Davies' point, Kolderie said, is that the
idea is to construct operating organizations with incentives to
ensure that they're continually in search of efficiency gains and
quality improvements. "That's a pretty simple sort of thing,"
Kolderie said, whether you're looking at the medical hospital
system, the transportation system or the education system. Kolderie
said that's an important part of his book Thinking Out the How.
3. The civic-sector role.
We need a strong civic sector alongside
the government sector to form the public sector. "To the degree
you have to move change through policy," Kolderie said, "the civic
sector is really important in terms of getting policy to be truly
different." He believes the University of Minnesota's Humphrey
School of Public Affairs could be paying more attention to the civic
sector and its role, as well as to helping those in government learn
how to buy service well.
He said a lot of changes have occurred in
society that haven't gone through policy at all--people are just
behaving differently. Their values have changed. Policy is lagging
behind, only gradually catching up.
Ideas for significant policy change tend
to come from private individuals and private groups. Kolderie
attributed that remark to Anthony Downs, an American
economist specializing in public policy and public
administration and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
"The government, the political system is
by its nature reactive," Kolderie said. "They can't get outside the
box. All reality tells them to keep things as they are." He said a
local school superintendent once told him, "I've got to play the
hand I'm dealt. Reform means nothing to me. Be realistic."
"Fundamental changes at the system level
will come from the outside," Kolderie said. He said a researcher at
the University of Minnesota looked at the major changes in Minnesota
education policy over the years and found they never came from the
Minnesota Department of Education.
Do Minnesota academic institutions
research policy innovations in Minnesota? An interviewer
asked that question and said those institutions seem to be focused
on national, not state, issues. Kolderie agreed that even when major
things get started in Minnesota, it seems to be outsiders who first
study and report on them. It was people from the outside, he said,
who studied the Metropolitan Council and Fiscal Disparities, the
groundbreaking metro-wide property tax-base sharing program, which
started in 1971.
If the civic sector is strong, coherent,
community-minded and communitarian in its outlook, everything can
follow from that. An interviewer made that remark and said if
that's nonexistent, everything is lost. He said what was distinctive
about the Twin Cities was that the business community was
communitarian in its outlook. "They understood business as a
community-service activity," he said. "The resources of the
businesses were devoted to civic outcomes." The interviewer
concluded by saying, "At the root, we have a civic-sector problem."
"I don't know how to recreate the civic
sector," Kolderie said. "I just know there's a need to do it, given
the very different changes that have appeared."
Kolderie said that the two earlier major
immigrant groups in Minnesota had common values and political
cultures: (1) Yankees, with their old-English Congregationalism and
(2) Scandinavian socialism. He pointed out that former Minnesota
Governor Rudy Perpich didn't come from a Yankee or Scandinavian
background. He got into public office when he was elected to the
Hibbing School Board. "I'm impressed at the way some of the new
arrivals today are getting into politics and public office around
here," Kolderie said. "I think that's really hopeful."
In his book, Kolderie talks about the
civic sector as "settings." These, he said, are not geographic
places or organizations. They are combinations of individuals or
small organizations that have the time, the interest, the financing
and the political freedom to ask questions that people in the
political and government sector are not asking, but that need to be
He listed examples of settings, such as
the Citizens League; Interstudy (Paul Ellwood's organization, where
Ellwood designed the concept of managed care); the Carnegie
Corporation (which hired Gunnar Myrdal, who wrote the 1944 study
An American Dilemma:The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy,which,
Kolderie said, changed the American attitude toward civil rights and
race relations); and General Mills (which created the space for
Verne Johnson to work on the concept of housing for the elderly).
There is so much focus on the national
picture--since so much of the media is national--that there's no
concept of what's going on at the state and community levels.
Kolderie said there is a concept of democracy as just electing
people who go to buildings inside the beltway in Washington. He said
media are into a national world and they tend to write about what
doesn't work. "Way too much of our current policy discussion
consists of deploring problems and reaffirming goals, with too
little attention to the 'how' of change," he said.
An interviewer commented that economists
are not interested in regional economies, yet the national economy
is a mosaic of metro-centered, regional economies.
Another interviewer commented that when
we've had major changes in public policy, they came about around a
perceived or felt crisis. There were community leaders who
understood that and were able to articulate it in such a way that
there was an urgency to bring about change, he said. "We tend not to
react well unless we have a crisis," the interviewer said. "We need
to have people who understand it."
K-12 education is a social market.
Kolderie said the public writes the rules for education, sets up the
system and provides the financing, 95 percent of which comes out of
state legislation. There is a commitment to the education of all
The operating organizations that deliver
education are not set up to constantly be looking for efficiency
gains and quality improvements. "We haven't figured out how to
do that," Kolderie said. "Education policy is a major case of
deploring problems and reaffirming goals. But that doesn't move
anything. All it does is build frustration. Some people have visions
of great schools," he continued. "Then we have models to implement
those visions. But that is not system change."
We need to make education a self-improving
system. "It's essentially now an inert system driven by pressure
from the outside," Kolderie said. In the 1960s, unions forced in
bargaining from the outside, he said. In the 1980s, the business
community and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Al
Shanker pushed in standards from the outside.
"The whole notion was that education could
be better without school having to be different," Kolderie said.
"That was the essential concept in the No Child Left Behind
legislation and everything else. The idea was: 'We don't have to
change the system. The problem is we haven't told it what to do,
we're not measuring what it's accomplishing and we don't have any
sanctions if it's not doing what we want it to do. We're not going
to turn the American education system inside out and upside down.'"
Kolderie said it's very hard to get any
discussion going about the disparity between the goals and mission
statements of the school districts and the reality of what comes
out. He said publicly held corporations must list the risks that
what they hope to accomplish might not be accomplished. "School
districts have no such obligation," he said. It would be interesting
to put into K-12 education this concept of having to balance
forward-looking statements with a statement of risks.
In 1992, Kolderie said, Will Marshall of
the Progressive Policy Institute sold Bill Clinton on the ideas of
public school choice and chartering that came out of Minnesota. So,
from 1992 through the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama
administrations, Kolderie said, there was national leadership
working with the concept of K-12 education moving out of the public
utility model and becoming a two-sector system.
"It fundamentally put Democrats in the
position of supporting this kind of choice, as long as it was
consistent with public education principles," he said. Then the
politics dramatically changed, as Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Education. DeVos supports school vouchers that can be
used at private schools.
How can we recast this concept of using a
two-sector system to make it a self-improving system? Kolderie
said the chartered school sector has survived pretty well, despite
this backpressure. And it has generated important innovations.
Some of the charter sector is working to do conventional school
better; some of it is testing nontraditional education.
But, Kolderie said, these innovations are
not being picked up rapidly enough by the district
sector. "Minnesota's notion has been that you don't use the charter
sector to replace the district sector," he said. "The function of
the charter sector is to use the flexibility these laws provide to
create whatever different kind of school that works. Try things, see
what works and try to get the district sector to pick it up."
For the most part, he said, the district
sector is not doing that. He noted that the Lakeville and Minnetonka
school districts have been exceptional and have picked up some
things from the charter sector.
An interviewer asked whether we need
school districts and Kolderie responded, "We've got them and we have
to see if we can begin to make the strategy of delegation,
innovation and diffusion work."
School boards have a deep desire for
sameness. Kolderie said boards believe doing different things
produces conflicts, jealousies and controversies. It's easier, he
said, for boards to be able to say, "You're all being treated the
same across the district." It's a centralized public corporation, he
"Boards are quite jealous about guarding
their control of professional issues," he said. "'We're the ones who
run the schools,' the president of the National School Boards
Association once said."
"The teachers are essentially employees in
an industrial model," Kolderie said. "They react exactly the way
you'd expect employees in an industrial model to react."
Kolderie has developed a proposal for
improving school boards based on what the Minnesota Legislature did
with municipal government after World War II. Minneapolis was a
city of 525,000 people in 1950 and was pretty much fully developed,
as was Saint Paul. Beyond the cities, there were suburbs that mainly
had old-fashioned village government: an elected clerk, an elected
treasurer and an elected mayor. "They were totally unprepared for
what was coming," Kolderie said.
Orville Peterson, the staff attorney for
the League of Municipalities, came up with an interesting solution,
Kolderie said. In 1949, the Legislature revised the village code and
allowed for three optional forms of local government:
- Plan A: an appointed clerk and treasurer;
- Plan B: a village manager; and
- Plan C: the Saint Paul city commission plan.
The local village council could put any
one of these three options up for a public vote and adoption or they
could be put up for a vote by citizen petition. This produced what
Kolderie called "competent, frontline local government in the
Similarly, the Legislature could now lay
out three optional plans for school boards. Kolderie said the
Legislature could say that certain districts clearly in need of
change would have to think about this and put something up for a
vote. These options would be available for other districts, as well,
but they wouldn't be required to choose one.
Kolderie's new paper, published by the
Center for Policy Design, "