Byline: Margaret E. Raymond, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
While endless discussions of No Child Left Behind play out in Congress, the two presidential candidates clearly recognize the American public endorses the basic idea of holding schools accountable for performance. That is why both Barack Obama and John McCain support the general construct of the program, while holding out the option of revising unspecified aspects of it.
In the meantime, don't expect to see either party advance substantive
proposals on improving educational accountability.
Against this backdrop of vague rhetoric and inaction, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has joined with several states to bring clarity by developing better ways to hold schools accountable.
That this needed to be done is one thing just about everyone outside of Washington, D.C., agrees upon. Governors and state education officials have not been exactly shy about complaining about No Child Left Behind. To her credit, Mrs. Spellings has listened, parsing through what she has been told and doing the hard work with state education chiefs to come up with responses.
The result is a new pilot program announced July 1 to further advance education accountability policy by giving six states - Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland and Ohio - greater flexibility in advancing this policy.
The hunger for change can be seen in the fact that more than one-third of the states applied to join the pilot, despite a tight three-week deadline to submit proposals. Some of these were red states, some were blue. They came from all regions, and from both ends of the education quality spectrum.
The applicant states were uniform, however, in one thing - a conviction that accountability is not simply a punitive exercise, but rather a compact for performance that involves shared responsibility for instructional capacity, effective leadership and serious attention to the sources of deficiencies. By sponsoring this pilot, called Differentiated Accountability, the Education Department is encouraging states to share the best of their thinking about improvement and intervention strategies.
More than anything, the Differentiated Accountability pilot will offer a priceless opportunity to learn how the first wave of pilot programs was implemented and how these early efforts impacted school performance. This evaluation is sorely needed. After all, we have limited evidence about the first years of NCLB, largely because universal adoption offered no alternatives against which to compare it. The results of a smart evaluation could support a smarter political discussion. …