each locality variations in educational practices or delivery of education may or may not be more efficient.   It is the decision makers at the local level who could enable more efficiency and it cannot be presumed that local control in and of itself will lead to efficiency.   When there is national research and pooled knowledge about the efficiency of delivering effective education, it is likely to be superior to the many local groups striving for efficiency.   Additionally, federal governments often provide support money when local schools are unable to meet financial burdens and strive to equal education for all citizens. 

Local control provides more accountability in the educational system

When the decision makers controlling education are from the local community, more accountability is possible.  Local pressure can be brought upon school boards and school districts from the constituency they serve.  Since students’ educational needs are of importance to families in a local community, those citizens have the right and responsibility to seek accountability from their local school districts.   


Local control may be claimed to lead to better accountability but this causal relationship is not certain.   Even though the capacity for accountability may exist, there are questionable outcomes regarding what standards are being set in local communities and how is each standard judged and evaluated.   When each individual finger of the hand works by itself, it cannot accomplish the same result as all parts of the hand working together.   When a national curriculum, standards and accountability are in place, it is more logical that the goals for all citizens are likely to be met.  Accountability measured uniquely across districts harms mobile citizens who may move from region to region as well as impacts the ability to develop a national strength regarding educational outcomes.

Education is a necessity and right of all children; therefore it is the responsibility of the federal government to protect that right.

Education is a necessity and right of all children; therefore it is the responsibility of the federal government to protect that right.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1] and the Convention on the Rights of the Child[2] are specific international documents which support these rights.  Every county has developed a system of education to prepare their children for the future.  It is common that states continue to address the quality of their educational endeavour s as they embrace that critical need of their citizens. Continuous effects around the world to improve education of children in all countries speak to this universally accepted need and right. 

[1] The General Assembly of the United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948,

[2] The General Assembly of the United Nations, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989,


It can not be argued that education is not a necessity and responsibility of a nation, but where and how that nation determines to protect that right does not exclude local control. Local control may even be better able to provide for the needs of children and their right. The government could very possibly select to assign the right of local control to regions within a country which is not uncommon in educational systems.   One cannot automatically presume that the responsibility necessarily means national control.

Since education is critical to the economic development of a nation, it is the responsibility of the government to oversee the education of its children

Education is critical to economic development of a nation; therefore it is the responsibility of the government to oversee the education of its children.  A nation’s economic well being is directly related to education.[1]  Since citizens become the work force which support a nation’s economy, education is the method through which citizens are prepared to contribute to economic stability and growth.  Education is often used as a measuring tool for determining competitiveness in the marketplace.  Many educational systems are ranked superior due to their ability to prepare students to assist their nation in developing an economic competitive edge.  Those nations ranking lower in educational outcomes, illustrated by student achievement in specific subjects like math and science, are seen as less competitive in today’s economic world. 

[1] Paige, Rod and Bennett, William.  “Why we Need a National School Test.” The Washington Post. 21 September 2006.


Although the economic needs of a nation may be a driving force for federal control, it remains in question that the need is best met through federal control.  In the U.S. federal the policy of No Child Left Behind had extremely controversial results.  Implementation of the policy has led to concerns about test driven curriculum, teachers corrupting test scores due to fears regarding accountability, and rogue states or districts simply withdrawing from accepting federal money for compliance with standards.  Again, a nation must naturally concern itself with the economic needs of a nation, but the local community may be better situated to work with businesses within their region to educate students appropriately for the future work force.  Local educational institutions work regularly with businesses as they see their common futures as intertwined.[1]  Local control does not mean lack of sensitivity or concern for the economic needs of a nation. 

[1] Chait, Jonathan. “The Paradox of Local Control.” The New Republic. 12 April 2011.

In order to have local control, there must be administrative structures in place.

In most countries, a ministry of education guides the national system.  In some developed countries, like the U.S. and Canada, a system of state or local control developed.[1] In the opinion of one expert, local control is an almost uniquely American obsession”.[2] And, It is not uncommon that regional systems exist within a national system.   However, In many developing countries, local control of education in rural areas does not exist or localities cannot simply provide adequate education.   These rural communities face serious problems.   There are too many children to educate, children who cannot get to school due to armed conflicts or distance, and education which does not adequately prepare students with the skills needed for employment.[3] Local control of education is not even feasible without the assistance of outside assistance and support from both the government and other organizations. Therefore, in order for local control to be possible, administrative structures for that control must be in place.  

[1] Bowman, Jonathan. “School Boards.” CBC News Online. 29 August 2002.

[2] Miller, Matt. “First, Kill all of the School Boards.”

[3] Winthrop, Rebecca. “Brookings Podcast: The Education Crisis in Developing Countries.”  Brookings Institute. 14 September 2011.


Administrative structures are indeed required to deliver adequate educate.  The rural populations of the world do, indeed, face serious problems.  Yet, when one examines the motion, we on the proposition believe that the resolution presumes such structures are in place currently.   The terms local control of “the education system” requires we discuss a system.  If no system is in place this claim is not relevant to the debate.  Without an operating system, a logical comparison cannot be made.  And the resolution is essentially asking for a determination of which best through comparison of local versus federal control.  The opposition’s position, thus, is not relevant to advancing discussion of our controversy

Educational goals and standards need to be set at the national level

There should be national standards, and national system of accountability.  Standardized tests go along way toward assuring a better educated nation.[1] A national curriculum is needed to unify a population.  According to E.D. Hirsch, there needs to be a core of shared knowledge for people to communicate with each other and with the increasing mobility of citizens, education needs consistency throughout a country.[2]   Local control often brings too much variation and diversity in curriculum.  That curriculum may be designed to suit the religious, political or personal beliefs of only a certain group of citizens while excluding others.[3]  The fracturing of educational policy across localities which may be poorly or badly governed is a “recipe for permanent inequality.”[4] National standards would set learning outcomes for all students wherever they were educated.  The national certification of teachers would better insure the quality of teachers across a nation.  Local control of teaching standards leads to too much variation in hiring and retaining teachers, thus diminishing the quality of the national teaching force.

[1] Paige, Rod and Bennett, William. “Why we Need a National School Test.”

[2] Fermoyle, Dennis. “Should Education be Nationalized?” The Atlantic Monthly. 1 March 2008.

[3] Whitson, Alex.  “Are local school boards Obsolete?” Childhood Education, Vol. 74, #3, 1998.

[4] Carey, Kevin. “Toxic Combination.”


The opposition presents you with the alternative of federal control of the educational system which includes a national curriculum, national standards and methods of accountability. Many problems exist in the federal control of education.  A federal system is highly politicized due to who is in control of the government.   It cannot be assumed that federal oversight will have positive outcomes.   National textbooks in many countries have written history to suit the story a nation wishes to tell about itself.   Federal governments use the educational system for a variety of purposes from propaganda to control over certain industries which may be seen to protect or not the economic good.   In the opposition’s world, national governments are presented as ideal protectors of the education system which may or may not protect the rights of the citizens but the rights of the state.   Ideally, again, these two would coincide.  However, the rights of citizens may be viewed differently and suppressing knowledge, past or future, is not uncommon.   The management of financial resources to support political decisions is likely to occur.  In addition, several concerns have been raised about the ability to nationally evaluate educational outcomes.  National testing comes under criticism for its ability assess both competence of educators as well as student knowledge and skills.[1] National testing has been said to waste time, money and has not revealed increased student achievement according to a recent study by the National Academy of Science.[2]

[1] Ravitch, Diane. “Get Congress out of the Classroom.”

[2] McGuire, Kent.  Oxford American Education Forum. 22 August 2011.

Local control of education does not work in meeting the needs of children or the nation

Local control means local school boards or decision-makers may have too much influence over the curriculum, textbooks which support that curriculum, financial decisions, personnel employed and methods of accountability.  Local curriculum may be different from district to district.  Local standards are likely to vary as well as the assessment of those standards.   Local school boards are often political in nature and may only represent portions of a community and be less sensitive to class or cultural differences.  Local control can mean unprepared or capable citizens not particularly knowledgeable about education – the very service they are overseeing.[1]

In Canada, the political environment influenced the move from local to more national control. It was believed that local school districts harmed students, and serious revisions were made toward a more nationalized system.[2]

[1] Whitson, Alex.  “Are local school boards Obsolete?”

[2] Bowman, Jonathan. “School Boards.”.


The claim that local control of the educational system does not work in meeting the needs of children or the nation is a broad generalization.   And the examples provided include more generalizations which lack concrete scientific proof.  The fact that communities are politicized is not unlike the federal government.   The notion that governmental accountability standards are necessarily better makes assumptions about the government’s ability to produce superior methods at a broad level which may not be true.   The lack of local member’s adequate preparation is not based on research but presumptions about the abilities of local citizens who may have totally adequate knowledge and ability equal to those at the national level at a far distance from the problems of local communities. Although the Canadian example is compelling, it is only one country and illustrates how specific circumstances in one country adapt to the needs of that country just as local control can better adapt to the needs of a region.  


Bowman, Jonathan. “School Boards.” CBC News Online. 29 August 2002.

Carey, Kevin. “Toxic Combination.” The New Republic. 12 April 2011.

Chait, Jonathan. “The Paradox of Local Control.” The New Republic. 12 April 2011. “Liberating Learning.” The Economist. 11 August 2011.

Estrada, William.  Oxford American Education Forum. 22 August 2011.

Fermoyle, Dennis. “Should Education be Nationalized?” The Atlantic Monthly. 1 March 2008.

McGuire, Kent.  Oxford American Education Forum. 22 August 2011.

Miller, Matt. “First, Kill all of the School Boards.” The Atlantic. January 2008.    

Paige, Rod and Bennett, William.  “Why we Need a National School Test.” The Washington Post. 21 September 2006.

Ravitch, Diane. “Get Congress out of the Classroom.” The New York Times, 3 October 2007.

The General Assembly of the United Nations, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948,

The General Assembly of the United Nations, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989,

Whitson, Alex. “Are Local School Boards Obsolete?” Childhood Education, Vol. 74, #3, 1998.

Winthrop, Rebecca. “Brookings Podcast: The Education Crisis in Developing Countries.”  Brookings Institute. 14 September 2011.