The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association

By Catherine Marshall | Go to book overview

3

Accountability, invisibility and the politics of numbers: School report cards and race

Carolyn D. Herrington

This chapter explores the use of school report cards as a mechanism to address one of the most persistent problems plaguing education, the continuing underachievement of minority students. Using data from Dade County Public Schools (Miami), the author argues that a numbers-based strategy designed to eliminate race or ethnicity-based institutional biases is fundamentally at odds with the environment conducive to school-level improvement.

Minority performance and school report cards1

This chapter focuses on school report cards as an accountability tool and how their use interacts with one of the most persistent problems plaguing the public education system, continuing underachievement of minority students. Despite three decades of attention to the issue, minority student school performance lags considerably behind that of majority students. Furthermore, the extent of the gap has often been masked by aggregate data.

Policymakers have turned to school-based performance data reporting requirements to help address the problem. Reporting student and school performance data by race and ethnicity, holds out the promise to redress the situation 1) by providing accurate data on the nature, extent and location of the problem and 2) by fomenting pressure by parents and other community members on school officials, motivating them to focus more energies on ameliorating inequities. However, there has been virtually no research on utilization or impact of school-based performance data reporting requirements (Gaines and Cornett, 1992, Mackett and McKeough 1992).

This chapter looks specifically at the issues concerning the desirability of reporting student performance by race and ethnicity at the school level. Would such a policy increase the likelihood of resources being targeted to students in greatest need, making them more visible? Or would the reporting of these disaggregated data reinforce negative stereotypes about the performance of minority students? Do school officials behave differently when these data are available? What is the impact on local school policy when these data are made available by race and ethnicity? These are important questions that go to the root of school-based accountability policies—their purposes and their effects on schools, teachers and students.


The search for accountability: School report cards

School-based performance data reporting requirements, or school report cards as they are commonly termed, are an increasingly popular mechanism by which policymakers hope to make schools more accountable for their actions. Currently, over one-half of

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