Accountability? We Don’t Have Enough of It
Your editor says little about a lot of news items these days largely because, in all honestly, given what really matters, those items are not worth discussing. Every argument about whether Finland is or isn’t an epitome of high-quality education doesn’t matter because Finland doesn’t resemble the United States in any meaningful way (and therefore, few lessons can be derived from it).
So I have little to directly say about the whole hullabaloo about Washington Post scribe Nick Anderson’s latest piece on No Child Left Behind. Anderson is a fine reporter (contrary to what Democrats for Education Reform political guru Charlie Barone may think right now), but Andy Rotherham and Sandy Kress rightly called him out for buying Fairfax County’s anti-No Child line (the one typically used by suburban districts that aren’t all that interested in improving how it educates poor and minority children). Anderson also doesn’t fully look at the fact that state laws allow for some gamesmanship on proficiency (the biggest problem with the law). Enough said.
What I will say is that Rotherham, Kress and Barone indirectly hit upon an issue everyone should discuss: The need for even greater, wide-ranging accountability in overhauling American public education — especially in the recruiting and training of teachers.
No Child has been the single-biggest advance in education policy, both at the federal level and among states and local governments, since the Defense Education Act of 1958. For the first time in the history of American public education, set clear goals for improving student achievement in reading and mathematics; it finally focused attention on using data in measuring teacher quality; it made it clear to suburban districts that they could no longer continue to commit educational malpractice against poor and minority children; and it focused American public education on achieving measurable results instead of damning kids to low expectations. Through its Adequate Yearly Progress measures, the low quality of education across the nation’s public schools — including urban districts and in suburbia — was exposed while it gave researchers the impetus to look at the nation’s high school graduation rates (and present in clear, stark terms the high school dropout crisis). Without No Child, there is no Race to the Top, no teacher quality reform movement, no discussion about value-added assessment and no real national focus on stemming achievement gaps.
But No Child is only the start of accountability and not the end. Besides the fact that No Child (or actually, the U.S. Department of Education’s implementation of AYP) has allowed for gamesmanship by states, the law also doesn’t hold fully hold accountable important elements in improving the quality of teaching, curricula and school operations. The Highly Qualified Teacher provision, for example, didn’t require the use of student test data in measuring teacher quality; it still focused on certification and other qualifications that have no positive correlation to student achievement. The definitions were also too wishy washy, meaning that the whole mess was quality-blind, allowing states and school districts to simply allow laggard teachers to keep their jobs at the expense of students and taxpayers alike. It took Race to the Top to fully push for the use of student test data in measuring teacher quality and bring quantifiable, quality-based definitions (and objective data) to the table.
Another area that No Child didn’t cover was university schools of education, which train all but a smattering of the nation’s teachers. Given the importance of recruiting and training teachers, this was a terrible oversight. One reason why it happened: Ed school quality was supposed to be governed through the reauthorized versions of the federal Higher Education Act, which requires states to hold teacher quality programs accountable, identify laggard schools, and assure the U.S. Department of Education that ed schools were meeting the needs of districts and teachers. But because it isn’t an element in the main law governing American public education, it has allowed ed schools to slip under the radar of accountability.
The results have been predictably terrible. As the National Council of Teacher Quality, the Center for American Progress and former Teachers College president Arthur Levine, have pointed out in numerous studies, the quality of teacher training in ed schools remains lackluster in the main. But this isn’t just the fault of ed schools alone.
As the Education Sector points out this week in its study of state regulation of ed schools, it is rare that state teacher licensing agencies — the departments that oversee ed school quality — shut down an ed school, even when its peers call it out for being a waste of student and federal dollars. Twenty-seven states have not identified an ed school program as being low performing within the past decade; this includes Colorado (which has been cited for its poor monitoring of ed schools). Twelve more states have only identified between one to five ed school programs as laggards. Just three states — New York, Ohio and Kansas — have actually gone so far as identifying 20 or more programs as being of low quality. Only two percent of all ed school programs have ever been cited as being ineffective; and in some cases, the states actually step in to keep the worst ed schools around even when they’ve lost accreditation.
Meanwhile the nonprofit that are supposed to oversee ed school accreditation — the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (and the groups whose merger formed it, the National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education and TEAC) — also hasn’t stepped up to the plate. Eleven of the 18 laggard ed schools as identified by states still maintained their accreditation, according to the Education Sector report.
The reality is that, contrary to the views of defenders of traditional public education (and libertarian and conservative school reformers of an anti-No Child bent), there isn’t enough accountability — especially in the areas that count. Even AYP doesn’t cover such areas as the overuse of suspensions and expulsions or the overdiagnosis of learning disabilities (and the amount of time special ed students spend outside of regular classroom instruction). In short, those who complain that No Child is too prescriptive either don’t know what they are talking about or simply want to ignore reality.
What is needed is a wider form of accountability that accounts for teacher training and for other aspects of teacher quality. This includes requiring the use of Value-Added data in evaluating ed school programs; this can come naturally as states begin requiring the use of student test data in evaluating teacher performance and in the development of school data systems. Another solution lies in education governance reform: Moving ed school oversight (along with teacher licensing) to state education departments, where the responsibility rightfully belongs.
None of this will fully solve this aspect of the teacher quality problem; after all, the problem is also tied to the iron triangle relationship between state universities, teacher licensing agencies and teachers unions. But expanding accountability will at least shed the light needed to force even more reform. And it can’t come soon enough.