Seeking out the educational accountability muse
The Gateway Cities Journal
“Sometimes we live no particular way but our own” goes the Grateful Dead lyric which, in a nut shell, describes the educational accountability vibe in Massachusetts’s plan for implementing the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
ESSA invites states to hold schools accountable for delivering a wider range of learning. In contrast to a host of states that are taking this latitude to measure school performance across a diverse range of indicators, we’ve chosen to largely stick with the current system. Massachusetts invented the model that ESSA replaces way back in 1993 (a year Bay State Dead Heads remember fondly, for other reasons). Our early start and steadfast belief in the approach has led to number one rankings on standardized tests in English, math, and science. So why change now?
For Gateway Cities, there’s a strong argument that it’s important to recognize educators and school leaders for other important aspects of the work they do. From preparing children for kindergarten and nurturing their social-emotional skills to engaging their parents in the school community and providing vocational training and credentials valued by employers, many important school qualities and learning outcomes are not captured by our current year-to-year indicators of performance. Just last week we heard about all the work Gateway Cities will be putting into building early college programs; the accountability system won’t really pick up on the time, energy, and money invested in this worthy activity.
To be fair to the state, the call from Gateway City leaders to adopt these additional kinds of measures was rather muted. Many feared being held accountable to do even more when resource limitations make it increasingly difficult to just sustain current activities. With teachers unions singing “If I had my way, I would tear this old building down.” (another nostalgic lyric for local Dead Heads), the state was put in a defensive posture. And there was also the issue of data reliability. We haven’t tracked many of these indicators carefully, if at all. Before we integrate them into a high stakes accountability formula, there is a strong rationale to proceed cautiously.
It looks like this will happen. DESE will collect more data and report it on a robust and accessible school report card. This will give the public a better indicator of what’s happening in our inclusive urban schools. It’s a chance to show that Gateway City schools offer the arts, vocational education, work-based learning, community-service learning, advanced coursework, and other learning experiences that our polling shows parents value highly.
And in the end, the state adopting a more limited set of metrics opens the door for each community to expand upon that in its own way. “Maybe you’ll find direction, around some corner, where it’s been waiting to meet you…” Cities like Worcester are already beginning to find their own muse, developing strong strategic visions and their own locally-generated data and accountability plan. That’s something we can all applaud.
ESSA was the topic of this week’s Codcast from CommonWealth magazine
MassINC research director Ben Forman and Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance for Education, discuss the Massachusetts state plan. “
They maintain the status quo,” Forman says of the continued focus on measures of core academic achievement. “There’s a very compelling argument” to do so, he remarked, pointing to the steady improvements seen under the current system, with Massachusetts topping national rankings of student outcomes, and competitive internationally when benchmarked against other countries. Listen here.
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