The central idea behind standards- and accountability-driven reforms is that, in order to improve student learning, we need to do three things:
- Clearly define a minimum bar for all students (i.e., set standards).
- Hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable for meeting those minimum standards.
- Back off: Give teachers and leaders the autonomy and flexibility they need to meet their goals.
The push for greater accountability has often been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control.
It’s a powerful formulation, and one that we’ve seen work, particularly in charter schools and networks where teachers and leaders have used that autonomy to find innovative solutions to some of the biggest instructional challenges.
Unfortunately, in far too many traditional school districts, the push for greater accountability has been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control. That is a prescription for a big testing and accountability backlash.
You needn’t look far for examples of how traditional districts have gotten the accountability balance all wrong. There are a host of stifling district practices that unintentionally hamstring, rather than free, our teachers and leaders. And that unintentionally encourage precisely the kinds of practices most testing critics loathe.
Many of these top-down district policies stem from the earnest desire to replicate the practices of the best and most effective teachers. Unfortunately, what too many state and district leaders miss is that you can’t script your way to great instruction from district offices or from the statehouse. And trying to do so...