Accountability and Authority

There’s an interesting intra-Education Sector dialogue going on between Andy Rotherham and Kevin Carey about where to draw the fault lines in education reform.  You should read both arguments in full, because they’re both really smart and the arguments are nuanced.  Both reject the notion that “free market purity” vs. “liberal traditionalism” is the way to characterize either the political or substantive debate.

I like Andy’s “Choice/Accountability” matrix, it’s far superior to the dichotomy that both of their posts reject.  I worry, though, that it conflates “choice” and school-based “autonomy.”  Right now, most state laws are structured such that charter schools – which are almost always schools of choice – have more autonomy than other actors in the public system.  This doesn’t have to be the case.  There’s no theoretical fiat preventing all other public schools from having higher levels of school-based autonomy, it’s just that the bureaucratic, policy, and collectively-bargained constraints of most traditional systems create (surmountable!) obstacles to school-based autonomy.  (Capacity is another huge obstacle, but I’ll get to that one another day.)

There’s a shift going on, though, and if you look at places like New Haven, Philadelphia, Delaware, and Illinois, you see real movement toward securing greater autonomy for public schools in turnaround situations, because that’s where the political consensus exists for change.

Kevin’s point – that KIPP’s existence is a more powerful reason for chartering than any pure market teleology – illustrates a pretty important, yet nascent, debate: is choice in public education a means or an end?  If choice is an end, the pure market version of ed reform settles for a reality wherein there are winners and losers when scarce resources are allocated – that’s literally what markets do.*  If choice is a means, it is one part of a substantial toolkit for ensuring a higher quality education for all children.  It’s a really important distinction that doesn’t get talked about enough.

*Obviously there are winners and losers in our systems of public education NOW, but that’s besides the point.  Many developed countries have much higher levels of average educational attainment than the US does, so we can clearly do better across the board, it’s not like there’s some current level of aggregate educational attainment that will be preserved irrespective of distribution.

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3 Responses to Accountability and Authority

  1. Pingback: Matthew Yglesias » What Is the Education Reform Debate About?

  2. Pingback: Is the education reform debate ideological? « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

  3. Pingback: The “Partnership Zone” « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

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