Public Goods, Schools, and Accountability Today
Recently, under the influence of neoliberalism, the relationship between the state and its citizens is less a political one focused on working together toward forming and ensuring the public good, and more an economic one focused on the state providing the private goods sought by individual con- sumers.68 Following in Biesta’s footsteps, I wish to further his efforts to bridge the responsibility of citizens with political life in a public that practices an improved mode of accountability. I share his view that “ultimately, redefining our relationships on the basis of responsibility might also be a way to regain and reclaim the political dimension of accountability, in that we can understand ‘the political’ as taking responsibility for that which is of common concern (the res publica)!’69
Emphasizing the public of public schools and, I would add, the public of public goods reveals a political and moral relationship. Within that relationship schools are responsive to the citizens that compose its publics, rather than being merely responsive to an economic market of individual consumer satisfaction. One relatively recent movement endorsed by neoliberal education reformers and aligned with seeking private goods is school choice, especially that enabled by voucher programs. While the forefather of contemporary school choice, Milton Friedman, acknowledged that schools serve common needs by maintaining civic stability, contemporary advocates John Chubb and Terry Moe claim that the accountability of schools to public interests and public authority should be weak and simple. They instead prefer to emphasize the choices and success of individuals, who simply need data to make wise consumer choices about their educational options and to measure the effectiveness of spending in various schools.70 Accountability, within an account of participatory democracy, I contend, should be much deeper, more active, and more thoroughgoing. It should be a process through which we reflect upon, revise, and ensure our common goals, keeping schools aligned with the public goods we construct. Through our active control, accountability should be a means through which we ensure that our public goods are being fulfilled, rather than an end in itself to which we adapt or succumb.71
Our systems and measurements of accountability should arise from publics and from public dialogue; therefore, they should not only be understandable to us, they should originate from us, using our language, our values, our experiences, and our goals. This is not to say that this language and knowledge should be confined only to that of common citizens, for clearly our educational practices and systems of evaluation can be strengthened and appropriately directed by professionals with specialized and insider knowledge, including teachers and education scholars. If accountability were to work this way, certain responsibilities would arise for citizens, including engaging in conversations and deliberations that shape and determine public goods like schooling. Accountability requires public participation and responsibility, as I will later explain.