With the meat missing from NY’s accountability plan, this leaves just pure Fluffernutter

The New York Post Editorial Board is irate at the newly released draft of accountability rules for New York State public schools. Now that the feds have reauthorized No Child Left Behind as the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are left to their own devices in creating their own definition of school quality and accountability.  

New York’s plan, infused as it is with ineffable and subjective items like “school climate,” says the Post, merely offers “fresh proof that teachers unions are in the driver’s seat” and is “a complete capitulation to the teachers unions.”

Is this a fair assessment? Certainly, there’s ample room for concern. New York State, under the once firm (now flaccid) leadership of Andrew Cuomo, was first out of the box on adopting college and career-ready standards and assessments. But the Board of Regents has since discharged its aspirational members (courtesy of the State Assembly, truly a union vehicle) and is now a shadow of its former progressive self, led by the loud and proud anti-accountability booster Betty Rosa.

Meanwhile, the Governor has flip-flopped on Common Core as well as plans to tie tenure to classroom effectiveness. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio fiddles with small-bore improvement plans while long-struggling schools die slow deaths (see this piece in the New York Times) and fail students year after year.

But we’re not talking history, right? We’re talking the state’s new accountability plan. Let’s look.

Certainly, it’s engorged with enough edu-babble to send anyone into a hypnotic trance. But that doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it government issue. And there are some commendable items, like a list of elements for highly effective schools, a description of guiding principles for good accountability systems, a goal to offer Advanced Placement  courses more widely, and one real gem:

Accountability goals will include measures of student success after graduation from high school through gathering data on indicators such as post high school education, employment and military service, as soon as such data can be reliably collected.

That’s a fine goal, one often missing from assessments of school success. However, that last phrase (“as soon as data can be reliably collected) is a loophole large enough to drive a truck through.

Here’s the language from the accountability plan that got the Post in a lather:

The NYS accountability system will use state assessments that are valid, reliable, and developmentally, culturally and linguistically appropriate.

School accountability indicators will include multiple measures of progress and growth, and will not be based solely on measures of student achievement.

Ho hum? Not so much. Only guessing here, but if you asked anti-accountability mavens like Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris they would tell you that NO state assessment  is “valid, reliable, and developmentally, culturally and linguistically appropriate.”

So New York has cleverly enabled data-addled acolytes to drink some more opt-out Kool-Aid. And if no school or teacher can be assessed by student proficiency outcomes, then we’re left with the marshmallow fluff of “school climate” and “developmental health.”

Parents want information, not Fluffernutter. They expect school systems and oversight committees like the Board of Regents to privilege their children’s educational needs over adult fears of judgement.

Unlike the Post, I claim no inside knowledge on how teacher union leaders shaped this draft document. But New York State’s “accountability rules,” as currently written, undermine meaningful attempts to objectively gauge school quality.

What do you think?
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Laura Waters
Laura was weaned on education and equity issues because her mom was a social worker and her dad was a social studies teacher in New York City public schools. She can no more get this passion out of her blood than she can her New York accent, even though she has lived in Central Jersey now for over 20 years. She and her husband have four children, and her youngest has multiple disabilities. Laura has been on her local school board for 12 years. She keeps education leaders on their toes at NJ Left Behind.

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