Accountability light and lighter

Sen. Tom Harkin and the Democrats have proposed a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind). So have Sen. Lamar Alexander the the Republicans. Both “move away from the strong federal accountability system at the center of the much-maligned NCLB law, but to different degrees,” reports Ed Week.

The Harkin bill would require states to create accountability systems that essentially build on the administration’s waivers (which are in place in 37 states plus D.C. so far), meaning that states would have to set goals for student achievement and come up with some sort of system to help turn around the schools that are struggling the most. The Alexander bill, on the other hand, would continue to require states to test in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but the senator is counting on transparency to be the main lever for school improvement. And under the Harkin bill, schools would be on the hook for helping the bottom five percent turn around—plus fixing another 10 percent of schools with big achievement gaps. There’s nothing like that in the Alexander bill . . .

Harkin wants teachers to be evaluated based on student achievement with the results used to ensure that low-performing schools get an “equitable” share of high-quality teachers. The Alexander bill eliminates the provision on “highly qualified” teachers and leaves teacher evaluation to the states.

The House Republicans don’t agree: Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education committee, wants to mandate teacher evaluation. He introduced his ESEA reauthorization bill today.

Alexander also would let “federal Title I dollars follow a child to any public school they want, but not to a private school or for outside options like tutoring,” writes Klein. And the Alexander bill specifically forbids the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring districts to adopt certain tests, standards, or accountability systems.

Harkin claims to be ending federal “micromanaging” of schools and offering states “flexibility.”

That’s laughable, writes Mike Petrilli on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.  He lists 40 policy questions that Harkin’s bill decides, ranging from “equitable distribution of quality teachers” to collaboration time for teachers in low-performing schools.

School report cards must include  (“detailed data on the number of pregnant or parenting students and their outcomes,” data on “school violence, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, in-school student suspensions, out-of-school student suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests, disciplinary transfers (including placements in alternative schools), and student detentions” for each subgroup, etc.)

Fordham favors “reform realism” about the limits of federal power. On Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle calls that “mushy.” He thinks both bills are “lackluster.” But, at least, Harkin is trying to hold schools accountable.

States would still have to provide data on how districts and schools are helping poor and minority children, keeping one of the most successful aspects of No Child’s accountability provisions. States would also have to provide families with an “equity report card” complete with data on how well districts are doing in providing comprehensive college preparatory courses – including Advanced Placement classes – to all kids; this would make data easily accessible to families so they can make smarter decisions and be lead decision-makers in education.

But Harkin repeats the Obama administration’s error of focusing on the worst-performing schools and letting the rest off the hook, Biddle writes.

Neither bill will pass, nor will there be “anything even resembling a compromise, anytime ever until there are new folks in Congress (and maybe a new president),” writes Alyson Klein. That means rule by waivers will continue.

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  1. Claire Boston says:

    So when are we going to start holding STUDENTS accountable for not making an effort to learn? Sometimes I think professional educators think that kids are all empty vessels, to be filled by teachers. I’ve got news for them, the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate is over, and it’s a 3-way tie with ‘free will’. Teachers can work their tails off, but if the kids see no benefit to them to put in the effort, they won’t bother. And quite frankly, the majority of teachers do a really poor job of explaining why some of the useless drivel espoused today under our current ‘political correctness’ mindset is worth bothering over. Kids have extremely sensitive “bullsh*t” detectors, and they can smell it a mile off.

    And so long as good teachers and bad teachers are paid the same, and bad teachers can’t be fired because of union protections, it won’t get better. There’s no incentive for teachers to change or improve; they go through the motions when there’s a change of administration, and quickly go back to the old, comfortable way of doing things once that annoying reformer is gone. And the kids are the ones who suffer for it.

  2. You want to blame the student???
    This low expectation and not bothering to teach the complete curriculum starts on day one. While it is easy for a four year old to figure out that his ‘teacher’ is depending on the students’ parents to do the job, and merely checking how good a job they did when the child gets to school, it’s a little harder for him to find someone in the neighborhood who can actually teach him how to read and how to figure.