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Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten: Time for a New Accountability in American Education

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Here is an exciting piece in the Huffington Post by Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten.  It’s about how we should be doing accountability.  It is  consistent with the Trust Teachers post I did at bit ago and this one on Hargreaves and Braun awhile ago, but it’s better because Darling-Hammond and Weingarten render authoritative portraits of the two dramatically contrasting policies: New York’s failure in the Common Core and testing compared to California’s success. 

…The promise of these new standards — and excellent education for all of America’s children — cannot succeed under the old accountability system because:

  • An end-of-year sit-down test cannot capture the broader aspirations embedded in the new standards for problem solving, inquiry, team building, communication, collaboration, persistence, and other challenging skills. ….
  • Implementing the standards well will not be accomplished by targets and sanctions. ….
  • Raising standards in ways that punish children and educators for not meeting them produces the wrong responses from schools. …
the test-and-punish approach 
must be replaced by a 
support-and-improve model

If we assume that the goal of accountability should be better education, the test-and-punish approach must be replaced by a support-and-improve model. A new approach should ensure that students get what they really need: 1) curriculum, teaching, and assessment focused on meaningful learning, 2) adequate resources that are spent wisely, and 3) professional capacity, so that teachers and school leaders develop the knowledge and skills they need to teach much more challenging content in much more effective ways.

the Common Core is 
embraced in California 
and feared in New York

The way in which policymakers treat accountability determines how standards are implemented and how they are received by parents and educators. That is why the Common Core is embraced in California and feared in New York — two states we know well that have taken very different approaches.

New York, like some other states, is stuck in a narrow test-based accountability system adopted under NCLB and reinforced by federal Race to the Top rules. This approach has driven the use of high-stakes tests to hold students back, deny diplomas, fire teachers, and close schools in an education system that has, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, become increasingly unequal in what it offers rich and poor students and their families. This strategy has not worked: National assessments show that, whereas New York outperformed the national average in fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics a decade ago, now it lags behind. In reading, as well, gains in the rest of the nation have outpaced those in New York.

There are now well over 
100 tests in use 
in New York City

There, the public has come to equate the standards — and the good teaching they could encourage — with the chaos created by an out-of-control testing system. (There are now well over 100 tests in use in New York City, for example, as part of the teacher evaluation requirements). Testing and test preparation steal valuable time away from instruction and have even begun to invade early childhood education where standardized tests are now foisted on our youngest students. Meanwhile, educators and the public are confused by unreliable teacher and school evaluations, and children are shortchanged by the lack of investment in building the professional capacity to support better learning.

This flood of testing 
and sanctions promises 
to drown the Common Core 
State Standards in its wake.

This flood of testing and sanctions promises to drown the Common Core State Standards in its wake. In the past year, protests against the Common Core have swept New York as parents and educators have begun to distrust whether policymakers have children’s best interests at heart. Meanwhile, thousands of parents have opted out of testing, and one third of the state’s principals have lodged formal objections to the test-based teacher evaluation system. The public does not believe that schools will improve with the test-and-punish strategy as a foundation for new standards.

California, on the other hand, has begun to develop a new approach to accountability — one that directly addresses what parents and students want from their schools: Good teaching focused on productive learning that is supported with the right resources.

Having passed one of the most progressive school funding plans in the nation — which provides resources to schools based directly on their students’ needs — Governor Jerry Brown and State Superintendent Tom Torlakson allocated $1.25 billion to professional development for teachers to support their ability to teach the Common Core. State leaders eliminated all of the old state tests while bringing in new and better Common Core assessments. These will be used, along with other measures, to inform instruction and professional development, not to punish children, schools, or teachers. State funds have meanwhile been invested in modernizing schools, improving instruction, adding technology, and expanding successful career academies….

the Common Core standards 
in California are an engine to 
drive better educational practice, 
not a hammer to threaten children, 
educators, and schools with failure.  
This new path has been succeeding.

When these measures identify struggling schools, intervention will come in the form of help from experts who are part of the California Collaborative — a new entity that will provide teams of educators to diagnose what’s working and what’s not — and will support ongoing improvement. Thus, the Common Core standards in California are an engine to drive better educational practice, not a hammer to threaten children, educators, and schools with failure.

This new path has been succeeding. In addition to registering the highest graduation rates in its history last year, at more than 80 percent, California had, between 2011 and 2013, the greatest growth it has ever had in student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, with gains three times larger than national averages in eighth-grade reading and math, far surpassing the improvements in most other states.

At the end of the day, the path on which California has embarked is more likely to produce a truly accountable educational system — one that ensures all students experience engaging learning in supportive schools that help them pave a path to a productive future, not just another test.

Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University and Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She began her career as a public high school English teacher and currently serves as chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Randi Weingarten is President of the 1.5 million member American Federation of Teachers and former President of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City. She was a social studies teacher at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, NY.

 It’s Time for a New Accountability in American Education.


  1. Once local communities have school control taken away from them by State and local government and the teachers unions there can be no accountability. The growth of charter schools and home schooling reflects the little accountability that can be expressed. It is a national tragedy supported by you know who?

  2. Barbara Astone, Littleton, NH says:

    This is a great article because it separates out the different strands of the controversy, (a) the learning standards themselves, (b) the instruments used to assess them, and (c) how the test results will be used for accountability in the different states.

    Nobody makes a good argument against the appropriateness of the actual learning goals these standards represent. What is wrong with asking schools to include problem solving, critical thinking, abstract reasoning, evidence-based reflection, and similar kinds of higher-order knowledge and skills in their curricula? I haven’t heard any persuasive arguments against these learning goals. They’re rigorous, but isn’t that what we’ve been calling for — higher expectations, less remediation after high school? Don’t we want our children to study a rigorous curriculum? It starts with rigorous standards.

    What I have heard are objections to how the goals were developed, but most of those arguments get the facts wrong. Other arguments are purely ideological — and equally misinformed — such as that government shouldn’t be involved in education. Public education has been state-governed, with additional federal funding, for over a hundred years. I’m not about to enter a discussion about the importance of public education — anyone who can’t see that for themselves doesn’t understand how democracy works.

    The assessment aspect of the Initiative is another matter. Naturally, curriculum and assessment go together. Any assessment regime will affect classroom instruction and curriculum. That’s why the multiple-choice standardized tests used ubiquitously have been such a disaster for education.

    State-wide standardized tests naturally have a bigger influence than local school-based tests, but we’ve had state-wide standardized tests for the past 60 years! The difference between past tests and the new Smarter Balanced is that the new one isn’t just multiple-choice — it’s much better because it provides for thoughtful responses wherein students can demonstrate what they know. (As a former educator, I think any standardized assessment regime will be faulty — individual learning doesn’t happen in a way that can be accurately mass-assessed on a yearly basis. But there are benefits that come with standardized testing that you can’t get any other way — comparability across schools and accountability are two important things that come to mind.)

    I haven’t seen enough of the test to speak about it in depth, but one thing I really like is that it’s computer adaptive. All individuals will be challenged because the test itself adapts to the student taking it — each question will depend on the student’s answers to previous questions. This yields much more information about each individual student’s performance that schools and teachers will be able to use to improve learning.

    I am heartened also by the fact that New Hampshire has determined not to use the test results punitively. This is very important if we want continuous improvement in schools, and fairness in teacher evaluations.

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