During the 1980s, widespread dissatisfaction with America’s schools gave rise to a powerful movement for educational change, and the nation’s political institutions responded with aggressive reforms. Chubb and Moe argue that these reforms are destined to fail because they do not get to the root of the problem. The fundamental causes of poor academic performance, they claim, are not to be found in the schools, but rather in the institutions of direct democratic control by which the schools have traditionally been governed. Reformers fail to solve the problem-when the institutions ARE the problem. The authors recommend a new system of public education, built around parent-student choice and school competition, that would promote school autonomy—thus providing a firm foundation for genuine school improvement and superior student achievement.
John E. Chubb is a founding partner of Edison Schools and a nonresident senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.
Terry M. Moe is professor of political science at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He has written extensively on American education and American political institutions.