Accountability for School Quality

Judge schools by the extent to which they satisfactorily meet the needs of all pupils…” Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards (1939)

Looking at an array of “indicators” helps avoid the pitfall, as seen by the School Standards study, of using testing as “a sole method of accreditation or for similar widespread comparison” because testing tends to make “instruction point definitely to success in examinations,” cultivates “a uniformity that is deadening to instruction,” can “thwart the initiative of instructors,” and can “destroy the flexibility and individuality of an institution.”

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Assessing our schools has a long history of research behind it. The Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards laid out in great detail their methodology and the tools they used to evaluate the quality of schools. They concluded there are six elements within the school that should be used to judge quality of the learning experience: 1) Curriculum, 2) Pupil activities, 3) Library, 4) Guidance, 5) Instruction, and 6) Outcomes.

Accreditation in the United States

Accreditation in the United States

The school improvement process that was the focus of the original study was based on:

  • Ÿwhat the characteristics of a good school are,
  • Ÿhow you evaluate schools effectiveness in relation to its objectives,
  • Ÿhow a good school becomes better, and
  • Ÿhow to stimulate schools to continue to strive to become better.

The process is nothing new and it is being taught in some public institutions. An accreditation certification program at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Extension System is one example. If you take a moment to glance through the list of topics covered, you’ll find it includes a multitude of ways to assess quality on everything from disaggregation of student data to analyzing community profiles.

To sustain an improvement process takes knowledgeable leadership. If we were serious about improving our public schools, we would quit handing over leadership training to private non-profits like the Broad Foundation’s Leadership Academy or Marc Tucker‘s “National” Institute for School Leadership. We would set standards for leadership training that included the best practices of school improvement processes. We would put quality control back in the public realm. We have no idea what these private philanthropic endeavors are teaching, but the country’s education system certainly is suffering under their leadership especially in the large urban school districts that they have taken over (last full paragraph is telling).

So to meet students’ needs a school improvement process must begin with a “needs assessment.” Various survey tools exist. We don’t need to reinvent any wheels to move forward.

From the Federation for Community Schools

From the Federation for Community Schools

Approximately 30 years after the Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards, Effective Schools Research began to emerge. It gives us another framework by which we can approach school improvement. The Effective Schools Correlates are:

1) The principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction;

2) A pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;

3) An orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning;

4) Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery; and

5) The use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.

Approximately 30 more years passed and we now have Robert Marzano’s indicator framework developed around the Effective Schools Correlates with a bit more of a standards-aligned (standards-referenced) twist to the indicator system. The system is arranged in “levels” but should be worked on simultaneously.

 Level 1: A Safe and Orderly Environment That Supports Cooperation and Collaboration

Level 2: An Instructional Framework That Develops and Maintains Effective Instruction in Every Classroom

Level 3: A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Focused on Enhancing Student Learning

Level 4: A Standards-Referenced System of Reporting Student Progress

Level 5: A Competency-Based System That Ensures Student Mastery of Content

If you glance through the system of indicators, you’ll find that many of the “assessments” are simple low-cost surveys. But keep in mind; school evaluations need to be tailored to the schools needs. No one-size –fits-all mandate will suffice. “Stakeholder” participation in planning makes success more likely.

And as we know, schools don’t improve and then just stay that way. Students, parents, teachers, and leaders come and go; things change. Schools must see improvement as a continuous process, always striving to be better.

But, we do need oversight. So another “accountability” piece, that goes by various names (Quality Review, Inspection, Success, or Support Teams), is teams of “outside” evaluators. The long-standing recommendation is that a visit every five years is sufficient. If schools are having difficulties, more frequent visits are recommended.

These review teams could be established within state’s departments of education (once leaders are trained in sufficient numbers). State inspections could encompass such things as assessment of the curriculum assuring that it is broad and engaging, appraisal of teachers’ continuing education ensuring quality and sufficient learning opportunities are being offered, evaluation of the level of parental and family engagement opportunities and communications, and that there is satisfactory evidence that the school is conscientiously working towards improving rather than just complying with paperwork.

 Summary of Accountability Measures for Ensuring School Quality include,

  • An assessment of school needs (students, teachers, partners),
  • Establishment of indicators for improvement based on the needs assessment,
  • Continuous self-assessments of schools and classrooms,
  • Monitoring of student progress,
  • Monitoring of school progress based on the school’s indicators of quality, and
  • Evaluations by a Quality Review Team every 5 years or 1-2 years if needed.

“Common sense dictates that in order for students to achieve they must have appropriate opportunities to learn.” Wendy Schwartz – Opportunity To Learn Standards 

Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Assessments are “a range of measurable indicators that covered both classroom experience and the overall school environment.”… “The National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST, 1992) asserted that OTL standards are necessary to help close the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”

We have ignored establishing opportunity-to-learn standards but I believe they are incorporated into a school accountability system such as what is described here.

Currently, there are multiple versions of these ideas. I have read at least eight “new” plans from eight different organizations. Terminology varies but the major ideas remain the same. What we do know with certainty is….

“…accountability should be geared towards continuous improvement.”

—Joseph Bishop, Opportunity to Learn Campaign


Good questions have been asked. The answers only appear elusive while in reality the answers to “education reform” have been overlooked, forgotten, ignored, and/or buried. And oh so many aspects of reform are misunderstood.

Prompted by Thoughts From a Former KIPP Teacher: Testing, Common Core, and Charters are Myths, I now firmly believe we have got to have a “come-to-Jesus” talk about the standardization movement!

Worth Searching For

Worth Searching For

First, is there a need to improve some schools? Yes, the inequality issue is to die for and least we forget, some have! I think we all know that the “gap” between rich and poor & minority is real – common ground that should be a common cause.

So, here is what pulled my trigger today — a misunderstood word —EXPECTATIONS. I tried to at least partially clarify the concept in a short blog many months ago. (Please read)

Today, I shot forward in this article to read something much more disturbing.

“…focusing on standards as one of many means to bolster achievement in high poverty/high minority schools is a way to strive for equity.  Unfortunately, as Diane Ravitch has accurately pointed out, the implementation of the standardization movement over the last 20 years has fallen short.”

Implementation fell short? Yes, but that is not the bigger thing wrong here.

Whoa to standards-based “reforms”!

Overlooked, forgotten, or ignored are the Effective Schools Correlates  which seems strange to me given that I very firmly believe the philosophy behind the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act is based on the REAL community education concept which produced the “effective schools” studied by Ronald Edmonds and others.

Why has it gotten forgotten?

The Modern Community Education Movement was shoved to the side of the road and almost completely buried by the Standards Movement that rose to the occasion when the “crisis” in education caught the public’s attention in the 80’s and that movement rolled on unchecked and not questioned enough…even today.

We need to talk about what standards can and can’t do in depth but for the time being, consider this; * effective schools had variable standards*. “Standards” themselves were not the key factor in the high-poverty/high-minority/high-performing schools that were dubbed “effective.” THE standards never deserved THE “focus.”

Why haven’t we talked about all this sooner?

“We can’t. We’ve got internal political problems.

If we had taken more time to analyze data as the Sandia Research Laboratory engineers did in the 90’s, we probably would have put the brakes on and questioned our focus on standards and testing. It might have occurred to us to discuss what we were doing right to produce the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores that “had been steady for whites and rising for blacks and Hispanics.”

Talk about buried. I called Sandia Laboratories long ago searching for the Sandia Report. I asked them to put the report up on the Internet. I had a nice chat with a young man and we laughed over the fact that surely with the technology, and engineers at Sandia, they could scan the report and get it online. They never got back with me. Instead, I found a summary on micro phish at a private college library and spent some time copying the 50 page summary page by page.

I appreciate the view of the KIPP teacher that wrote the blog about testing, Common Core, equality and the acknowledgement made that No Child Left Behind-like “reforms” drive the focus to test scores. I’m sure for most people it didn’t open a can of worms like it did for me. It is so important, if you want the right answers to lead us forward, that we understand the history of American education. The history is convoluted but the truth, in my humble opinion, is more politically powerful than the politics of reform IF the truth gets a full and honest hearing.

I want to hear what others see as the truth starting with President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan. How do we make THAT happen?

As John F. Kennedy said at the 1963 Commencement at American University,

Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.”….or woman!

Mr. Gates & Common Core Myths

Dear Mr. Gates,

About your “myths”:

Myth: Common Core was created without involving parents, teachers or state and local governments.
In calling this a myth, you are making an assumption that governors and school officials represent parents’ views.
“Each of the 45 states that have adopted them used the same process used to adopt previous standards?” NOT true here in Idaho.

Myth: Common Core State Standards means students will have to take even more high-stakes tests.
It isn’t the number of “high-stakes tests” that we dissenters object to; it is the detrimental effects of high-stakes testing. THAT is the biggest problem with the No Child Left Behind philosophy of “education reform.”

Myth: Common Core standards will limit teachers’ creativity and flexibility.
This is the first I have heard this “myth” worded like this so it must not be far-reaching. Standards do limit curriculum when tied to high-stakes testing so that might be where you misinterpret the “myth.”

If you and all others like you, Mr. Gates, understood the real basis – original findings – of Effective Schools Research, you would see that standards aren’t the deciding factor at all in school improvement and how it is accomplished.

There is value in consistency – in national guiding principles (philosophy of pedagogy, school culture, curriculum guidelines, benchmarks, roles of each level of the governance structure, standards of practice, ethics, responsibilities and expectations of each “player” being defined).

Mr. Gates, when you first began focusing on education, you said you would “read up” on the topic. I tried my hardest to be heard by you but your gatekeepers proved formidable. But the reality is, there is a huge problem here in my thinking that I need to be heard by you rather than by MY OWN government.

Common Core is “inspired by a simple and powerful idea: Every American student should leave high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in the job market.” That is EXACTLY what was being said here in Idaho prior to No Child Left Behind. I still have the old documents to prove it.

Study harder, Mr. Gates. You missed the history of the failures of reforms. Doomed to repeat them?


The crucial voice of the people?

The crucial voice of the people?

Dr. Young – Parent, former public school patron, long time advocate for public schools, researcher, author – and one more voice unheard by the powerful.


The Crossroads of Opportunity

The modern-day march towards equality has always been — at least partially — about public education.

When educational inequality was studied by James S. Coleman, they used tools —surveys and tests— to determine outcomes. And those that saw equal educational opportunity being established in high-minority and high-poverty schools looked further into the means by which educational quality was being improved.

Since researcher Ronald Edmonds and others made their observations known, no one has been able to definitively dispute them. The correlates for effective schools have been expanded; they have been rewritten and renamed; they have been reorganized and re-researched — and they stand as guiding principles.

Edmonds had followed in the footsteps of the leaders of the community school movement. Father of the concept, Frank Manley, drove the idea as far as he could and handed it over to Frank (Francis) Keppel who wrote the essence of it into law as best he could.

Jefferson's express of the need to educate the common people.

Jefferson’s express of the need to educate the common people.

Now, we stand at a crossroads in education law. What principle will we stand upon in order to do right by the children of this country? Will we side with what has proven itself effective, or go with what so many desperately want to make “work”? Will we repeat mistakes of the past only to discover it leaves children behind? Or will we travel the hard but proven path of equal opportunity?

Does a rising tide lift all boats?

It is only when you stand on the shoulders of giants that you can see what they saw. Understanding the concepts of standards, testing, community education, and the personal and shared responsibility of educating a nation of children is the ladder that can take us high enough to see the best way.

The opportunity we have now is to use the law —the reauthorization of ESEA currently called No Child Left Behind— to put in place the foundational principles of equal educational opportunity, the principles of effective schools.

Part 9 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.