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Beware efforts to kill accountability

On Monday, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association passed a resolution supporting the elimination of the Denver Public Schools School Performance Framework. DCTA’s reasons:

  • It’s too expensive.
  • The vast majority of teachers surveyed by DCTA said the SPF doesn’t “motivate educators to make meaningful improvements to students’ education.”
  • The district should be focused on “maintaining the well-being of our students…rather than building new platforms or metrics for accountability.” (Apparently it is OK to shift focus from wellbeing to gutting the autonomy of innovation schools. Just don’t shift it to accountability.)

DCTA endorses replacing the district SPF with the state’s framework, which uses fewer measures to evaluate school performance. Boardhawk has run a compelling column arguing that Denver should keep its SPF. Give it a read.

Then, on Wednesday, the Colorado Education Association, DCTA’s big sister, issued a press release urging the state not to make budget cuts that hurt public education. Fair enough. That what you’d expect CEA’s position to be. It’s what it should be.

But then the release strikes a discordant note. Among the three actions CEA demands the legislature take before “further cuts to the K-12 education system are even considered” is this:

Pause the accountability system and redirect funds currently allocated to some grants and mandates in order to free up local resources.

The total budget for Information Technology Services in the Colorado Department of Education budget — where the state SPF resides — is just over $4 million. SPFs are just a fraction of that. That’s not enough to put much of a dent in the $3 billion-plus budget deficit Colorado is facing. So that rationale seems questionable.

It’s going to be hard to evaluate teachers or assess schools for the 2019-20 school year, given that nearly a third of the year was lost to COVID-19. But there’s clearly an effort afoot to ensure there is no accountability system in Denver or anywhere else this year and very possibly next year as well. Once that goal is accomplished, it’s not hard to imagine an intense lobbying campaign going forward to do away once and for all with those bothersome measurements of school quality.

Standardized test scores are but one way of measuring school and educator performance, and a flawed one at that. But some of us can remember back to the days when it was almost impossible to find disaggregated data about how various subgroups of kids were performing in individual schools. Those are not days to which anyone should want to return.

And that should be especially true for people who insist that educational equity is priority number one. How can you ensure equity without measurement?