Governance & Accountability

The public schooling system in the United States has a long and deep tradition of local governance and accountability.  It is a tradition that reflects our commitment to democracy, as we have placed the most important of public trusts – the education of our children – directly in the hands of the public.  

Our commitment to the democratic governance of schools has eroded in recent years.  As school districts have grown and/or consolidated, the governance of the local school has moved further and further away from neighborhoods and parents.  Federal and state regulations have propagated numerous regulations that have turned community involvement in schools into pro-forma approval of mandated programs.  

To be sure, some of the historical limitations placed on local authority resulted from state and/or federal interventions that were needed to redress civil rights abuses and other discriminatory practices. Local failures to live up to our highest democratic ideals, however, do not provide justification for undoing democracy.  Instead, these failures remind us how important it is that we consistently strive to improve our capacity to practice democratic principles responsibly.

We believe that a system of public schools is necessary for the very survival of democracy.  An educated public is our most valuable national asset.  And this system must, in and of itself, reflect our highest democratic ideals. Democracy itself, after all, is the truest form of accountability.  Our public schools are a public trust, and we must fashion a system of responsibility and accountability that reflects this trust.

With this in mind, The Forum believes that:

  1. A community intimately involved with its schools, where those closest to children make key decisions that affect their learning, is the highest form of educational accountability, and the one most in keeping with our democratic tradition.
  2. Accountability in public schooling should flow in two ways:  Federal, state, and local policy makers should be held accountable for providing equity in the learning conditions for every student.  And local schools should be held accountable for student growth and academic success, as measured by a balanced range of indicators.
  3. Accountability for results should be based on multiple indicators of student growth.  These indicators should rely on actual student performances and demonstrations.  While standardized measures of student success might be utilized, they should not be used in isolation, or as final determinants of student advancement.
  4. We must be flexible about means, but firm about ends. In other words, decisions about pedagogy, staffing, assessment and use of funds should be made within districts and/or networks of similar schools in ways they devise. And although curricular frameworks on the broadest level will remain functions of the state, decisions about how best to deliver those curricula must remain local.