Ericka Rosenberg Mulls Over Accountability

Over at Policy Wonk, Ericka Rosenberg takes an honest look at the situation in the New York State educational system and the strange complexities of accountability.  She points out that what constitutes a “high performer” depends greatly on a vast number of variables that seem designed to obfuscate more than they seem designed to enlighten:

Policy Wonk: The Maze of Educational Accountability

State leaders promise even more educational accountability will follow this year’s big increase. But it can’t be effective if the public can’t understand it. The above description is just a taste of what’s involved in the current system – I didn’t even get a chance to tell you about “Adequate Yearly Progress,” “Annual Measurable Objectives,” and “Safe Harbor Targets.” These are all the ways the state treats schools that aren’t meeting the standards, probably the most important aspect of the accountability system.

The “big increase” she refers to is the acknowledgment “that New York’s per-student spending in 2004-05 was $14,119, 62 percent higher than the national average.”  Allow me to submit that, while 62 percent more funding to kids in school sounds like an awful lot, I’d personally prefer not to hold New York State education to the standards of the rest of the country.  To do so would be holding the state down, not up.  
Mrs. Rosenberg starts with a simple enough and entirely reasonable requirement: that taxpayers have a right to expect that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and that there should be some method of confirming that.  She then embarks on a journey to find out exactly how that confirmation is achieved, finds it hopelessly complex and pronounces it unacceptable.

But the problem here is that expecting to find an easily formulaic method which arrives at the truth behind your child’s education is an exercise in folly.  Even within a school, there are so many complexities as to confound the best attempts to standardize anything.  It’s not a dodge, it’s the truth.  Consider the following:

  1. Should autistic kids be held to the same standards as nominally healthy kids?  In many subjects, the autistic kids are likely to far-exceed the expectations of standardization, but in others they will fall dismally short.
  2. Should kids with demonstrable learning disabilities be held to the same standards as kids for whom there is no such evidence?
  3. Should poor kids be held to the same standard as rich kids in the same school?  What about schools in poor neighborhoods compared to rich neighborhoods?  Any adjustment to standards for these schools?
  4. NCLB expects that a school will be judged on demographically-focused standards as well as across-the-board standards.  If a school only has two white kids and one is failing, does that school deserve to be penalized?  Even if two failing black kids in a population of 6000 would hardly register in the same standard?
  5. If the standards in any of the above scenarios should not be changed to accommodate differences, is it OK to expect that some schools won’t look as good on paper, or should we penalize them anyway?
  6. If the standards in any of the schools should be changed, how?  Should we downgrade the poor kids and deprive them of an education, or should we upgrade the rich kids’ education?  What about gifted kids in poor schools and learning-disabled kids in rich schools?  How do they factor?  Should we ignore the failing kid in a narrow demographic?  Believe it or not, this is happening elsewhere in the country.

This is why educators resist the calls for “accountability” with everything they’ve got.  Republicans can scream “lazy union worker” all they wish, but when their kid is falling behind, I’ll betcha it’ll be the teacher who thought of those kids in the accountability fight that will be the first to help them out.

But you don’t have to believe a word I say.

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By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.