Choice Would Bring Accountability to Schools

Published March 1, 2004

In a 1999 interview with School Reform News, Reason Foundation scholar Alexander Volokh explained how choice would discipline schools to be more accountable to parents without the need for government agencies to tell each school in minute detail how to run every aspect of their operations.

“In solving most problems in society, we’ve never had the idea that there has to be one single way to do it. For example, if you’re running a factory, then you have the choice of following whatever policies you’ve seen or read about in all sorts of different factories …

“What society does with the factory owner is to say: ‘We’ll put you in an environment where you’ll have the incentive to figure out what is best for your factory.’ The incentive is that you have to provide a good deal for your customers or they’ll buy someone else’s product. If you adopt some way of running your factory that gives you very high costs and poor quality, we don’t need to force you not to do that, because you’re unlikely to succeed if you continue doing it. The factories that will tend to succeed are those that adopt policies that give them lower costs and a higher quality product.

“It would be the same with schools if there were freedom of choice and the discipline of accountability. If each school could decide on whatever policy it thought was best for its own particular needs, then those that chose bad policies–resulting in increased violence instead of decreased violence–would suffer because parents would not choose those schools.

“With those twin elements of choice and accountability, you would have an institutional structure where you wouldn’t have to tell individual schools what to do. Individual schools would have a powerful incentive to find what it is that works.”


For more information …

The September 1999 School Reform News interview with Alexander Volokh, “School Violence Prevention: Choice and Accountability Are Key,” is available online at