Friday, August 11, 2006

Who is Accountable?

Two days old now (I missed this one first time around), The Times' Diana Jean Schemo cites a number of great sources in "It Takes More Than Schools to Close Achievement Gap," including the Coleman Report, Doris Entwisle and Karl Alexander's findings about improvement in a school year, and Richard Rothstein's Class and Schools.

Schemo's tact is to keep us mindful of the socio-cultural contexts children live within daily outside of school. However, I disagree with her bent, if only in one word, on NCLB. Schemo writes:

"The law, one instance in which President Bush and Congressional Democrats worked together, rests on the premise that schools make the crucial difference. It holds a school alone responsible if the students--whatever social, economic, physical or intellectual handicaps they bring to their classrooms--fail to make sufficient progress every year."

NCLB rests on the premise that schools make "a" crucial difference, not "the" crucial difference.

It's an interestingng notion to think of other groups accountable besides schools under NCLB. If a school fails to make AYP for two years students have the option of changing schools. In a way this option brings parents into the decision to move a child, making them accountable for finding better education for their kids. One would think that this option for choice would promote increaseknowledgege and lead to more accountable, better informed parents. The answer to this is mixed, at least according to one study. Schneider, Teske, and Marshall (2000) found that in central city districts "incentives provided by public school choice produce few if any effects on levels of information accuracy." In a suburban community where school choice is near universal, the authors find some increase in the amount of information parents have regarding their choices.

What about states? State's are accountable under NCLB. For good or ill, we've already seen this year that states may lose a percent of their Title I Part A administrative funds for not fully complying with the NCLB testinrequirementsts. But really only the state's school functions are impacted, not other state functions.

The spirit of Schemo's argument, that schooling is affected by what happens outside of school as much by what happens inside, cannot be ignored. I hesitate at her suggestion that only schools are accountable under NCLB because A) it is a law about schools, and B) schools touch so many lives in different ways that this argument seems myopic. Could we all be made more accountable for our schools by making the schools' successes or failures impact our lives more significantly or directly? Do we already feel the impact in our economy, in our jails, in our daily interactions? She seems to think we've gone plenty far in making school solely accountable for a child's success. She's probably right, but there are still far too many schools that don't do enough and should remain accountable for not doing enough. Bottom line: getting more people and groups involved would be a welcome addition to NCLB.


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