A Country Where Teachers Have a Voice…. And Public Schools Have Been Destroyed


Sarah Butrymowicz has a piece on the Dutch education system, A Country Where Teachers Have a Voice, in the Atlantic.

Sarah draws her title from the fact that the Dutch educational system is amongst the most decentralized national education system in the world. More than 60% of their publicly funded schools are private or religious, and educators have a lot of leeway in making critical decisions. The government requires some testing but is less active in direct management.

Sarah writes:

In some ways, the educational system in the Netherlands, a country that’s comparable in size to Massachusetts and Connecticut combined and serves a population of 17 million people, functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.

If there were a global prize for Relinquishment, the Netherlands just might win it.

Relinquishment is even enshrined in their constitution. As Sarah notes:

The Dutch constitution guarantees freedom of education, meaning anyone can open a school and determine how they want to teach there.

To date, this corporatist system seems to be doing ok: the Netherlands ranks in the top quarter of countries on PISA.

Some Reflections

1. While the teacher autonomies in the Netherlands seem very real, these autonomies appear to be as much caused by culture as by structure. Presumably, school based administrators could manage teachers more tightly.

2. Schools are governed by local boards, though it was unclear how these boards are formed, nor whether or not they have clearly defined roles.

3. It’s worth being cautious with international comparisons Differences in culture, size, history, and population make cross country comparisons difficult. So, I’ll be the first to say, just because decentralization seems to be working in the Netherlands, it doesn’t mean that it would work in the United States. That being said, the Netherlands does provide evidence that it’s possible for a nation to operate a decentralized education system without falling apart in a violent storm of corporate profiteering and religious fanaticism.

4. I of course think decentralization can work in the United State.

5. I think Sarah was wise to frame her piece around teacher empowerment. She did a good job of speaking to the tribe.

6. At some point, I’d like to visit the Netherlands and go deeper. I’m curious to learn how entrepreneurship, accountability, teacher pipelines, and choice all interact.

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