Over at the Washington Times, there’s a story today about Mika Brzezinski being mugged in front of her D.C. hotel.  The narrative is about how her co-host took some time in the show to express his shock and dismay at the event; the mayor of Washington, D.C. was on the show.  

This post isn’t about that though.  Toward the bottom of the article, you see Hizzoner Adrian Fenty try to move on to what he really wanted to talk about: education reform.  The quoted remark from the article:

They should be paid more, but they should be held more accountable. That’s going to improve things in the inner city.

This isn’t an uncommon sentiment.  We hear the same kind of idea expressed in every school district.  It’s probably standard boilerplat for master planning documents for independent school districts.  Hold teachers accountable!  Yeah! 

The problem is that education isn’t a one-way proposition, like filling up your gas tank.  One can teach all he wants, but if the intended recipient isn’t there to learn, no amount of accountability is going to make a hill-of-beans difference.  We’re way too focused on teacher “performance”, anyway.  Teaching isn’t rocket science (unless, of course, you’re teaching rocket science), and one doesn’t have to be at the top of his field to be a competent teacher.  It’s true that some teachers are more gifted than others, but there is no lack of people who would be competent teachers.  The schools will argue that there is, but it’s an artifact of the aforementioned accountability – who wants to take his mathematics degree into the classroom when the reward will be half the salary he could draw in the employment of any number of profitable ventures and deal with the pressure of potential “accountability” as a result of students who won’t or can’t learn?  Of course, such a person would say “no thank you,” and go about his merry way making a killing designing search algorithms or doing technical financial analysis or what have you.

No, we have reached a time of reckoning (in so many ways) in which the truth will not be ignored.  Whatever failures of education we have are not failures of teachers, or more generally, schools.  Of course, there are many opportunities for reform in our educational structures, but we know to whom the ultimate responsibility for education falls.

Families.  More specifically, parents.  Even more specifically, fathers.  Why don’t we go about trying to match up accountability with responsibility?  If anyone should be penalized for the failures of education, it should be the parent.  What about the student, you ask?  Well, failed students will have a life-long reckoning to deal with.  But parents have a special responsibility to their children who can’t raise themselves to be mature, responsible, and wise.  You want to improve things in the inner city?  Do things that will encourage parents to be accountable for their children.

 This is a great place to end this post, but I’ll throw a bone to readers who think at this point “what does that mean?”  The best answer is “I don’t know exactly,” but there are possibilities.  The details get messy, but different things might work in different communities.  Here are a couple of ideas:

  • A ISD property tax break for the parents of students who excel.  That only works for people who pay taxes, but you could legislate it so that the benefit is received as a sort of voucher that must be honored by leasors.  This makes sense because students who come to school to learn and go about it in an orderly and responsible way cost less to educate.  It’s the disorderly and the failures that cause costs to rise.  The trick with this is honesty in grading.  You would have to separate the grading and teaching functions to some extent to prevent parents from improperly colluding with (or threatening!) teachers.
  • “Homeschool Advisors” – teachers who function in a similar fashion to that of a social worker who would help parents make curriculum selections, schedules, track the progress of students, and perhaps perform other services.  There’s certainly already this opening for such a service on the free market, but it could also be a state-funded one since states have a vested interest in the educational outcome of its young people.