I am Giddy!!: Community-Based Accountability

January 24, 2013

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I am giddy!!

I had writer’s block all summer. I owed Professor Rich Milner and two co-authors (Dr. Muhummed Khalifa and Dr. Linda Tillman) my portion of a chapter for the upcoming Handbook of Urban Education to be published by Routledge. We were asked to write on a direction for future work (and needs) in the field of urban education.” My co-authors had already written the theoretical underpinning (post-colonial theory) and had specified the problem (persisting achievement gap in the midst of NCLB, high-stakes testing, and accountability). So what was the alternative to NCLB in its current conception!? I thought about the school reform course I took with David Tyack at Stanford a decade ago that focused on the community-based schooling in the 1960s. Then i considered that our datasets and their interconnectedness has advanced rapidly over the past two decades. In the vein of Dewey, I considered the measurement of a child’s success in conjunction with their heterogenous pursuits. In the political sphere, i pondered that Democrats often support community empowerment and Republicans espouse local control— which conflicts with the current conception of NCLB.

I then considered….How can we blend these key ideas into a new form of accountability?

My primary line of research is high-stakes testing and accountability… Yet I struggled all summer with re-thinking accountability. In fact, I put a stack of books on top of the manuscript… so that I didn’t have to see it…. then, I went to an accountability conference in Rome and I had a break through. I am came back from the meeting inspired. My portions of the manuscript that I had struggled to write for months came flowing out in three days… On October 17th I posted an excerpt from the Handbook of Urban Education manuscript Accountability: Are you ready for a new idea? that outlined Community-Based Accountability.

Since that time,  I have made the pitch on CI for Community-Based Accountability and in-person with other faculty, policymakers, practitioners— really, anyone who would listen. In fact, I made a Community-Based Accountability pitch to Michael Williams, Texas Education Agency commissioner, at the Dallas area mayors dinner that I was so graciously invited to by Rep. Sylvester Turner and Rep. Helen Giddings in mid-December. At that dinner, Williams characterized it as a “cafeteria” approach. My response was that everyone needs to eat a balanced diet (verve).

So imagine my giddiness when I read the article School Consortium seeks waivers in state and federal testing, ratings in the Dallas Morning News yesterday. Excerpts:

A group of Texas school districts wants to be exempt from some state and federal testing requirements while they create the “next generation” of assessment and accountability standards for students.

But the state’s new education commissioner is withholding judgment on most of the requests because they are likely to be topics in the upcoming legislative session.

The waivers are being sought by the 23 districts of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium, which was created by the state Legislature in 2011 to develop new strategies for Texas public schools.

Local school districts involved in the consortium include Highland Park, Irving, Lewisville, McKinney and Richardson.

Consortium members say 10 waivers are needed to give them the flexibility to design an educational blueprint for the 21st century, according to an update report submitted last month to the Texas Education Agency.

“In anticipation of a broader conversation during the upcoming legislative session regarding assessment, accountability and graduation requirements, I have chosen neither to endorse nor reject the report’s recommendations at this time,” State Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams said in a Dec. 21 letter to Gov. Rick Perry and legislators.

It’s unclear when action will be taken on the group’s requests.

However, members plan to move forward on developing a “community-based assessment and accountability system” that could be implemented by the 2016-17 school year, according to the report.

Outside researchers will evaluate the system that will emphasize digital learning, meaningful learning standards, multiple tests for assessment and local control.

If successful, “you can take the best of what works and use it to improve education throughout the state,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman.

To reach that goal, consortium members want to be free to design their own reporting systems.

“Locally designed accountability indicators can be more responsive to community needs, while also honoring established state standards,” the report said.

The consortium wants to replace the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) with testing of new learning standards designed for the 21st century and random testing for accountability.

The group also wants to eliminate double-testing. Students who perform well on SAT or other standardized tests should be exempt from end-of-course exams, the report stated.

Freedom to change

Schools in the consortium also want to be free to expand online learning and have the flexibility to set graduation requirements.

Multiple pathways to graduation will allow students to specialize in such areas as technology, business or art. Currently, high school graduates must have four years of math, science, social studies and English language arts.

“Allowing students to pursue their passions, rather than comply with rigid mandates, will help them discover interests for college and career,” the report stated.

I must still be giddy because it is 3 a.m. and I am writing this post.

Texas was the birthplace of NCLB. Could Texas envision itself as the birthplace of Community-Based Accountability?

Of note, I don’t yet have the report submitted by the consortium that was discussed in the DMN article, but I hope to have it by the time I present at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Orientation conference. I will talk about Community-Based Accountability at a session scheduled for January 10, 2013, from 3:20 pm to 4:30 pm entitled “School for Scandal?–Measuring Student Learning”

Edit 1/4/13: CI readers sent a link to the High Performance Consortium report. You can find it here.

Edit 1/6/13: More Background on SB 1557 and the High Performance Consortium here.

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Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento. In addition to educational accomplishments, Julian Vasquez Heilig...