Let’s Get Ready to Rummmmmble!

August 24, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had a chance to watch the Fordham Foundation’s with ice cream ascendant is there a future for chocolate fudge event on charters and vouchers online. John Kirtley scored an early knockout when he noted that in Jacksonville Florida recently there all of 6 charter schools but 90 private schools serving low-income students through the Step Up for Students Tax Credit program. Kirtley then noted that not all 6 charter schools primarily serve low-income children. He likely could have added that not all six are high quality schools, but that would have been running up the score. Kirtley asked his debate opponents how much longer single mothers with children in the schools should have to wait for high quality school options.


Kirtley’s opponents, Kevin Carey and Susan Zelman, raised the predictable totem of “accountability.” This of course is a real issue and a superficially powerful totem, but when you look behind the curtain, the Great and Powerful Oz is just an old man.

I live in a state where 44% of 4th graders scored below basic in 4th grade reading in 2007 and even a little worse in 2005. Who, pray tell, was held “accountable” for that sorry performance? Was a single administrator or teacher fired? Not that I am aware of. Did the public elect a new Superintendent of Public Instruction? Nope- the incumbent was reelected in 2006.

Who was held accountable? Try “not a single human being at all.” Public school “accountability” in short, is a cruel joke with kids as the victims.

Those who want to pretend that giving an all too often dummied down state test tied to a set of often sorry state academic standards constitutes “accountability” have confused their means with their ends. It isn’t the end all be all of accountability, nor is it necessarily really accountability at all.

Done well, I believe standards and testing can be a productive education reform. Choice programs however should be an opt-out of that system into one that is different, but which still contains a vitally necessary level of transparency. Something like the Stanford 10 will work nicely.

Kirtley’s point was the key: if we are really interested in helping disadvantaged children, all options must be on the table. Otherwise, pro-charter but anti-private choice folks do indeed come across like the gradualist white liberal wimps who urged the leaders of the civil rights movement to be “patient.”

Patience can be a virtue, but not when your hair is on fire.

%d bloggers like this: