As of Thursday, March 28, 2013
To the editor:
Edited for length.
I’d like to discuss the word accountability. It’s an interesting word that has been inflated to the point that it can mean almost anything. It’s like the phrase “moving forward.” Or another abused word, “reform.” Let’s take the word “reform” first. It’s an innocent-looking word. But you can tell that the word has been corrupted when it represents the opposite of what you’d think it would mean.
For instance, education reform means “returning to the factory model of public schooling, where students are consumers of industrial-strength doses of testing and corporate curricula.” Pension reform means “taking money from someone else’s pension fund.” Finance reform means “business as usual.”
The word is used in a similar way in tax reform, which means that “the richest people pay less and the workers pay more.” Why else, but in the name of reform, did the Oregon legislature convene a special session in December to ensure tax breaks for Phil Knight and Nike? Why else does the same Mr. Knight “contribute” $50,000 to redraw legislative boundaries?
The word accountability has deep links to financial management and fiscal responsibility, to moral obligation and professional ethics. To be accountable was once something to be proud of.
But look who now wants to place the noose of accountability somewhere else: “Teachers must be accountable for student learning.” This is clear in everything, but what it doesn’t say. Certain people get off the hook. In fact, everyone who isn’t a teacher is off the hook.
Mr. Knight doesn’t have to promise to expand Nike, only that he won’t move. The legislature doesn’t have to be accountable for a fairer tax system or to fund its obligations. The accountability is all on the side of the public, or in this case, the teachers, and none on the side of Mr. Knight and his friends in the legislature.
We don’t need to be concerned about the lack of a safety net that means 20 percent of children in Oregon live in poverty. Or that the Oregon legislature would rather give corporate tax breaks than raise revenue necessary to fund schools. So when there’s not enough revenue to make up the difference, teachers should pony up.
They have a pension fund (let’s raid that). Contractual obligations, notwithstanding, it’s much easier to sell the idea that PERS is a massive entitlement than ask Mr. Knight to pay his share.