THE ACCOUNTABILITY PUZZLE
[U]nclear laws and lax implementation in many states cloud charter schools' relationships with government and threaten to replace performance with compliance as the basis of charter school accountability.
Paul T. Hill, Lawrence C. Pierce, and Robin Lake, How Are
Public Charter Schools Held Accountable?
SOME VIEW accountability as the third rail of the charter movement, others as the holy grail. Some fear it will lead to the demise of charter schools. Others see it as a desirable but unrealistic goal. In this chapter, we examine the puzzle of charter accountability and suggest a way of piecing it together that has large implications for U.S. public education.
The chief aim of accountability is to find and sustain good schools while weeding out or repairing bad ones. In the case of conventional public schooling, the main accountability mechanism relies on bureaucratic control from higher levels within "the system." In charter schools, by contrast, accountability is propelled mostly by public marketplaces in which a school's clients and stakeholders reward its successes, punish its failures, and send it signals about what needs to change. The main function of such a system is to furnish parents, policymakers, taxpayers, and others with information about the school's working and its effectiveness. The assumption is that an ample supply of such information will equip them to take actions that will lead to good schools flourishing and bad ones disappearing — or mending their ways. The traditional top-down system of bureaucratic regulation can then recede.
Unfortunately, the needed information—and the new accountability strategy that hinges on it — is scarce in U.S. education. The charter movement must break new ground. Today it is painfully difficult to find out what schools are doing and how well they are working. One reason for America's widespread angst about its schools is that getting solid information about them is like breaking into a bank vault. Yes, a determined citi