In a recent piece for U.S. News and World Report, Michael McShane, director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, nails it.

Differing conceptions of accountability have become equated with being “for” or “against” the idea, in toto. But which is more strict? Requiring that schools be evaluated on an A-to-F scale and automatically kicked out of a charter program if they fail? Or establishing a mayorally-appointed commission to decide what schools should and shouldn’t stay open? I actually don’t know.

I do know that as an increasing numbers [sic] of our schools move to a more market-like arrangement, we need to rethink what we mean by accountability and regulation. I say “market-like” just to reinforce that even the most generous voucher programs or the charter programs with the lightest regulatory touch are not in any true sense a “market.” There are regulations around who can participate and who cannot; there are rules that fix prices; and government picks up the tab.

But given this quasi-market arrangement (a term popularized by Blair-ites across the pond), we must change our expectations of schools that receive public dollars. Because we’re looking to manage functions differently, we need different tools in our toolbox.

Rather than criticize schools that fail to meet an arbitrary (and antiquated) notion of what school accountability should look like, let’s rethink the concept.