Brandon Dutcher | February 13, 2014

‘Instead of accountability, we found leaders passing the blame’

Brandon Dutcher

That’s the report of Kim Jackson of Channel 8 in Tulsa, who recently set out to determine who’s responsible for the fact that nearly half of Tulsa’s public schools received an “F” in Oklahoma’s new grading system. I encourage you to check out her report, “Tulsa's Failing Schools: Who Is Responsible?”

None of the blame-shifting Jackson discovered would come as a surprise to education scholar Chester Finn, who 17 years ago observed of public education that “no one is really in charge, nobody is ultimately responsible, and everybody can blame someone else for whatever isn’t working well.”

The teacher says she is required to use this textbook, is not allowed to discipline that disruptive youngster, and lacks time during the day to provide individual tutoring for the exceptional child. The principal reports that the teacher was foisted on him, that textbook decisions are made downtown or by the state adoption committee, that the school board will not allot extra funds for tutors, and that the courts have tied his hands with respect to discipline. The superintendent explains that the principal has tenure (and his wife’s cousin is an alderman). The school board is adamant that disabled and disadvantaged children must receive all the tutorial help even if that leaves none for gifted youngsters. The board chairman says he is following the superintendent’s recommendation in this matter and, in any case, is bound by federal and state laws. The governor observes that the schools of this state are locally controlled (and the teachers union and school board association helped elect him). The legislator is terrified that if he presses hard to change the law, he will antagonize either the black caucus or the religious fundamentalists. Besides, the state faces a budget crisis, and the extra money to do anything new must come from Washington. The congressman sends back a polite form letter indicating that your views will be carefully considered the next time pertinent legislation comes before the House. From the federal Department of Education, there is no reply at all for six months; then you receive a pamphlet entitled “How to Help Your Child Improve in Math.”

In short, the problem is largely systemic. As Finn says, “we have entrusted an archaic design to a government monopoly that has scant incentive to alter its accustomed ways, that tailors most of its decisions to the interests of its own employees, that has little need to respond to its clients, that has co-opted (or cowed) those who might otherwise oblige it to change, that has a firm grip on the levers that control its resources, that is not accountable to anyone for its results, and that consequently enjoys near-immunity from incursions by forces outside its own sturdy perimeter.”

Hats off to the many education reformers who are doing their best to fix the public education system. But does anyone really think things will be appreciably different 17 years from now, or 17 years after that? I think you can see why so many of us prefer a different approach to fixing schools that don’t want to be fixed.

Brandon Dutcher Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher

Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine,,, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.

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