Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Who Watches the Watchers?

That seems to be the question surrounding education systems with mayoral control recently. Or, perhaps more accurately (though less fluently), who holds the people who say everyone should be held accountable accountable?

One of the big arguments for mayoral control is that it makes the system accountable for its results because you have one person in charge and you know where the buck stops. In turn, the buck stoppers have tended to try to implement accountability measures within the schools for students, teachers, and entire schools. The irony of all this is that despite all the hard data being collected, there's still a lot of debate as to what it means and whether or not it's working. Check out the Eduwonkette and Public School Parents blogs for probably hundreds of posts on this subject.

The problem with mayoral control is that all the authority for the district and for analyzing its results ends up resting in the hands of the very people being analyzed. This leads to the kind of phony accountability measures we've seen in New York, like the school progress reports.

Now, DC is getting on the bandwagon as their city council is pushing to have independent oversight over Michelle Rhee and her educational reform agenda. They Mayor there would like the oversight to be done by people who are on the record supporting Rhee and mayoral control. (Do you think he'd let kids choose friends to write high stakes test questions for them?) The Council hasn't made its wishes known on the matter yet, but they'll probably be looking for someone more skeptical.

New York opened their own independent research center just recently, though we haven't seen any results from it yet and it took most of Mayor Bloomberg's two terms (so far) in office to get it open. The irony here is that for all the talk from the administration about how important accountability is for the system, we see very little real accountability. Kids are held "accountable" entirely based on standardized test scores. Teachers are then (sort-of) held accountable for how the kids do on the tests. Schools are given grades based on how the kids do. But the system itself has never been looked at from an outside, independent, analytical perspective and judged based on it's performance. That's true in New York and it's true in DC. And that's what we're calling accountability?

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