In April, our U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, said, "We need a culture of accountability in America's education system if we want to be the best in the world." I like that sentence for three reasons:
1. It's true. Every presidential administration in our lifetime has said the same thing, demanding that schools be accountable for their mission, promises and funding through a rigorous set of standards that, curiously, remain pretty much intact for the present administration.
Page one headline from the education establishment journal, Education Week (April 8, 2009): "Obama Echoes Bush On Education Ideas."
- Obama: "set high standards, have high expectations ... cultivate a new culture of accountability in America's schools."
- G.W. Bush: "insist on high standards and accountability ... every school should teach."
- Bill Clinton: "all successful schools followed the same proven formula: high standards, more accountability, so all children can reach those standards."
- G.H.W. Bush: "Accountability, flexibility, tougher standards, [results] - all of these have got to be out there on the table."
2. Of all the schools in the nation, religious and independent schools are the most accountable. How is that? If we do not fulfill our mission and our promises, our funding evaporates overnight. The paying public (who, by the way, pays twice. Once, through taxation and, then again, through tuition.) can decide to pay someone else. Now that's accountability. We either do what we say we'll do or ... the old adage comes true: our citizens will vote with their feet.
Maybe that is why government schools even fear their own charter schools.
3. We do want to be the best in the world. Mr. Duncan had the same goal for the Chicago Public Schools. As a Chicago taxpayer (still), it is fair to say the goal to be the best in the world didn't quite materialize for him in Chicago but, at least, he knows the value of competing to be the best.
Here is how we can be the best: when schools are truly accountable to citizens and when the educational playing field is truly competitive (i.e. full public and private school choice), people will vote with their feet. The monopoly will be over. America's schools will, again, be the best in the world.
(Posted by Gary B. Arnold, Arkansas State CAPE)