Although some people see the program as revolutionary, it is far from that. Bush insists that accountability is the key to improvement. He is absolutely right. But accountability to whom? He says the states should be accountable to the federal government. But that is just the sort of artificial accountability that has brought education to its present unsatisfactory condition. We are in roughly the 150th year of an experiment in which government, not parents, makes all the big decisions about children’s educations. Teachers and administrators are theoretically accountable to school boards, which are theoretically accountable to state governments. Giving a larger role to yet a higher, more distant level of government hardly sounds promising.
What America needs instead is the “debureaucratization” of education, which would make it possible for parents and education entrepreneurs to work together in a competitive marketplace to provide the best education for children. Standards in K-12 education, like standards in higher education, should be set in a marketplace responsive to parents’ demands and students’ needs. Parent Power, that is, freeing parents to be fully responsible for their children’s education, is the only way to make schools truly accountable.