Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final post in our series on the future of parental choice and accountability.
The issue of standards and test-based accountability has been an important topic in education reform for more than a generation. With the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, it became a central component of our education policy. In the intervening years since Congress signed NCLB into law, we have been able to observe both its benefits and its flaws.
Test-based accountability has been extremely important for raising awareness of the achievement gaps between low-income and minority students and their more affluent peers, and it has led to notable gains in closing those gaps. But at the same time, critics have virulently attacked high-stakes testing for putting undue performance pressure on teachers and students, and for incentivizing schools and teachers to narrow their curriculum to the exclusion of non-tested subjects. Aside from these debates, there has been a simultaneous and separate strand of education reform centered around educational choice options – such as charter schools, voucher programs, tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and more recently, full-time virtual schools and online courses – that move beyond school choice to allow any student within any school to have nearly unlimited educational options. These moving pieces need to be at the forefront of our minds as we ask ourselves how accountability should evolve over the next decade.
As a helpful starting point, we should reframe the way we look at these challenges. Rather than viewing school choice as a reform issue separate from school accountability, we should recognize that choice is a powerful mechanism for providing bottom-up accountability. Kathleen Porter-Magee, a policy fellow at the Fordham Institute, expertly conveyed this point in a recent blog. She argues that we need to “broaden our conception of accountability to include parental choice” and that “parent choice provides a much-needed counterbalance to the potential excesses of standards-driven reform.” Parental choice gives us a way to hold schools accountable for the aspects of education that are hard to quantify, such as the quality of non-academic programs, school culture, and the relationships between teachers and students.
To make this kind of bottom-up accountability work, parents need good information about their choices. In this regard, standardized assessments are actually an important mechanism for informing parents. Continue Reading →