Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What does "accountable to the public" mean?

In recent weeks, Secretary Jim Rex has toured the state promoting innovation in public education, but he specifically opposes schools that are not "accountable to the public, which is a cornerstone of the public school system.”

"Accountable to the public" doesn't mean accountable to parents and students, or even employers who ultimately employ the public schools' product, but it means being accountable to arbitrary standards imposed by the Legislature and the SC Department of Education. That will ensure "innovative" schools will have to look pretty much like public schools today.

That's what happens anytime the market leader can define what "innovation" looks like. If I had asked Bi Lo if I could build an Earth Fare store across the street, Bi Lo would have assured me that they had an organic isle to serve those customers, the market couldn't support an organic store, and an organic store would only take resources away from improving the existing grocery store in the area. Because being "accountable to the public" meant being accountable to customers, we built the stores anyway and most were very successful. Go figure. How could Bi Lo have been so wrong?

The wagons are being circled around the status quo. The Riley Institute's recent survey is being touted by the SC Department of Education as finding a "broad base support for improving South Carolina’s public education system." At least in one case, a public school superintendent told the Riley Institute that we need to "implode the current system at its core and start over." Secretary Rex didn't hear voices like those “in concluding, "These results are reassuring. They confirm what we’ve been saying all along. There is consensus in South Carolina for improving public education and moving our schools forward"

They real problem with true innovation in education is that schools outside the existing system will take resources away from improving the existing public schools. I hope Jim Rex and his team are successful, but to get the quantum leap in improvement in education we need they need to think less like Bi Lo and more like Earth Fare.

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