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Working Paper: England Confronts the Limits of School Autonomy
In “England Confronts the Limits of School Autonomy,” Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske provide a detailed analysis of the evolution of school choice in England and address the obstacles in the way of full implementation of Conservative Party ambitions as well as its likely drawbacks. The result is a rich depiction of dramatic change and a cautionary statement about the impact of full school independence on community input and student interests.
While the growth of charter schools from two in Minnesota in 1992 to nearly 7,000 across the country today has been stunning, this transformation of the educational landscape in the United States pales in comparison to what has happened in nearly half the time in England.
Authorized by legislation in 2000 and officially launched in 2002, academies are England’s answer to charter schools. They are former state schools funded by the central government and granted significant operational autonomy. There are now 5,302 academies. Free schools, introduced in 2010, are academies by another name, created by teachers, charities, parents, or religious groups. There are now 304 free schools. The former Conservative prime minister David Cameron and his education secretary, Nicky Morgan, pledged in March 2016 to make all of England’s 20,000 government-funded schools into academies or free schools to give parents more choice and school administrators more freedom. Their target date for this complete transformation was 2022. Cameron's successor, Theresa May, and her education secretary, Justine Greening, have so far stood behind this pledge.
England’s academies and free schools stand out for not only their rapid growth but also their substantial autonomy. While oversubscribed charter schools in the United States must employ lotteries for admission, academies and free schools have control over whom they admit. The result, according to an analysis summarized by The Guardian, has been significant segregation of students by class as well as academic achievement.
In “England Confronts the Limits of School Autonomy,” Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske provide a detailed analysis of the evolution of school choice in England and address the obstacles in the way of full implementation of Conservative ambitions as well as its likely drawbacks. Ladd, a professor of economics and public policy at Duke University, and Fiske, a former education editor at The New York Times, ground their working paper in government reports, academic studies, and interviews conducted last spring in London with 24 government officials, school leaders, and researchers. The result is a rich depiction of dramatic change and a cautionary statement about the impact of full school independence on community input and student interests.
Samuel E. Abrams
October 24, 2016
Published Monday, Oct. 24, 2016