Sunday, March 14, 2010

Replacing NCLB (part 3): accountability in three slices

Accountability will be tougher on a few schools and easier under most if the U.S. Department of Education's approach to revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act becomes law.

For the five percent of schools with the weakest growth,  states will be required to use one of four aggressive interventions:
  • closure
  • restart under outside management
  • turnaround by replacing the principal and half the staff
  • transformation that includes a new principal, strengthened staffing, a new instructional program, and other steps
That list may sound familiar.  In the RTTT competition, states could earn points by including those options in their applications.  In the separate school improvement grant section of the stimulus bill, a state's persistently low performing schools can receive added funding if they implement an approach from that same list--and the Courier-Journal reported on those options just yesterday.

For the "next weakest" five percent, there will be a watch list and some lesser required actions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, schools with the strongest student growth will receive some type of recognition and reward.  The recognition could play a valuable role in spotlighting schools that "beat the poverty odds" and building public confidence that high goals really are in reach even for students who have often been allowed to underperform. 

For most schools—the ones delivering growth in the middle range—the proposal will allow “local flexibility to determine the appropriate improvement and support strategies.” That part sounds dramatically less prescriptive than the current law.  Under NCLB, schools can move rapidly into deeper and deeper tiers of sanctions, and it has been quite possible that nearly all schools could end up under state intervention.

So, if only the bottom 10 percent of schools will be subject to state intervention, does the "blueprint" represent a big step away from accountability for the rest?  I think not, for two reasons.

First, states will be reporting school success in keeping students on track to college-and-career-readiness, and that's a goal that's easier for parents and other citizens to understand and support.  That new clarity can increase old-fashioned pressure--the kind that comes through citizens calling elected officials and candidates explaining themselves to voters--to improve educational outcomes.  A strong spotlight on schools that are moving the fastest can also promote healthy popular expectations that others will also improve what they're doing.

Second, every state department of education has to choose its battles, and it can only keep strong pressure on a small group of schools at a time.  Otherwise, it ends up with too many elected officials pushing back on behalf of constituents.  As a result, I think the administration proposal may be setting a target that's at the high end of what's truly feasible.   My hope is for a system that presses as hard as realistically possible, but that doesn't promise more than can honestly be delivered.  The planned pressure on a short list of schools that are clearly achieving far too little strikes me as a credible approach for what truly can be done.

Let me quickly underline the word "proposal."  By the time Congress passes and the President signs new ESEA legislation, many elements will be different from this first set of administration recommendations.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Updates and data on Kentucky education!