Choosing to Learn: Increasing Compliance to the State Reduces Accountability to Parents

Barb Wire

Anyone who has been following the policy debate over school choice or the school reform issue in general probably recognizes the names of the people who co-signed this post at National Review. Here is the article’s byline: By Joseph Bast, Lindsey M. Burke, Andrew J. Coulson, Robert Enlow, Kara Kerwin & Herbert J. Walberg. They write:

Americans face a choice between two paths that will guide education in this nation for generations: self-government and central planning. Which we choose will depend in large measure on how well we understand accountability.

To some, accountability means government-imposed standards and testing, like the Common Core State Standards, which advocates believe will ensure that every child receives at least a minimally acceptable education. Although well-intentioned, their faith is misplaced and their prescription is inimical to the most promising development in American education: parental choice.

True accountability comes not from top-down regulations but from parents financially empowered to exit schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Parental choice, coupled with freedom for educators, creates the incentives and opportunities that spur quality. The compelled conformity fostered by centralized standards and tests stifles the very diversity that gives consumer choice its value.

Most low- and middle-income families today have no viable alternative to their zoned public school. Absent any alternatives, the school is not directly accountable to them, so policymakers try to approximate real accountability through one-size-fits-all regulations.

But distant bureaucrats cannot know the individual needs and preferences of every family. Nor do they share the local knowledge enjoyed by educators. Nevertheless, some policymakers and education experts have come to view top-down regulations as synonymous with “accountability” rather than as a pale imitation. They therefore mistakenly view parent-driven choice programs as “unaccountable,” confusing regulation with accountability.

In recent days, some have even argued that states should impose the Common Core tests on all school-choice programs. Yet there is no compelling body of evidence that top-down regulation improves student outcomes in schools that are already directly accountable to parents. By contrast, there is much evidence that direct accountability to parents yields results superior to those that are defined by bureaucratic red tape.

A global review of the scientific research comparing different types of education systems reveals that the most market-like, least regulated systems consistently outperform more centralized and regulated ones — by a ratio of 15 statistically significant findings to one, across seven different measures of educational outcomes.

Read more: National Review

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