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Peter Greene thinks that we should use this respite from the pressure of high-stakes testing to rethink accountability.
Our current accountability system was cobbled together hastily in 2001 during the writing of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. The NCLB law was based on a hoax, a fallacious claim that there had been a Texas miracle, all due to testing every child every year. Congress bought the lie and enacted the law. Since then, Congress has been unwilling to review the creaky and ineffective accountability system that it mandated.
No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year. But we do. We have done it for 20 years and have little or nothing to show for it. The students who were left behind in 2001 are still left behind. Then Obama-Duncan brought in their “Race to the Top,” doubling down on standardized testing, and spent more than $5 billion without reaching “the top” or closing gaps or raising test scores.
Greene says: Let’s think about what happens next.
The defining question for any accountability system is this:
Accountable to whom, for what?
The “to whom” part is the hard part of educational accountability, because classroom teachers serve a thousand different masters.
Teachers need to be accountable to their administration, to their school board, to their students, to the parents of their students, to the taxpayers who fund the school and pay their salaries, to the state, to the students’ future employers, and to their own colleagues. School administrators also need to be accountable to those various stakeholders, but in different ways. Each set of stakeholders also has a wide variety of concerns; some parents are primarily concerned with academic issues, while others give priority to their child’s emotional health and happiness.
Parents may want to know if their children are on track for future success, or how their children’s progress compares to others. Those are two different measures, just as “How tall is my child” and “Is my child the tallest in class” are two different questions, each of which can be answered without answering the other.
Taxpayers want to know if they’re getting their money’s worth. State and federal politicians may want to see if benchmarks they have imposed on schools are being met. Teachers want to know how well their students are learning the various content the teachers have been delivering. Administrators may want to identify their “best” and “worst” teachers. School boards may want to know if their new hires are on track.
Answers to every single one of these questions require different measures collected with different tools. Some questions can’t be answered at all (there is no reliable way to rank teachers best-to-worst). One of the biggest fallacies of the ed reform movement has been the notion that a single multiple-choice math and reading test can somehow measure everything.
The reform dream was to be able to reduce school quality to a simple data point, a score or letter grade that tells us whether a school is any good or not. This is foolish. Ask any number of people to describe their idea of an “A” school; no two descriptions will match. A single grade system must by definition be reductive and useless for anything except as a crude tool for punishing some schools and marketing others.
Teachers and their unions are not opposed to accountability; they are opposed to accountability measures that are random and invalid. Meanwhile, accountability discussions never seem to include measures that would hold politicians accountable for getting schools the support and resources that they need. A good example would be the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law that Congress passed to hold schools accountable for properly educating students with specials needs, and also a law that Congress has never come close to fully funding.
My view: Accountability starts at the top, not the bottom. Congress has never been willing to hold itself accountable for the mandates it imposes. State legislatures have been unaccountable as well, never having provided the funding that schools require to provide the resources that schools need.
Yes, let’s have that conversation about who should be accountable and how will it be measured and what matters most.