Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

At Odds: THE TEXAS ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM - Continuing the Conversation on Equity and Accountability: Listening Appreciatively, Responding Responsibly

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

At Odds: THE TEXAS ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM - Continuing the Conversation on Equity and Accountability: Listening Appreciatively, Responding Responsibly

Article excerpt

The authors hope that this positive exchange of views will help initiate a substantial change in the equity-and-accountability conversation and will help to move that conversation toward a higher ground that will benefit everyone, especially those children who have been so poorly served by our public education system.

IN EDUCATION, both equity and accountability are unquestionably controversial. While many educators resent mention of inequity and racism and avoid these issues if possible, others are angry about the widespread and persistent racial inequities they see. Meanwhile, accountability has become a highly contentious battleground, with most voices either strongly for or strongly against it. Such polarization makes having a thoughtful, productive dialogue about both equity and accountability - a dialogue that actually yields a better understanding - very difficult today.

We are pleased, however, that the response of Richard Valencia, Angela Valenzuela, Kris Sloan, and Douglas Foley to our article in the December 2000 Kappan is an example of the kind of thoughtful and respectful dialogue that improves understanding.1 One of our main points in that article was that the dialogue in education regarding equity and accountability has not been particularly fruitful and has, instead, resulted in hard, oppositional stances. But who owns truth or does research so complete that nothing is to be learned from listening to other voices, from considering other views, from contemplating different understandings? While we strongly believe that a diversity of voices and views, of choices and conclusions, is in itself productive, we must ask how we will decide which are the best policies, which are the policies most helpful to children, and which are the policies that increase equity.

Though there is not space here to discuss these questions fully, we wish to make clear that we do not believe that a "winner take all" approach - my side is correct, yours is wrong, so I win - is useful. Such an approach cites only research that supports one view, even though good research that reaches different conclusions also exists. We have repeatedly observed such interactions in the equity-and- accountability conversation. The pursuit of truth requires us to try thoughtfully to understand why the results offered by other researchers yield opposing conclusions.

A second problem we have encountered in the equity-and-accountability conversation is the use of fragments of data, chosen from a vast array, in order to prove a point. We call this the "gotcha" method of argument. For example, we have studied large, complex school districts that are working very hard to improve the school success of children of color and that are experiencing improvements across a broad range of measures.2 However, not every classroom or every school in these districts is experiencing high levels of success across all variables. In addition, none of the districts we studied have shown strong success in all possible areas. Nonetheless, the districts we studied have shown that they have made a strong commitment to improving academic success for all groups of children and have demonstrated major increases in both equity and excellence.

However, are these schools and districts perfect? Certainly not, and the educators in these districts would readily concur with this judgment. Yet this research has been repeatedly criticized because someone could find a few examples of data that indicated that there were still problem areas. This "gotcha" approach significantly degrades the quality of the conversation. Instead of playing gotcha, we should all be celebrating what these schools and districts have achieved: real, substantive gains for children of color and children from low- income families on a broad range of measures of academic success, including such indicators as increased completion of more rigorous, college-preparatory curricula. …

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