Two middle schools in USD 259, the Wichita public school district, have performed so poorly for the past six years that they must be restructured, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act. (“2 Wichita middle schools must start over,” Wichita Eagle, February 29, 2008) Four other Wichita middle schools are within one year of suffering this sanction, and another is two years away. So before long, seven of the 18 middle schools in the Wichita school district could be in the most severe category of remediation as defined by NCLB.
NCLB sanctions are progressive, meaning that these troubled schools have been receiving special attention and remedial measures for several years already. These measures have, evidently, failed to produce positive results.
What does the restructuring of these schools mean? Everyone, including the principals, must reapply for their jobs. That sounds severe, but in practice, it may not mean much at all. The superintendent of the Wichita schools says “… he expects leadership teams at both schools to remain.” The teachers, being members of a union, are guaranteed a job somewhere in the Wichita public schools.
Are these tough sanctions? When people fail this spectacularly in private enterprise, they usually are fired. That’s not happening here. Still, the sanctions are, somehow, painful. Wichita board of education member Barbara Fuller, herself the former president of the teachers union, “is most concerned about the restructuring plan’s emotional impact. ‘It’s going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt deep,’ Fuller said.” I wonder how hurt the parents of children who attend these failing schools feel.
The Wichita school district, I have been told, wants to be held accountable for results. This “restructuring” of these middle schools, while perhaps an abrupt change compared to what school reform measures usually call for, will probably not produce the desired results. The system will still be the same. The same bureaucracy — from the superintendent to the school principals — is in place. There is still the same lack of meaningful competition, the same insulation from market accountability, and the same lack of entrepreneurial discovery process.
Market accountability is what the Wichita public schools need most. It is one thing for the school superintendent and the board of education to say they want to be held accountable. They appear noble and courageous for saying so. But if they truly want to held accountable they would allow competition through school choice funded by vouchers or tax credits.
In Kansas, most parents don’t have a credible threat of sending their children to a non-public school. School choice implemented through vouchers or tax credits would give parents the ability to send their children to almost any school they want. This is accountability. Losing your customers is a sanction that really hurts.
It’s easy to say you want to be held accountable when the penalty for failure is that described above. It is an entirely different matter to actually be held accountable by parents who have the credible threat of taking their children somewhere else — the same market accountability that private enterprise is subject to. This is the accountability that the Wichita school district will not submit to.