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Education Excellence Can't Be Achieved from Above

June 9, 2014 in Economics

By Jason Bedrick

Jason Bedrick

Education in America in the 21st century is moving away from the standardization of the Industrial Era and toward greater customization. As parents increasingly tailor their children’s education through course choice, scholarship tax credits, education savings accounts, homeschooling, online and blending learning, and so on, top-down accountability schemes will become increasingly untenable. As our education system becomes more decentralized and complex, the locus of accountability should shift from government to parents.

The best form of accountability is directly to parents who are empowered to choose the education providers that meet their children’s needs—and leave those that do not. Since low-income families often cannot afford anything besides their assigned district school, the government school system has had to impose top-down accountability measures to ensure quality in the absence of choice.

As our education system becomes more decentralized and complex, the locus of accountability should shift from government to parents.”

However, such centralized accountability measures are ill suited to handle complexity and tend to stifle diversity and innovation. As University of Arkansas Professor Jay P. Greene noted recently:

“With top-down reforms the people selecting the standards, designing the tests, setting the cut-scores, devising consequences for performance, writing the curriculum, and picking the instructional methods have to get it just right … for many different kinds of kids who may need different approaches. And they have to be right over and over again as circumstances and information change.”

That’s a nearly impossible task even before special interests attempt to block, dilute, or co-opt such measures. Moreover, a parent seeking to change the system is, at best, merely one out of tens of thousands of voters at the local level or one out of tens of millions at the state level. With the advent of Common Core’s national standards, a parent’s ability to affect systemic change is practically nil.

By contrast, educational choice programs foster innovation and diversity by putting parents in charge. They give space to providers to develop new ways of educating diverse children that might not fit the pre-existing mold. Parents can then evaluate which approaches work best for their children and which do not. Over time, this market process weeds out ineffective approaches and encourages the proliferation of more effective approaches.

Some advocate combining the two forms of accountability, attempting to harness the dynamism of market-based education reforms while tethering it to a single standardized test that allows for apples-to-apples comparisons. This may sound …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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