Don’t reset the clock

Despite all of the controversy and disdain surrounding No Child Left Behind, that version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) made some very important and positive changes to public policy. First, we actually started to look at how our students perform – and where disparities exist (i.e. the disaggregation of data). Second, we formally committed to the idea that every child should attend a semi-decent school. How either of these important features translated into action varied by state. Some states took the data and made significant changes to their state education systems to decrease the achievement gaps and the number of low-performing schools. In contrast, other states kept doing more of the same and ignored the federal mandates, found a way to work around making any substantial changes, or did just enough to meet the minimum requirements. (For more “Getting Nostalgic About The Law Formally Known as NCLB, see DFER’s blog.)

It is clear that many aspects of NCLB need (and have needed for some time) significant changes and refinement, but as discussion of the NCLB waivers and ESEA reauthorization permeates eduwonk discourse, I fear that the accountability clock is going to be reset. Schools which have failed to educate their students for years (based on any and all types of data analysis, including AYP, safe harbor, dropout rates, etc) are finally hitting the end of the current accountability system and are being forced to make substantial reforms.

I fear that if we completely overhaul the accountability system (formulas for calculating improvement, AMOs, AYP, etc) that schools who have failed their students for 10 years (or more) will start back at year 1 and will argue that they need the chance to improve on their own, without increasing levels of state or federal support (aka interference).

The revised ESEA and any approved NCLB waivers must include a conversion strategy for schools currently identified as in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring and where they fall on any new state or federally-defined accountability system. Without such measures, we will reset the accountability clock and additional generations of students will continue to attend schools which don’t educate them.

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