Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Still Don't Get It

As I was writing yesterday about the failures of No Child Left Behind to provide a meaningful sort of accountability on high school drop out rates, the Department of Education was preparing to release new rules designed to boost that accountability. The only problem is that when the new rules were released, there was nothing in them that will actually boost accountability. The administration still just doesn't get it.

According to the new rules, states must show they are making progress in raising graduation rates not only across the board, but also within each demographic group. This has actually been one of the good things about NCLB. It requires reporting that shows where the achievement gap is happening. It doesn't allow for one group's results to hide the results of another. So in order for states to say they're making progress in their graduation rates, the states need to show that they're making progress for all students. I like that idea.

Where the new rules don't do anything meaningful is that they leave it up to the states to say what constitutes appropriate progress. I went over this yesterday, but it's frankly ridiculous. Given the system that's in place with the law (make progress or lose funding) there's no incentive for states to set ambitious goals. Instead, there's a very strong incentive to set the bar very low. That's what New York is doing. And it's hardly alone in that.

The Department of Education can talk all they want about holding schools accountable. Obviously it makes good press for them. But as long as the ones being held "accountable" get to make their own rules, we aren't going to get very far. I mean, imagine if we let all those kids being tested in third through eighth grade decide what score they needed to get to show they're ready for the next grade. We wouldn't even be able to pretend that we were holding standards. So why do we allow it when it's states instead of kids?

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