Guest opinion: Stop the madness. Educational accountability rests with families

Oak Norton

All government agencies are accountable to the legislature that budgets them tax money and ultimately to the people who pay the taxes to run them.

Of all governmentally funded entities, which of them is given the least realistic goals? In fact, which of these entities are given any goals whatsoever? All have expectations of them to perform their function within their budget, but only public education is told to multiply their talents five-fold while standing on one leg and having children jump through a flaming hoop. The problem with public education isn’t funding though, it’s the burdens placed upon it by those who seek greater outcomes and accountability as if it was possible to use business principles to double productivity.

In the opinion piece “Don’t ditch letter grades for schools – but provide more detail” by Christine Cooke and Tom Greene, I feel the authors get some things right, but are missing the mark on where accountability should be centered.  I disagree that those measures should be academic performance increases. The phrase “more blood from a turnip” comes to mind when I think of making teachers and children perform higher each year than the previous one as if they were Olympic athletes and the legislature and state board were their trainers just trying to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of them. Did anyone ask the 8 year-olds if they wanted to be Olympians?

Our teachers…I feel for them. Every accountability measure puts new burdens on them. Track this, track that. I suppose they are the trainers and the legislature and state board are really the Olympic committee pressuring them to make sure our nation wins.

What performs well under pressure? Rocks. Our children aren’t rocks. They aren’t iron for smelting or clay for shaping. They’ve got minds of their own and in spite of the best governmental efforts, no program ever developed from Goals 2000, NCLB, ESSA, to Common Core with intense assessments and tracking, have shown ANY improvement in education. Doing the same failing thing over and over is the definition of insanity, right?

Why don’t we have accountability set by those who PAY the taxes instead of those who COLLECT the taxes? Why don’t we gear accountability at a school toward the CUSTOMERS of that school instead of the BROKERS?

Why can’t we allow for parents to sit down with their children’s teachers, help them understand their goals and desires, strengths and interests, and open up the door to freedom in education such that children have personal time every day to develop who they are and want to become? Why can’t benchmarks be measured by the student and parents observing them advancing at their own pace in ways they choose.

The one thing public schools are guaranteed to teach is an unwritten lesson in compulsion. There is no social contract or exchange for students. They are told who, what, where, and when to learn, but rarely how or why so they have little context for what they are forced to learn. They absorb the message that it’s OK for someone else to force you into doing what they value, but not till you’re an adult can you make those decisions for yourself. Is it any wonder that college students feel unsure of what they want to do with their lives? Up to that point they’ve been told everything they should do and suddenly they hold the reins of their destiny and it’s their first solo ride. They need experience with freedom from an early age or they’ll ultimately continue looking for someone to tell them what to do.

Let’s release the pressure cooker valve and let some cool air into the pot by testing freedom in our schools. I think we’ll find that teachers and students perform better when they aren’t under such insane pressure to bureaucrats who AREN’T their primary concern. We don’t need stronger accountability measures for the public. We need accountability to rest with families whose children attend the schools and who are good judges of what the growth of their children should be. It works for homeschoolers. Why wouldn’t it work for professional teachers?

Oak Norton lives in Highland and is the Director of Agency-Based Education, a non-profit organization promoting educational freedom and options for families.