More than 10 years after Washington, D.C., gave us the No Child Left Behind era, the issue of educational accountability is returning to the forefront. How do we measure and attribute school success (or failure)? Who should be held accountable, and how should that accountability be shared? What should be the consequences, both positive and negative, and how will they be implemented and enforced? What role, if any, should the federal government play?
The New York Times is hosting a forum with some of the brightest minds in education policy chiming in on the question: “Can School Performance Be Measured Fairly?” Now look, I’m not really fond of the way the question is framed. The obvious answer is Yes, just as obvious as the answer to the question “Can School Performance Be Measured Perfectly?” is No.
That being said, some of the points respondents have made are significant, and deserve serious attention in policy debates:
- Manhattan Institute senior fellow (and inaugural Independence Institute Brown Bag Lunch speaker) Marcus Winters notes that Value Added Measures (VAM) by definition cannot “provide perfect information” on teacher effectiveness, but used in conjunction with performance evaluations provide much more accurate and useful data than old systems do
- Dropout Nation’s Rishawn Biddle affirms that standardized testing data is the best we have, that cheating is rare, and that accountability systems need to give a transparent picture of how well schools are helping disadvantaged students and other subgroups succeed
- Mike Petrilli from the Fordham Institute argues that federal rules aren’t giving states enough room to innovate in how they measure and identify school performance
- Similarly, the New America Foundation’s Kevin Carey says additional means and measures (e.g., on-site inspections, attainment and remediation rates) need to be incorporated into the picture alongside standardized test scores
- Sandra Stotsky, education reform professor at the University of Arkansas, makes a twofold case for extending accountability to the institutions that train teachers and for giving high school students more curricular choices (I wonder if a course-level funding system that supports blended learning would fit her bill?)
Taken together, I think all these points highlighted above would generate improvements to our current school accountability system. What say you? What would it take to enact and implement such a system? Could we reprioritize to make it happen with existing funds? Should we? How important is it to know how well our schools are doing to help students learn and achieve?