Education Next Poll Results, ECAA, and State Level Accountability

This summer, I wrote a piece in favor of the Senate’s modified version of NCLB (as it is currently up for renewal).  I summarized its position in the following statement…

In light of last minute amendments, the (Senate’s) final version maintains NCLB’s position to disclose student performance and expose gaps by way of standardized tests.  But, it restores state level power to determine how these gaps will be closed.

I recognized why some of my friends on the pro-reform side of the debate took exception to this position.  Here is how I described their concerns…

Some cry that recognizing the gap but failing to close it is problematic.  For them, the lack of federal policing allows the nation to maintain its history of educational inequities… providing no protection for the rigorous achievement of disadvantaged children.  This cry is a cry for accountability, i.e. for consequences, in order to put teeth in the rhetoric of every child achieves.

 Argyris and Schon, in Theory in Practice, make a strong case that educators (like other professionals) have espoused theories that do not always translate to theories in practice.  Such is the case with ECAA, which is why there are many who are civil rights activists who rightfully oppose its current structure.  Because it is in its current form, ideal thinking and good intentions are only espoused with no system to ensure actual practice at the state level.  In other words, there is no real protection that historically underserved children will actually not be left behind.

But to this point, I still ended up supporting the Senate’s vision of a NCLB renewal.  Here is what I said…

 In terms of policy, I absolutely think we need to ensure that states will truly promote and protect the achievement of every child. But, until we can really challenge our thinking as relating to the scope of achievement and move into the 21st century in terms of what literacies are necessary for successful learning, living and leading (Dye, In Progress) in today’s democracy and economy, I am not sure if we are really ready for a negative, consequence-based, accountability process. 

I received some flak from my pro-reform friends because they felt it was counterproductive to the movement.  In our mutual interest for high quality schools (in which I include traditional schools right alongside of their push for choice schools), they viewed my aversion to a federal accountability system that is centered in high stakes testing as problematic.

Recently a report was released by a poll conducted by Education Next on education reform.  One of the compelling findings in the data is that the public is divided on who should define academic success.  Almost an even split, 43% say the states should decide, and 41% say the federal government should decide.  But, in terms of accountability, the public is not so wishy-washy.  According to the poll, approximately 80% of all respondents did not feel the federal government’s position to identify and fix failing schools; accounting for 50% of them who took a clear position that the states should.

So it appears that I am not alone.  As is my position, it doesn’t look as though people are against accountability (at least not overwhelmingly according to this poll).  It just looks as though they have a problem with how it is administered.

In my opinion, a key problem with this poll regarding accountability is that it links federally based accountability to Common Core Standards and high stakes testing.  The poll doesn’t question respondents about other measurements for accountability.  It treats accountability as though it has to be test driven within a premise of having a single national brain and a single national need (as opposed to the vast regional needs that actually exist). I left my review of the reports questioning how the data would look had the questions been constructed differently.

Contrary to my friends on the other side of the debate, those that want no accountability at all, I believe accountability is critical.  And, I believe states should not police themselves.  But, as with the respondents in this poll, if I am forced to view accountability and state testing as a singularly packaged option, I too would choose to keep the federal government at bay.

Frankly, I want different options.  Don’t ask me to choose between the federal government and the state government and not give me a choice on the academic basis in which achievement will be monitored.   I want achievement that encapsulates true 21st century readiness!  Until then, I opt to leave accountability in the hands of the states.  It is the lesser of two evils because centering tests as the measure for achievement (and therefore accountability) moves away from 21st century readiness. It makes matters worse!

While the federal government works to get it right, I hope to see states opt for accountability measures that utilize a dashboard approach of multiple data points/assessments.  Something similar has been added to the Collins’ Amendment inside of the Senate’s version of Every Child Achieves Act and it is similar to the Empowerment Scorecard that we used at my first school.

In short, it is easier to improve a system than to undo a broken one.  ECAA, by assigning accountability to a state level jurisdiction, gives us the room measure what matters most.  It doesn’t federally make things worse!

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