Future of Schools

Study, model bill take different angle on accountability

A new study by two Boston College researchers, along with a model law drafted by a well-known Colorado education activist, lays out an alternative vision for how students should be tested and for how schools should be held accountable for student performance.

The study, “Data-Driven Improvement and Accountability,” finds “that the use of data in the U.S. is too often limited to simply measuring short-term gains or placing blame, rather than focusing on achieving the primary goals of education,” according to a news release.

The paper was released Tuesday by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. It was written by Andy Hargreaves and Henry Braun.

The authors argue that current accountability systems impede improvement because they create incentives for teachers to focus too much on test preparation and coaching and even to game the system.

They propose a system under which school improvements would be based on a wider range of data “that properly reflect what students should be learning” and which would rely on “collective responsibility” for school improvement rather than top-down accountability requirements.

Kathleen Gebhardt
Kathleen Gebhardt / File photo

For a better idea how that would work in practice, or at least look on the pages of the law books, the model legislation that accompanies the report offers some interesting details. It was written by Kathleen Gebhardt of the non-profit Boulder law firm Children’s Voices. Gebhardt was a primary organizer of and the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit, which ultimately was rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court last May.

Among other provisions, the model legislation would reduce standardized testing to language arts and math, administer those tests to only three grades a year and give them to a random sample of students in each school.

Gebhardt compared the testing model to what’s used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress and said that under the model bill standardized testing “becomes a criterion, not the criterion” for school accountability.

Another feature of the bill would create a system of expert school inspectors who would conduct in-depth reviews of schools, generally every four years, and develop improvement plans in cooperation with school staff.

Gebhardt said the inspection model is similar to what’s used in Canada and the United Kingdom. She said the school inspections, plus annual reports by districts, would include and consider a wide range of data ranging from test scores to school conditions and funding in “trying to give a more holistic point of view that’s not measured by tests.”

She acknowledged that there’s a lot of momentum behind the implementation of current Colorado education changes, but “we have enough data to say it hasn’t played out well and we’re starting to move in the wrong direction.”

Gebhardt said the report and the model bill are “just trying to start a dialog about how we talk about schools. … I’m hoping that it drives us away from the grading system [for schools and districts] … and starts a more holistic discussion.”

The project was funded by the Ford Foundation and by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, a Wisconsin-based research organization supported by the National Education Association and affiliates in seven Midwestern and eastern states.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”