Accountability — and our outdated concept of it — is a topic Andy Smarick of the Fordham Institute artfully explores in recent blog post “Public Accountability vs. Consumer Accountability”.
Too often the standard default mechanism for the public is to require a single government-controlled entity to oversee all schools in a given area. Other types of schools — many of which receive public funds like charter schools, voucher schools or virtual – are unwittingly placed into the same accountability system and expected to perform the same way and meet the same metrics; even when many of these schools are demonstrably different academically and administratively from the uniform public school and expected to meet the same goals and metrics. Such a system has many shortcomings, and Smarick insightfully describes them and then raises the ultimate question: How do we pivot to a better system?
So maybe our state accountability systems all look alike and behave in ways we don’t like because our century-old delivery system has forced their hands, not because policy leaders are uncreative, stubborn, or unwise.
If this is the case, it stands to reason that a different approach to school delivery—one with great diversity of schools and operators and directed by parental choice—could allow, support, or even beget a new approach to accountability.
Maybe we wouldn’t need accountability systems to be uniform and statewide. Maybe schools could be held accountable through a wide array of measures that could vary from school to school. Maybe school report cards would become information-rich and user-friendly and help families make choices. Maybe all schools could be freed from burdensome rules. Maybe failing schools and operators could be replaced.
If only there were places in America that had school and operator diversity and widespread school choice; then, maybe, we could think anew about accountability.
The argument for school choice, also argues for a variety of public – non-governmental — accountability mechanisms. Parent groups, professional associations, policy and civic associations, neighborhood organizations are all well-suited to contribute to this ongoing experiment of self-governance — if we would only let them.