Has the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?

Has the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?

Ten years ago, George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, the law that has dominated U.S. education—and the education policy debate—for the entire decade. While lawmakers are struggling to update that measure, experts across the political spectrum are struggling to make sense of its impact and legacy. Did NCLB, and the consequential accountability movement it embodied, succeed? And with near-stagnant national test scores of late, is there reason to think that this approach to school reform is exhausted? If not "consequential accountability," what could take the U.S. to the next level of student achievement?

Join three leading experts as they wrestle with these questions. Panelists include Hoover Institute economist Eric Hanushek, DFER's Charles Barone, and former NCES commissioner Mark Schneider, author of a forthcoming Fordham analysis of the effects of consequential accountability. NCLB drafter Sandy Kress, previously identified as a panelist, was unable to attend.

Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration,
on Capitol
, in advocacy
, and in think
—are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization
released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be.
While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one
would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill
and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his
colleagues. In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three
years now
, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers,
Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a
mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac
and the System Defenders.

But while there are significant differences among the
players, a clear path toward a workable, maybe even bipartisan, package is
still visible. In short: all roads lead to Lamar. Not only does the Alexander
package represent smart policy, it also serves as a sort of mid-point between
the Senate bill that passed out of committee and the House GOP bill that is
likely to do the same. Let’s tackle the five big issues:

  • Requirements
    for standards and tests.
    The Administration and the Senate (including
    supporters of both the Harkin-Enzi and Alexander measures) want states
  • ...

House Republicans have released two more bills in their effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act piece by piece. The draft legislation proposed last week seeks to
provide superintendents and state departments of education with more
flexibility about how to spend federal dollars, dramatically remaking the
American school finance system in the process.

The first gift the committee wants to give districts is
increased flexibility to transfer categorical funds aimed at one underserved
population into Title I. (You may recall that Mike called for something very
more than a year ago.) This could wind up being a huge plus for
children in these programs, enabling the funding of whole-school programs to
address the needs of underprivileged youngsters without the mountains of red
tape that currently accompany these dollars.

Second, the proposed law would repeal the so-called
"maintenance of effort" requirement, which makes certain federal
grant funds contingent on states and localities continuing to spend the same
amount of their own money on education. This is becoming increasingly difficult
to do in light of other budget pressures, including rising health care costs
(both in Medicaid and on public worker payrolls).

On a whole, the House committee's proposals seem like a step
towards more sensible school finance system.

Maintenance of effort requirements also hold federal grant-giving
hostage to the fallacy that education simply costs what it costs, year in...

The Education Gadfly

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the No Child Left
Behind Act, and Fordham’s redesigned website offered plenty of commentary and
analysis this week to help make sense of the NCLB decade:

  • Mike broke down the highlights—and
    lowlights—of NCLB here on Flypaper, before offering his thoughts on the next
    stage of federal involvement in education.
  • At Common Core Watch, Kathleen explained why the
    evolving iPod
    offers important insights into where NCLB went wrong.
  • On Thursday, Fordham hosted Mark Schneider, Eric
    Hanushek, and Charles Barone for a discussion of the legacy and future of the
    accountability movement. Get caught up by watching the replay of “Has
    the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?
    ” in its entirety and reading
    Schneider’s recent
    of math performance in the era of accountability-based reform.

In other news…

  • Kathleen accepted Diane Ravitch’s challenge
    to take a standardized test and publish the results, reflecting on why testing
    is valuable.
  • Over at the Ohio Gadfly Daily, Bianca examined
    the Dayton Public Schools’ latest
    financial mess
  • Chris made the case for granting principals greater
    in setting their teachers’ pay on the Stretching the School
    Dollar blog, while Peter lauded D.C.’s trailblazing merit
    pay program
    on Board’s Eye View.
  • Peter also analyzed Andrew Cuomo’s State
    of the State Address
    and wondered whether New York has the nation’s next “education
  • ...
iPod Sad Face
Photo by Joel Washing

Two months ago, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of the
release of the iPod. Sunday, we will “celebrate” the 10th birthday of NCLB.

The iPod is universally seen as a game changer—something
that not only transformed the way we listen to music, but that changed the
music industry itself.

Few would say the same about the transformative power of

Yet, what if the iPod hadn’t evolved in the ten years since
its initial release? What if, after Steve Jobs released the 2001 version—the
first-generation iPod—the different divisions at Apple couldn’t come to
agreement about how it should evolve?

As one tech-expert explained:

[The iPod] debuted in the fall of 2001 as a Mac-only,
FireWire-only $399 digital audio player with a tiny black-and-white display and
5 GB hard disk. The iTunes Store didn’t exist until April 2003. The Windows
version of iTunes didn’t appear until October 2003—two years after the iPod
debuted! Two years before it truly supported Windows! Think about that. If
Apple released an iPod today that sold only as many units as the iPod sold in
2002, that product would be considered an enormous flop.

The transformative power of the iPod was unleashed not by

The federal law that everybody loves to hate turns
ten on Sunday. Here’s what to think about it:

  1. It worked! The Accountability Plateau coverAs Mark
    Schneider shows in his recent
    for Fordham—and as Eric Hanushek and others demonstrated
    before him—poor, minority, and low-achieving students made huge progress in
    math, and sizable progress in reading, during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
    Their most recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress
    indicate all-time highs for most grades and subjects. These students are
    typically performing two grade levels ahead of where their peers were fifteen
    years ago in math, and are reading at least one grade-level higher. So how to
    explain these historic gains? While we can’t draw causal conclusions from NAEP,
    we can make educated guesses. What’s clear is that states that adopted
    “consequential accountability” in the nineties saw big test-score jumps, and
    the late-adopter states saw similar progress once No Child Left Behind kicked
    into action. So, while other factors could
    have been in play, too (such as efforts to reduce class size or the cessation
    of the crack-cocaine epidemic), there’s a pretty good case that testing and
    accountability succeeded in spurring higher student achievement, at least at
    the bottom of the performance spectrum.
  2. But it couldn’t
    work forever
    As Schneider argues, the
  3. ...

“Consequential accountability,” à la No Child Left Behind and the high-stakes state testing systems that preceded it, corresponded with a significant one-time boost in student achievement, particularly in primary and middle school math. Like the meteor that led to the decline of the dinosaurs and the rise of the mammals, results-based accountability appears to have shocked the education system. But its effect seems to be fading now, as earlier gains are maintained but not built upon. If we are to get another big jump in academic achievement, we’re going to need another shock to the system—another meteor from somewhere beyond our familiar solar system.

So argues Mark Schneider, a scholar, analyst, and friend whom we once affectionately (and appropriately) named “Stat stud.” Schneider, a political scientist, served as commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics from 2005 to 2008, and is now affiliated with the American Institutes for Research and the American Enterprise Institute. In a Fordham-commissioned analysis released yesterday, he digs into twenty years of trends on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), aka the “Nation’s Report Card.”

We originally asked Schneider to investigate the achievement record of the great state of Texas. At the time—it feels like just yesterday—Rick Perry was riding high in the polls, making an issue of education, and taking flak from Secretary Arne Duncan for running an inadequate school system. We wondered: Was Duncan right to feel “...

After more than ten years under NCLB, that law’s legacy continues to be fiercely contested. This analysis of NAEP scores—focusing on Texas and on the entire nation—by former NCES commissioner Mark Schneider finds that solid gains in math achievement coincided with the advent of "consequential accountability," first in the trailblazing Lone Star State and a few other pioneer states, then across the land with the implementation of NCLB. But Schneider warns that the recent plateau in Texas math scores may foreshadow a coming stagnation in the country’s performance. Has the testing-and-accountability movement as we know it run out of steam? How else might we rekindle our nation’s education progress?

Download the analysis to find out, and be sure to watch the replay of Fordham's January 5 discussion of the paper and consequential accountability in general, "Has the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?"

baby bundled up photo

Drop some of those onerous layers, government!
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

For years, government has plastered new
regulations upon old, thickening the bureaucracy and making it ever harder to
move within its confines. In Colorado, for example, new rules for day-care
centers specify exactly how to execute nearly everything—including the number
of block sets (two) and the number of blocks (minimum of ten) needed in each
playroom. An anecdote, yes; but hyperbole or exception, no. Modern regulation,
as Common Good’s Philip Howard writes in the Wall Street Journal this week, “doesn’t just control undesirable practices—it
indiscriminately controls all the work of regulated entities,” arresting all
human discretion, good and bad. While the gut-wrench reaction is simply to blow
up the house, thick plaster and all, there’s a smarter way. Some old-fashioned
inputs are important (Colorado does
want to ensure that their day-care centers aren’t operating in window-less
basements filled with asbestos and chipping lead paint). But, Howard argues,
the majority of regulation should be outcomes-based. (Seattle is experimenting
with this
on the energy front now.) He’s right, as far as he goes, but may
have forgotten another key quality-control metric, articulated in our
recent paper on

Last week, 11 states applied for waivers from many of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act’s most onerous provisions. Their
applications are now online, ready to be sliced and diced by any willing wonk. (Anne Hyslop of Education Sector has already taken a cut.) We at Fordham have tried to make the task a little bit easier by posting two compilations: First, the Common Core implementation plans for all 11 states, and second, all of their accountability proposals. Both are huge files but if your plans this weekend include a lot of downtime, have at ‘em.

Personally, I’m most interested in the states’ plans around
accountability. Partly that’s because this is the only part of this
waiver process that I find legitimate and legal;
the Department of Education has no business demanding that states adopt
and implement the Common Core standards or rigorous teacher
evaluations. But if it’s going to allow states to opt-out of the law’s
Adequate Yearly Progress system, it certainly has the right to set
boundaries around the alternatives. And partly it’s because the major
sticking point in the current negotiations over ESEA reauthorization
comes down to accountability, and how much leeway to give the states.

So what do these 11 states want to do differently on the
accountability front? Particularly when it comes to identifying schools
that should be subject to some sort of sanctions or interventions?