This past week at the Aspen Institute’s National Education Summit, there was one clear super password for education improvement — accountability. Superintendent after superintendent positioned accountability as the lasting mark of the NCLB era. Business leaders spoke of how accountability was the true GPS to education reform. Even EdSec Margaret Spellings has been using it to describe the education legacy of the Bush Administration. Leaving the summit on Monday evening, one thing was clear, if we are to improve our schools and better educate our students, we must redouble our commitment to the notion of accountability.
Newly embracing the tag of educational agitator, Eduflack is ready and willing to trumpet the need for greater accountability in our schools. As we discuss shared responsibility and shared gains in education, accountability is an action in which we can all take part, whether we be practitioners or policymakers, business or community leaders, parents or students, agitators or even status quoers. When we hold our nation, our states, our districts, and our schools more accountable for both the instruction and the outcomes of that instruction, we have to believe that real, measurable student gains will only follow.
From the rhetoric in recent months, it seemed that both presidential candidates were equally supportive of the notion of increased accountability in our schools. While neither has come out to wrap a bearhug around NCLB (and we shouldn’t wait for either to do so), both seemed to indicate that strengthening both standards and accountability are goals for the future. Regardless of what wrapping we may place it in, the era of every educator for himself with little repercussion for success or failure is over. It is time to put up and prove it.
So Eduflack was taken aback by Bruce Fuller’s September 18 blog piece on the New York Times online, which seems to indicate that an Obama administration would turn back the clock on accountability measures. From his perch at the University of California Berkeley, Fuller states that Obama’s plan is one that simply sets learning standards, records student data, and recruits a stronger teacher base.
Don’t get me wrong, all three are important objectives. But these are process-driven goals, not outcome-driven goals. What good are learning standards (and please, oh please, can’t we come out for national standards instead), if we aren’t holding the students, their teachers, or their schools accountable for hitting levels of proficiency? What good is recording student data if we aren’t using it improve instruction, identify what truly works in the classroom, and ensure that our teachers and our schools are hitting the benchmarks we have set for them? And what good is teacher recruitment if we don’t have the systems in place to truly identify good teaching, reward it, and replicate it?
The Aspen event has left the education policy community in an interesting position. Not only did they bring together a who’s who of policy, business, and practice, but they moved nearly everyone to ask, what now? This was more than just an informational session, it was a call to action. It now falls to those leaders, both those at the rostrum and those in the audience, to drive us to real action, to real agitation, and to real improvement.
It is clear that accountability is neither a Democratic nor a Republican issue. Educational accountability is an American issue, and it is the necessary path to true school reform and true educational improvement. We’ve spent decades fretting about processes. Now is the time for action — for clear standards and even clearer accountability measures, both of which are enforced, and not just talked about. That’s the only way we truly move our rhetoric to action.