As I fear is often the case with these epistolic exchanges we’re in danger of getting trapped in an ever decreasing circle. Here’s what happening:
- You say the current accountability model of high stakes tests + inspections has negative effects (teaching to the test; fear of innovation etc…)
- I agree but say that the positive benefits to having accountability outweigh the negative effects and suggest ways the negatives could be ameliorated.
- I ask you whether you think we need accountability.
- You say of course we do, don’t say what it would look like, and then go back to pointing out the negative effects of the current system.
I’m not trying to be facetious: this is the crux of the issue. The reason the tests plus inspections model has lasted 25 years despite constant criticisms of the kind you’re making is that no one has managed to suggest a viable alternative. No Government of any political stripe is going to do anything other than tinker with the current model unless something concrete, implementable and politically viable is offered instead. (And just saying “Finland”, which, to your credit you haven’t, doesn’t meet that criteria!)
In your letter you say “I’m more than happy for schools to be accountable to the children and families that they form a community with”. OK. So what does that mean in practice? What information do families get to inform this accountability? Who checks that families are holding schools accountable? What are the sanctions for poor performance? (And if there are no sanctions how is anyone being held accountable?) Can parents fire the headteacher or the governors? What evidence do we have that children and families know what to look for anyway? I’m pretty glad someone else inspects the hospital I attend – I certainly wouldn’t be able to.
Accountability is the hardest policy problem there is – in every sector – public or private. Focusing on the critique is easy. Give me any accountability model out there and I can show you the problems. Offering solutions is the difficult bit.
Over on the other side of the Atlantic two American educationalists, Deborah Meier and Michael Petrilli, are having a similar discussion and have reached a similar impasse. In his latest letter Michael nails the problem:
“I can’t go as far as some—say, Diane Ravitch and Richard Rothstein—who argue that any measure, when linked with consequences, becomes hopelessly perverted. We’re talking about public schools, after all—and the public has a right to demand certain results from its investment. And we’re talking about children, who deserve not to be written off before they even turn 18. If not higher test scores and college completion rates, then what?
I’m quite willing to entertain other metrics. So…let’s get specific… what would you be willing to promise in terms of student outcomes? Higher graduation rates? Lower teenage pregnancy rates? Lower incarceration rates? Higher voting rates? Higher college matriculation and completion rates (including at the AA level)? Lower unemployment rates? Higher wages? You name it, I’ll probably go for it. But the answer can’t be to ignore student outcomes.”
We can’t ignore outcomes. You say you don’t want to. So let’s get specific.