Kosar's Korner: Re-Thinking Accountability
Exquisitely timed to concide with the NCLB Commission's final hearing this morning, guest columnist Kevin Kosar -- author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005) -- weighs in on the AYP "time bomb":
Education Week’s September 20 copy carries a front page titled, "As AYP Bar Rises, More Schools Fail." Lynn Olson’s piece cites some of the factors that are causing this to happen (more tests, more subgroup members being tested, etc.).You can find Kosar's book here: Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards
Oddly absent, though, is any mention that “adequate yearly progress,” (AYP) the central metric of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is a time bomb.
With each passing year, the percentage of schools that fail to make AYP must climb. Since the law requires all schools to ultimately have 100 percent of their students scoring proficiently, ultimately, nearly every school will fall into “school improvement” status, wherein painful consequences kick in.
Don’t believe it? Well, then, have a peek at the test scores of the very best public schools (e.g., Murch ES, Janney ES) in Washington, DC. These schools are in the most affluent parts of town, have few low-income children attending them, and possess well-regarded staff. Not a single one of them has gotten 100 percent of their pupils to proficiency. These schools get between 85 and 95 percentile before hitting a sticking point.
So, NCLB’s accountability needs to be rethought. As originally drafted, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) only provided for bureaucratic accountability. States that took Title I money had to show they were spending it for the purposes authorized under the law. Not surprisingly, lots of taxpayers’ money was spent but improvements in schooling were small. NCLB, riding on the heels of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996, made states accountable for educational performance. NCLB also made school districts accountable to parents by creating a right to free tutoring and public school choice for children in schools that fail to make AYP.
Now that model of accountability is going ker-fluey. What is to be done?
Perhaps the place to start is to consider the basics of accountability. Where does accountability lie now? Well, under NCLB, schools are responsible to parents, school districts, and states; school districts are responsible to states and the federal government; states are responsible to the federal government; and the federal government is responsible to … Hmmm, good question.
Next, let’s ask: where should accountability lie? Answer that question and we are on the way to drafting a better accountability metric.