Free-Market Accountability Could Rescue Our Schools



        The  Wall Street Journal

    Updated March 30, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET

Philip K. Howard’s March 25 op-ed, “Why Freer Schools Are Better Schools,” correctly points to “centralized legal dictates” as the shackles that keep teachers and principals from exercising common sense. However, his solution, “to abandon adversarial legal proceedings and protect against abuses with a local oversight board,” betrays his misunderstanding of the fundamental difference between government accountability and free-market accountability. Local oversight boards already exist. They are called school boards, and they have already demonstrated their inability to provide “common sense” in large urban school districts.

A government accountability system is always a mandate-entitlement system. Government can only exercise its management authority by passing “dictates.” Even if the legislature’s motives were to transcend politics, it suffers from Friedrich Hayek’s “lack of knowledge” problem. The legislature in Austin, Texas can’t possibly know what Johnny in Houston and Mary in El Paso need.

This system is also based on entitlements. Since parents have been stripped of all authority, they also have no responsibility. Their children are “entitled” to an education regardless of how badly the parents or children behave. Hoping to solve Mr. Howard’s complaints within this system is like hoping to put the square peg in the round hole.

In contrast, a free-market accountability system encourages common sense and avoids most “dictates” because it is a voluntary-contract system. A mutually voluntary system is the opposite of a mandate system. The “lack of knowledge” problem is minimized because the great majority of parents know their children better than anyone else.

A contract system provides for mutual responsibility, not entitlement. The parents are responsible to deliver a child who is ready to learn. Tuition or scholarship funds must be paid. The school is responsible to teach the values and academics desired by the parents. If either the school or the parents don’t meet their responsibilities under the contract, it terminates, and the family moves on to establish a contract with another school. The free-enterprise system by its very nature solves Mr. Howard’s complaints.

We are squandering the greatest resource that any nation has, our children. Depriving them of their financial inheritance through Social Security and Medicare is nothing compared to depriving them of the ability to be productive citizens by not educating them.

Bob Schoolfield

Texans for Parental Choice in Education
Austin, Texas

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