3 Keys to School Accountability

by Eric Lerum The Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 2015 (ESSA) presents a tremendous opportunity for states to retool their school accountability frameworks to be more flexible and to reflect a broader definition of…

by Eric Lerum
The Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 2015 (ESSA) presents a tremendous opportunity for states to retool their school accountability frameworks to be more flexible and to reflect a broader definition of what it means for a school to be successful for students and parents. It’s also critical, however, that states hold a high bar for success that is predicated primarily on student outcomes. Business leaders should be at the front of the conversation, ensuring that state leaders strike the right balance. As future employers, business leaders know firsthand that schools must prepare graduates with the skills and knowledge to be successful in today’s workforce and the creativity and curiosity to imagine the industries of tomorrow.

America Succeeds has been paying close attention to this issue and recently participated in a design competition sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute focused on new frameworks for accountability under ESSA. While there are many ways to design an accountability system and no single model will fit every state, we believe three guiding principles will position business leaders to contribute to the discussion in their states:

College may not be for everyone, but the option of college must be
Students should be able to participate fully in society, pursue their dreams, and support their families. In the 21st Century, that means every student must be prepared to succeed in college if she chooses. Choice is key – by definition, an education system that only prepares some students to succeed in college assigns other students to other roles in life, limiting their options and their chances of being successful. A student who chooses not to attend college should do so on her own volition rather than having that decision thrust upon her due to a lack of preparation and opportunity. Thus, while not every student may complete college, every student must be ready and able to do so.

Performance goals are floors, not ceilings
Performance goals are meant to indicate an acceptable minimum threshold for performance, but they are not meant to be the end goal themselves. Schools and local communities should be encouraged to reach beyond and to exceed targets wherever applicable, and the accountability system should work in a way as to not constrain what is possible in terms of performance, innovation, or growth.

Integration of measures is key
The state accountability system should incentivize districts and schools to work holistically to raise achievement and performance across a broad spectrum of outcomes. When employers are asked what they look for in a new hire, they often prioritize softer skills (e.g. teamwork, problem-solving) in addition to academic ones. A school that does really well across multiple measures should fare better under the accountability system than a school that does any one or two things better than the rest, but is lacking in other areas.

Business leaders are the natural voices for encouraging conditions that favor flexibility and entrepreneurship at the local level, and they can speak with authority about the notion that results matter. We’ve attached America Succeeds’ full proposal to this email, and you can see other proposals from the Fordham competition here.

Additional Buzz
Colorado’s new Commissioner of Education, Rich Crandall, caught wind of the Fordham competition and recognized America Succeeds in his weekly message to superintendents and stakeholders.

He said: “While speaking with the superintendents in Pueblo on Monday, I mentioned the Fordham Institute’s ESSA Accountability Design Competition held earlier this month. Since many of them had not heard of the contest, I decided to include details in today’s Thursday’s Thoughts. The format for Fordham’s competition was to create a state accountability system for an elementary school using the new ESSA guidelines in under 2,000 words. There were 26 submissions and judges ruled on the top 10 on February 2. I heard that the submissions from America Succeeds and the Prichard Committee out of Kentucky (with significant student involvement) were the two that won, although there were great nuggets of value in all of the papers. This contest is important to us because of the outside-the-box thinking that brings accountability closer to instruction.”

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