How to Reform Education in Ohio: A Symposium

David Zanotti

December 1, 1997

There are a series of excellent education reform measures currently being debated in Ohio including school choice scholarships, tax credits to fund school choice and the entire child-centered funding reform agenda. Regardless which of these concepts moves forward, politicians will attempt to raise the issue of accountability for any reform initiative.

Accountability is a good thing — if we get it right from the start. When politicians and the educational establishment talk about accountability they usually mean forcing local schools to answer to the Ohio Legislature through filling out endless forms produced by the Ohio Department of Education. This is the top-down approach. It accomplishes little more than keeping career bureaucrats fully employed and legislators swimming in a sea of statistics.

Under this process of accountability, real change that helps children is almost impossible. By the time the State of Ohio discovers a problem and responds, the children impacted by that problem have moved on through the system. You simply cannot accomplish real accountability from Columbus or Washington, D.C., nor should we attempt such accountability.

Real accountability begins at home and in the local community. And the best form of accountability is that which is driven by market forces.

When parents can choose between two or more schools for their child they will exercise that choice based upon what is best for their family. The school that is chosen will then be accountable to produce results that satisfy parents. Schools that cannot satisfy parents will no longer be in business.

This form of accountability is already working in the Hope Academies of Cleveland. Almost 500 children in grades K-4 are making unprecedented progress in a choice based program. Parents are exceptionally pleased and intensely involved in this process by choice. Over 90% of the first year students at Hope returned their second year. This retention rate is phenomenal in an urban setting.

And public grade schools in Cleveland are scrambling to improve to keep more parents from leaving. Cleveland Public Schools are now implementing full day kindergarten and failing schools are being reconstituted by local officials.

Schools will get better when it is in their best interest to improve. They will not improve through the fear of bureaucratic discipline. They will get better in a hurry when they have to respond to the demands of parents. Empowering parents with choice is the best pathway to more accountable and productive schools.

David Zanotti is the President of the Ohio Roundtable.