Soapbox

State needs a school report card that works

President Barack Obama talks with Sofia Rios of Arlington, Va., as he signs the Every Student Succeeds Act on Dec. 10. The law replaces the No Child Left Behind Act on accountability for public schools.
President Barack Obama talks with Sofia Rios of Arlington, Va., as he signs the Every Student Succeeds Act on Dec. 10. The law replaces the No Child Left Behind Act on accountability for public schools. The Associated Press

For too long in California and in other states, we have been having the wrong conversation about public education.

Driven by the narrow and rigid mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind law, we established new standards and requirements for performance without providing additional resources, then blamed educators when they did not achieve them.

The result was an accountability system that did not provide any meaningful information about how we might help kids learn, and that made teachers and school administrators feel like scapegoats. In many education circles, “accountability” has become a bad word.

The passage by Congress of the new Every Student Succeeds Act offers a chance to change that conversation. Returning power and responsibility for student learning to the states, the legislation ends some of the more onerous requirements of No Child Left Behind but still requires states to develop systems to measure student learning in meaningful ways.

That will not be an easy task. The system needs to be designed to provide educators the information they need to improve schools, while also informing parents and the public. Importantly, it must also ensure that the poor, minorities and low-achieving students have opportunities to learn.

Fortunately, California has a powerful example it can consider. For the past three years, a group of 10 school districts has been working on an accountability system that measures students’ year-to-year progress and attendance, high school readiness, graduation rates and how quickly students are learning English.

This information is shared with parents and the public through an easy-to-understand report that shows how their school is doing and how its performance compares to schools throughout the state. This allows the districts in CORE to learn from schools that are beating the odds, as well as identify the small percentage of schools that are struggling the most and need assistance.

The CORE districts cover about 20 percent of the state’s students and include Sacramento City Unified and Fresno Unified, as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The CORE accountability system meets key requirements of the new federal legislation. Importantly, it also includes groundbreaking measurements of factors such as school climate and indicators of social and emotional learning such as self-control and self-awareness. While there is much yet to be learned about the use of these measurements, they hold the potential to provide educators with a much deeper understanding of student needs. In addition, the CORE system fulfills the new federal law’s requirement that states intervene using locally developed plans in schools at the bottom 5 percent of performance or that fail to graduate at least 67 percent of students.

There is much to be learned and much to be done to develop a new educational accountability system for California. But it’s clear that educators do not want, and students will not be well-served by having, another top-down system foisted upon them that provides little help but plenty of blame.

The work of educators in school districts across the state has given California a head start. As policymakers move forward, they would do well to draw upon their accomplishments.

Chris Steinhauser is superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District and a board member of CORE districts. He can be contacted at cbsteinhauser@lbschools.net.

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