Rules-based reforms include such things as extending school days and the school year, changing teacher certification and school accreditation requirements, imposing national and state testing, enacting stricter dress codes, and the like. Research has shown that these reforms, while causing marginal improvements, have failed to turn around a large-scale decline in education. More drastic city or state "takeovers" of failing schools and districts, legislative proposals such as "Outcome-Based Education," "Goals 2000," and other regulatory regimes have been and still are being tried, with the same disappointing results.
A typical, recent example of the kind of futility encountered by rules-based reform efforts came to light in the fall of 1999 when The Detroit News released a special report entitled "Grading Metro Detroit Schools." This report analyzed all 83 school districts in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties based on 12 key educational factors.4 The study revealed Oakland County's Birmingham School District as the Detroit Metro area's top-performer. Meanwhile, Wayne County's Inkster Public Schools ranked a poor 76th out of 83 districts.
Yet, the Inkster district had been the focus of one of America's most common reform efforts: the establishment of "strict" accreditation standards as a way of ensuring academic excellence. The News reported that half of all Inkster schools "have met rigorous standards of North Central Association (NCA) accreditation, which examines long-term plans, teacher credentials and other items." Meanwhile, only 15 percent of Birmingham schoolsthe top district in the area for academic achievementhad received NCA accreditation. In other words, one of the worst school districts had a higher level of accreditation than the best. The average ACT score among Birmingham students was 24.0 on a 36-point scale, while the average Inkster student scored 15.1.5
This is just one of many examples too numerous to list here, in which new or tougher rules and requirements had little or no impact because they failed to deal with the systemic problem in government schools. While additional rules are a politically expedient and popular means of addressing a problem, they have little or no correlation with improved academic achievement.