Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Accountability is a key component of many school reform movements. Unfortunately, as papers such as this one reveal, big accountability based reform such as No Child Left Behind don't do much to reduce the achievement gap, and have a lot of unintended negative consequences.
So what gives? Can you have success without accountability? Why does "improving" accountability actually harm schools?
The problem is that top down accountability is just another word for economic central planning. Effective accountability must be local. A business is accountable to its customers. Schools should be accountable to parents and students, not to state and federal governments.
Part of the trouble is that governments subsidize schools. With money from the top comes accountability to the top. We should take notes on how the UK dealt with the question of whether to allow the free school Summerhill to continue operations. In 1999 an inspection team gave the school very bad reviews and threatened to close it down. The school argued that it had a different paradigm and should be judged on different terms. Eventually the government relented and sent another inspection team in 2007. They found that the school was very effective in its own way. The report is quite an interesting read.
I actually don't even mind if governments require students at all schools to take standardized tests. Just publish the information and let parents decide how to interpret it. If a school can convince parents and students that it is achieving something more valuable than improved test scores, we should support them.