Cooking Accountability

Because cooking the data in a Texas school district resulted in its Superintendent becoming the United States Secretary of Education and the dawn of the accountability era, no wonder there is a rash of cooking the data to meet annual measurable objectives.

There can be no doubt that the accountability era has ushered in important and powerful elements to public education previously absent. One such element is the acknowledgement that “sub-groups” matter and must be educated in the same manner that White boys were in previous decades.

But, the rash of cheating scandals in schools and districts is also a by-product of the dubious beginning of the accountability era.

Beyond public view, three practices render accountability bogus. High stakes testing has become the standard bearer of the accountability era. In addition to catapulting profits in the testing industry the demand for “proficient” students has fueled massive cheating scandals in schools and districts. No less horrific is the reduction of teaching and learning to test preparation in pursuit of high-test scores to protect careers and capture merit pay.

Secondly, the annual practice of manipulating “cut scores” that determine which students, schools, and districts meet arbitrarily set objectives for the prime purposes of comparison, protecting real estate values, and being attractive to business investment bastardizes the promise of accountability. This practice is an abomination of quality education and hurts students and schools.

Lastly, the ranking of schools and districts according to some metric is a mysterious practice laced with distrust among practitioners. The practice kills motivation, does not inspire to high achievement, and is not child centered. Worst of all, the lowest ranked schools and districts, often poor, encourage policy makers to cut education funding and or seize local control of education.

There are important virtues in data driven accountability for education. The mantra, however, must be, do no harm by cooking the data.

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