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The Next Big Thing in School Accountability: Better Supports for Students and Teachers

Lessons Learned from The A Word: Accountability--The Dirty Word of Today's Education Reform

Article by William McKenzie December 13, 2017 //   3 minute read

A strong agreement emerged during interviews this year for the A Word that the next wave of school accountability must lead to better supports for students and teachers. 

Tom Boasberg, Denver Public School Superintendent, put a fine point on this when he said that states and districts just can’t say: "Oh, gee, the gaps are there. We're really unhappy about them." Educators have to aggressively figure out what they must do differently. 

In some places, that will mean getting more effective teachers and school leaders onto campuses where most students come from economically-disadvantaged homes. Or, it could be linking education leaders in low-performing campuses with those in high-performing ones. Hanna Skandera, former New Mexico education commissioner, explains that New Mexico has pursued this strategy as a way for principals and teachers to share successful strategies. 

In other places, better supports will mean giving students more personal attention. Diane Tavenner, founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, reports that Summit schools use data from tests to form one-on-one mentoring relationships. They help meet Summit meet its goal of each child having at least one stable adult relationship. In turn, that will increase the chance that each student will lead a meaningful, productive life. 

John King, the former U.S. education secretary who co-founded a charter school network, emphasized that states must do a better job applying resources to diagnosed problems. A former teacher himself, King said accountability should lead to a set of actions that lead to outcomes. 

Margaret Spellings, also a former U.S. education secretary, put that aim this way: If you don't know a problem exists, you can't apply resources to address it. A closer alignment between resources and problems needs to be a major part of accountability's next phase, Spellings concluded. 

Naturally, this requires knowing whether dollars are being spent right. Gerard Robinson, who headed the education systems of Virginia and Florida, proposes that accountability systems show how much states spend on students over a five-year period. 

That way, the public can get a better idea of how states and districts reach students with resources. At the same time, they can determine whether the resources are leading to greater student achievement, which, after all, is the real goal of school accountability. 


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