Most Americans assume the pride of Edmonton, Canada, is its hockey team. The Oilers have historically been one of the NHL’s best franchises, and this year, they skated against the Carolina Hurricanes for the Stanley Cup. But education policy experts know that the pride of Edmonton is its school district, which is fast becoming a model for school districts across the United States.
In the 1970s, under the leadership of superintendent Mike Strembitksy, Edmonton reformed its school district based on two principles: school choice and decentralization.
Edmonton implemented a “Weighted Student Formula” approach to education funding. Edmonton’s schools receive government funding based on student enrollment and each of their student’s individual characteristics. Children with special needs, for example, receive a higher share of per-student funding. Parents are free to choose the best school to meet their children’s individual needs, and funding follows the students.
Principals, meanwhile, have the freedom and autonomy to manage their schools as they see fit. That’s because they control more than 90 percent of a school’s budget. (Principals in other school systems often control far less of a school’s budget, and most decisionmaking occurs in the district’s central administration.) By giving school leaders power over spending, decisions can be made by those closest to the students: teachers and principals.
The key to Edmonton’s success is the balance between parental choice and school-based management. Parents have the freedom to choose the best schools for their children. And schools have to appeal to parents by designing educational missions that they can prove are successful.
Importantly, Edmonton holds schools accountable for performance by collecting and making public data on school performance and academic achievement. Armed with this information, parents can make well-informed decisions.
Edmonton’s education system has become a model for education reformers across the United States. In Making Schools Work, UCLA Professor