Thompson: Welcoming The "New" Kevin Carey
The 1990s was a time when the entire New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society approach to social justice was reappraised. Digital breakthroughs seemed to promise data-driven solutions to economic and social problems. During the Clinton boom years, some speculated that computer systems could be more accurate than doctors in diagnosing illnesses. Others believed that they even made economic cycles a thing of the past.
Since 2001, Kevin Carey has exemplified that era's commitment to accountability-driven school reform. He argued that inequitable schools were the result of "a basic ethical failing." In 2004, he even claimed that value-added evaluations were a "verifiable" way of improving teacher quality in low-performing schools.
But times have changed, and for that reason, Carey's Education Sector report, "Some Assembly Required: Building a Better Accountability System for California," is great news. It is a joy to welcome Carey to the old-fashioned data-informed approach to school improvement. Even better, Carey explains his kinder, gentler approach to accountability with perceptive observations that have previously been made by Deborah Meier and Richard Rothstein.
Moreover, NCLB-type accountability empowered state and district administrators who "were not trained or well-positioned to make" high stakes judgments. He also acknowledged that Bush era "growth model experiments had little effect - relatively few low-performing schools were getting growth to put students on a short-run proficiency trajectory."
The most intriguing part of Carey's new approach is his diplomatic description of how and why educators concluded that test-driven accountability systems were illegitimate. To the new generation of reformers, a commitment to measuring outcomes "rose to the level of moral urgency." But, now he understands, "Systems seen as illegitimate tend to produce antagonistic relationships with those being held accountable."
Carey doesn't mention value-added evaluations. But, I would read the following as a repudiation of hypothesis that a statistical model can drive evaluations of individuals or schools, "It is simply impossible to design an accountability system that contains enough information and interprets that information effectively through the exclusive use of defined rules."
Carey concludes with a proposal that should unite stakeholders as diverse as California Governor Jerry Brown and the reform think tank, the Education Sector. He does so by borrowing the concept of data-informed accountability, which has long been articulated by Deborah Meier. Echoing Richard Rothstein, he endorses Craig Jerald's call for an "inspectorate" of trained, impartial inspectors. We should welcome recognition of the "inherent complexity of educational institutions - a complexity that cannot be captured by a Scantron machine and a rulebook."
And, we should also applaud when Carey articulates the best definition of accountablity that I have heard. He praises an improving school, Audubon, and then asks:
What should happen when schools like Audubon perform as they do? And what about all the other schools that lie elsewhere on the distribution of proficiency and growth - not to mention the distribution of graduation rates, success in college and the workforce, and other measures deemed important enough to include in accountability systems? This is a crucial question - indeed, accountability systems exist for no other reason than to pose it.
- JT(@drjohnthompson) via.