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Chapter Summary

Frug, Gerald E. and David Barron. 2008. City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ Press. (Chapter 6)

In Chapter 6, Frug and Barron turn to the issue of state oversight in the context of education. In particular, urban school systems suffer from acute challenges; they have students who do not speak English as a first language, and many have special cognitive, learning, and physical needs. Most are under-funded and suffer from dysfunctional operational system. As a result, many educational facilities are in terrible shape. Many critics believe that this is due to urban governments having too much autonomy. However, our authors contend that state statutory restraints hinder the ability of cities to effectively serve the educational needs of their citizens.

A states control over its cities public schools can vary by how their school boards are elected. School boards can either be appointed by elected officials or by popular vote. Schools that have appointed board members are more constrained by the states politics than boards, which are not. Regardless of this distinction, practically every state has a strong hold on public schools because it allocates funds, controls curriculum, and imparts testing requirements. These restrictions often hinder the ability of a city to develop new and effective techniques to improve their schools.

Clearly, one of the biggest constraints on the public education system is budgetary. Because schools are mostly funded by local taxes, great inequity among school systems emerge because low-income districts have a much lower tax base per capita. Further, the state effectively controls which students can attend which schools because they draw the districts. This issue is exacerbated by parents who remove their children from urban schools for alternative institutions such as private, charter, and suburban schools. Yet, many of these options are not free from the control of the state. For example, charter schools receive some state funding - though they do not follow state curriculum requirements and their establishment is subject to state approval.

In light of these limitations, our authors offer suggestions on how cities can improve their schools:

1) Invest in infrastructure to update schools and reduce class sizes.

2) Experiment with instruction methods, such as teacher-student interaction and the length of school day.

3) Implement programs that involve the community in the educational system.

4) Construct new levels of education that put students on different tracks of education, rather than putting every student through the same grades.

5) Allow parents and students to choose which public school they wish to attend within a citys district.

6) Attempt to bring students from higher income areas to lower income areas in order to reduce inequity in the systems.

In conclusion, our authors contend that states oversight has inhibited cities from being adaptive with their schooling. With more autonomy, cities may be able to better educate their population.