One thing about the education reform zealots always has mystified me.
It’s that they seem to have so little faith in their own plans and programs.
Oh, they talk loud and proud about how much good their campaign does to give parents and students more choices in regard to schooling. The self-proclaimed education reformers make it sound as if their efforts will have nothing less than a transformative effect on schools and students, improving scores and performance at an astounding rate.
The evidence suggests, though, that they just do not believe that.
If they did, they would be compiling evidence that students in voucher and charter schools were doing much, much better than their counterparts in traditional public schools. They would be testing the students receiving state funds to study in settings other than traditional public schools and the educators teaching them to build their case that choice works.
That the education reform movement works.
But they don’t do that.
At almost every stop, they take measures to make sure their plans and programs cannot be tested, cannot be assessed, cannot be held accountable.
And they do this while insisting traditional public educators and schools be held to rigid standards of accountability.
The latest example is the effort to expand Indiana’s school choice program.
The Hoosier voucher program is already the most expansive and expensive in the nation.
It also has drawn criticism from the last two Indiana superintendents of public instruction — Democrat Glenda Ritz and Republican Jennifer McCormick.
McCormick’s criticism, in particular, should have given pause to the education reformers. She was their handpicked candidate for state superintendent, the weapon they used to dispatch Ritz, whom the education reformers viewed as a pawn of the teachers’ unions.
Once in office, though, McCormick took a close look at the data … and realized that much of what the education reformers had done and were proposing made no sense at all. She also had the integrity to say so.
The education reformers’ response to having someone in authority try to hold them accountable was to do away with the superintendent’s position and deprive Hoosier voters of the power to select their own schools’ chief.
Accountability, it seems, is for other people.
Not for them.
They have carried that mindset over into this latest expansion of their school choice agenda. Their new plan is to allow parents to draw up to $7,000 of taxpayers’ money per student per school year to educate that student. The parents only have to say that they will meet some vague — exceedingly vague — educational standards to qualify for the money.
If the students aren’t taught in ways that meet even those minimal requirements, who will check?
Not the state.
Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, is one of the architects of the measure. He says the parents will provide the ultimate accountability.
I wonder how many other people receive state funds without having to demonstrate they used the money for the purpose it was intended.
But, beyond the potential for corruption in this foolishness, there’s a more fundamental problem.
If education were just to be a parents’ responsibility, we would make the parents pay for it themselves. We make education a public — meaning taxpayer — responsibility because spending money on teaching young people is supposed to be an investment in creating good and productive citizens.
That is supposed to benefit every citizen in the community, the state and the country.
That also is why we require all citizens, not just parents, to pay taxes in support of educating our young people.
What Behning and his education-reform running buddies are saying is that the taxpayers don’t and shouldn’t have a right to determine if they’re getting anything for their money.
There’s an easy way to fix this.
The education reform crowd should demand testing and accountability measures that prove the massive sums they’ve spent on their fanciful schemes are justified. They should be able to prove the gains in student achievement they have been promising for more than 30 years have arrived.
And if they don’t and thus can’t back up what they’ve been saying?
Well, then, they should stop putting our money where their mouths are.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.