Last week, we talked about "preserve options" as a first principle for action. It turns out that "preserve options" is a good idea in almost any circumstance, but most certainly in the area of public policy. A related first principle is think small, a principle with a bias against scale.
There's no question that scale makes sense in many sectors. For example, a consulting business with global clients needs global scale to serve those clients. Scale also matters when it comes to reducing operating costs.
In other areas, however, scale turns out to be mostly not a good thing. From public education to food production to global warfare to state highway planning, its easy to slip past the point of diminishing returns, to have too much of a big thing. Factory schools, factory farms, bloated defense budgets, and never-ending sprawl. Each of these has unintended consequences that could never have been foreseen. Struggling schools, failing infrastructure and worse, all in the name of economic efficiency.
Schools, in particular, suffer when there is a factory mentality. With state guidelines as cover, public school planners tilt toward BIG schools at every level. The cost has enormous.