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The Next Big Thing in School Accountability: Better Supports for Students and Teachers
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.
William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.
Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.
Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.
Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.
McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.Full Bio
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