We know the problems schools face due to bureaucracy, but what now? Instead of shackling teachers and principals in thousands of pages of red tape, they need to be empowered to use their best judgment, and then be accountable for how they do it. Daily choices are much more complex than can be prescribed in rigid rules. Let teachers maintain order, and draw on their unique personality to inspire students. Let principals distinguish between a tiny toy gun and real threats, and decide which teachers are doing their jobs and which are not. Monitor educators from a distance, and don’t judge school performance by one metric—say, test scores—but by the overall judgment of how well educators are training children to be productive members of our society.
What if educators make bad decisions? Hold them accountable, and have checks and balances on important decisions. In matters of student discipline, for example, we don’t need a legal process for every decision. In most cases, a fairness committee consisting of parents, students, and teachers can instead serve as a check against arbitrary injustice. Courts are needed mainly to draw sensible legal boundaries about risk and liability—so that educators no longer are fearful to put an arm around a crying child or to let students run at recess.
There’s one essential reform needed to fix America’s schools, and prepare new generations to succeed in global markets: Put humans in charge again—and show students by skill and example what it means to take responsibility.