Magazine article Poverty & Race

Community-Based Accountability: Best Practices for School Officials

Magazine article Poverty & Race

Community-Based Accountability: Best Practices for School Officials

Article excerpt

Accountability in education must include die idea that school systems have certain obligations to dieir stakeholders. Traditional notions of accountability are mostly focused on measuring performance outputs of students, teachers and principals, and fail to identify metrics by which elected and appointed policymakers can be held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, this trend has become even more prevalent as so-called marketbased reforms (e.g., expanded highstakes testing, merit pay, privatization) are adopted on the federal, state and local levels. These policy changes in fact "de-form" democratic principles of good governance and fairness, which require mat school system leaders be held accountable to the community. Over the past four years, education policymakers and community advocates in Wake County, North Carolina demonstrated that such accountability is essential to creating a healthy relationship between the school district and me community it serves, and to producing high-quality, equitable outcomes for students.

To promote diversity and student achievement, the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) implemented a student assignment plan in 2000 which minimized concentrations of low-wealth or low-performing students by limiting each school in me district to a maximum of 40% of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch and no more than 25 % of students performing below grade level. Along with the district's award- winning magnet schools, the policy made the WCPSS a nationally acclaimed leader in high-quality education. However, the WCPSS also faced significant challenges, including huge achievement gaps, a massive schoolto-prison pipeline, inadequate funding, rapid growth and instability in school assignment.

In 2009, a staunchly conservative majority took over the WCPSS Board of Education. The new Board removed the diversity mandate from die student assignment policy and began moving the district to a "neighborhood schools" model that increased racial and socioeconomic segregation. Moreover, new members' campaign promises to higher-income and predominantly White neighborhoods to dismantle the diversity-conscious student assignment policy gave me public the impression that the Board only sought to please its electoral base instead of engaging in research-based decisionmaking that serves me interests of all me district's students. The Board also failed to adequately address repeated concerns about excessive suspension rates and severe racial disparities in student discipline. The Board's regressive actions and its reluctance to meaningfully engage with advocates soured prospects for amicable political and policy solutions.

In 2010, me first interim student reassignments produced predictable segregative outcomes. Advocates quickly formed a coalition of student and parent activists, education experts and civil rights attorneys who shared a commitment to diversity in education, eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, narrowing achievement gaps, and holding me Board publicly and legally responsible. This diverse coalition of advocates pushed to hold the Board accountable through several means, including: (1) direct action, such as marches, rallies, pickets and civil disobedience; (2) lobbying by testifying at School Board meetings and communicating regularly with staff and policymakers; (3) public education through media, workshops, publications and regular community meetings; and (4) electoral advocacy.

Further, as the Board continued to resist mounting public pressure to address resegregation and the school-toprison pipeline, me coalition initiated legal actions, including Title VI complaints to the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education; complaints about special education to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction; an AdvancED accreditation complaint; and individual representation to students for suspension and special education matters. By filing a lawsuit over me district's violation of North Carolina open meetings laws, me coalition also challenged me Board's undemocratic, non- transparent governance that made community-based accountability more difficult. …

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