centralization in Massachusetts

English: Seal of the Governor of Massachusettslicensed image via Wikimedia Commons, by Tom LemmensMassachusetts Governor Wants to Centralize Community Colleges | Inside Higher Ed:
"Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is proposing a centralization of community colleges in Massachusetts. His plan would give the state's Board of Higher Education authority over all funds for all community colleges, consolidating the 15 line items for the colleges in the budget today. Further, Patrick said that the board would focus on job preparation. “A central piece of our economic recovery strategy is ensuring that the skills of our workforce meet the evolving needs of our employers,” said Governor Patrick in a statement. “That’s why we are advancing a new and innovative mission for our community colleges, to train highly-qualified candidates for jobs in every corner of the commonwealth."
From the Governor's press release:
BOSTON – Monday, January 23, 2012 – In his annual State of the Commonwealth address tonight, Governor Deval Patrick will propose a set of reforms to help Massachusetts community colleges provide residents looking for work with the skills they need to help fill the estimated 120,000 current job openings in the state. The proposal calls for the fifteen individual community college campuses to come together as a unified, state-wide system offering a more streamlined curriculum as well as locally developed, regionally specific jobs and skills training.
The cost-saving appeal of centralization has been a constant in US education going back to the 1930s. The costs of centralization have been largely unexamined. And alternative structures or ways to rein in things like sky-high presidential salaries or administrative bloat are unknown.  Could there be a loss of differentiation? After all, the colleges of Oxford are still decentralized.

If you do not know how to connect institutions to the people they serve, then a centralized plan sounds better than letting institutions drift. But like any top-down plan, all the important information at the bottom will have to be transferred up which means a loss of information. This is one of the signal problems with great inequality: it reduces information exchange.

I see this in the political posturing as candidates begin electioneering. Not one wants to deeply discuss the problems of the poor: they want to talk about the middle class and global issues. It's like a corn farmer saying "I'm not focused on the soil, I know we have some issues there, but I want to focus on growing more ears of first-class corn."  The problems of the poor hold the keys to change that is wide and deep.

I do not know how Massachusetts can ensure that their community colleges provide taxpayers strong and worthwhile services. Massachusetts isn't all that big, it is one of the most well-run states in the US, and they will probably make a good go of this plan. Keeping people employed is important.

But this constant urge toward centralization is not the skill that democracies need: we need mechanisms and ways to tie government and institutions to the people they serve. In the case of the public schools, one mechanism I have identified is that of bringing the disenfranchised family into the institution in ways that will change the nature of that institution  by decentralizing power, moving more power downward to families, the most natural partners in that process of valuing the social lives of our children and ourselves.

background posts
what's wrong with the schools?

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