It’s Possible to Be Reasonable About Accountability

Kevin Carey lays out his thinking on teacher/school accountability. The middle ground he stakes out is so reasonable it makes you wonder why we can’t all just get along.

I think the federal government should insist on the creation of useful education information. States that take federal education dollars should be required to have standards and administer annual tests in core subjects, all the way through 12th grade. They should also be required to develop high-quality longitudinal data systems that connect K-12 school information to labor market data and post-secondary information systems. They should be obligated to use those systems to calculate and publish sophisticated growth estimates, among other things, including measures of how people who attend K-12 schools ultimately fare in the labor market and higher education. All of this information should be open and available…

But I don’t believe that Congress or anyone else can design a wholly rules-based accountability system that slices and processes and evaluates that much information into mechanistic judgements of success that are sufficiently accurate and credible to plausibly serve as the foundation for educational improvement. There are just inescapable tensions between the amount of information needed to render a reasonably accurate judgement of school success, the inherent complexity of any rules-based system for processing such information, and the transparency and credibility necessary for people to believe in and constructively react to the judgement of the system–and, as such, for the system to work…

That means we need to rely on human judgement to interpret accountability information and decide when and how to act upon it. There is no doubt that some state and local officials will fail in this responsibility, due to incompetence or bad faith. But here’s the thing–those same officials are perfectly capable of subverting a rules-based system to the same ends. That’s the story of NCLB implementation over the last 10 years. We need better officials, not an official-proof system…

So from a policy standpoint you fight like hell for real information and transparency and you try to feed it into policy and market environments that can benefit from it. You use the information to inform scholarship, influence public opinion, identify best practices, guide parental choice, and hold elected officials to account. But you don’t pretend that rules will suffice when only people will do.

The whole thing is worth a read.

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