Zhao's mass localism: let's get really local

Since posting some video yesterday, today I am following with a discussion of Zhao's post on mass localism up on his blog. The first part of his post discusses Race to the Top and its problems (bold mine):
With Race to the Top, the U.S. Department of Education’s guess may just be wrong. National curriculum has not proven to be the silver bullet for raising achievement or closing gaps (I have written about this before on this site and in my book); charter schools have not been proven to be THE solution either (they are plenty of good ones and bad ones just as public schools); teacher merit pay or associating teacher evaluation and job security to student test scores has not been proven to raise teacher quality either; and longitudinal data systems are based on a very mechanical view of student growth and development, ignoring individual differences and the human aspect of education. All these measures, mandated by Race to the Top, are very likely to result in more bureaucracy, cheating, and narrowing children’s educational experiences, and stifle creativity and innovation. Not exactly what we need to prepare our children to meet the challenges of a complex, rapidly changing world in the age of globalization.
I'll add that is isn't just increased Federal control but it is increased corporate control that is unchecked by the Federal government, even abetted by the Federal government.  The Federal government hasn't sent a single banker to jail whereas they sent 1000 to jail for the savings and loan debacle.  I question whether it really is the government  or corporate pirates and uniformed billionaires dominating the political process that allow such a big prize like Race to the Top to be awarded so randomly and with such concentration.  How can the Federal government have states race when the government should ensure that no one loses? Those of us outside the beltway understand that big corporations are not the government and their domination of Federal decisions weaken the faith of people in the Federal government.

Zhao then presents an overview of a UK program called the Big Green Challenge:

The Big Green Challenge was a challenge prize program launched in 2007 and completed in 2010. Unlike traditional grant programs that give the winning proposal the funds to implement the proposed activities, the Big Green Challenge began as an open contest that aimed at generating as many solutions as possible. “Application criteria in the ‘call for ideas’ stage were very broad, and NESTA explicitly invited proposals from any non-profit group whether formally constituted or not – 20 per cent of applicants were just informal groups at this stage. In addition, a significant proportion of the groups applying didn’t previously have an environmental focus.”
.... The finalists who proved their approaches most successful won the 1 million pounds prize. 
Apparently, the program was a huge success. “The finalists achieved an average reduction in CO2 emissions of 15 per cent during the final year (with the winning projects achieving between 10 and 32 per cent reductions). This means that in the space of just one year these community-led interventions have met almost half (44 per cent) of the UK’s target for reducing CO2 by 2020.” 
More importantly, the project demonstrated “mass localism” as an effective approach to address social issues. In summarizing the lessons learned, the report suggests: Instead of assuming that the best solutions need to be determined, prescribed, driven or ‘authorised’ from the centre, policymakers should create more opportunities for communities to develop and deliver their own solutions and to learn from each other. 
Mass localism reflects a broader trend that is increasingly apparent across the economy, culture and society, that of finding distributed answers to problems and delivering solutions with citizens. It represents a shift from mass production to distributed production. Just as forward-thinking businesses are opening up their R&D processes to their suppliers and customers, so policymakers should look for solutions beyond established organisations and experts. They should look also to citizens and communities. 
There is a lot more details about the Big Green Challenge you can find by reading the full paper.
What would it be like if the U.S. Department of Education took the “mass localism” approach to distributing the 4.3 billion dollars?
Zhao's work is good and running Race to the Top as he suggests would greatly widen the impact.  But Let's get really local on a mass scale: we can actually do mass localism directly in every community and not just for a prize, moving toward voluntary community learning centers that allow families and kids to make real choices like how many classes they want and when they want to go would mean we could see these effects on a mass scale.

Really local means actually getting down to the children and families and empowering them would also strengthen them.  And in a country as large and diverse as the US, unlike nation-states that are smaller and more homogeneous, a really distributed and democratic solution like this would mean we could improve schools while getting the efficiencies that can only be achieved successfully from the ground up by families and kids.

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