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accountabilityNBER: When teachers and their schools are held accountable for the educational performance of their pupils and face consequences when the children do not measure up to goals, student grades in reading and mathematics do improve. However, the insistence by many American states in the 1990s on educational standards and testing for primary school students has not narrowed the educational gap between blacks and whites, although it did trim the Hispanic-white achievement gap.

These are the key findings of Does School Accountability Lead to Improved Student Performance? (free) by Eric Hanushek and Margaret Raymond. Their analysis of state achievement growth, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (some times referred to as the "Nation's report card"), is highly relevant to the drive by the federal government to improve educational performance across the nation. A central campaign theme of George W. Bush in his first bid for the White House was to expand educational accountability to all states. This goal was put into law with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Click here to continue reading.

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pauln meinte am 8. Feb, 04:33:
Accountability leads to "improved student performance" - but only on the standardized tests that the teachers now have to devote most of their time training their students to score well on. Many good teachers have left the profession in the US because the increasingly rigid state curriculum requirements are so stifling. Increased govt control over classrooms may or may not lead to increased performance on average (depending on how you measure it) but it definitely will result in decreased public school educational diversity and in all likelihood is a bad thing for the brightest students. I'm all for accountability, but I prefer it be based on local/parental decisions. 
Aulus Gellius antwortete am 8. Feb, 16:53:
Excellent comment, straight from the teachers' union talking points memo. Let us parse it sentence by sentence.

"Accountability leads to 'improved student performance' - but only on the standardized tests" -- presumably, some unmeasurable (or just unmeasured?) performance metric is declining. Data, please? Unless you provide data, I will call your assertion pure bullshit.

"increasingly rigid state curriculum requirements are so stifling" -- there is a body of knowledge and skills that kids have to acquire by high school graduation in order to succeed in the real world and in college. Reading, writing, arithmetic, calculus, two or three foreign languages, that sort of thing. Any calls for reduced standards for the sake of "educational diversity" are an abomination and a wrong done to our children. They are not "a bad thing for the brightest students" who need rigorous grounding in the basics in order to proceed in their intellectual development.

"Increased govt control over classrooms" -- this makes no sense. Public schools are, by definition, completely controlled and financed by government. You probably mean increased federal control. Fair enough, in an ideal world, there would be no need for federal intrusion into primary and secondary education. In the real world, however, there are places like New York City whose school system is an out of control bureaucratic boondogle, using children as a pretext to extort inordinate sums from the taxpayers for the benefit of public school bureaucrats and their unions. The system has a great incentive to provide declining quality of education, because lower performance leads to calls for more funding and thus more loot for insiders. Middle and upper classes have fled NYC public schools to the suburbs and to private schools in Manhattan. The victims of the system are poor kids in NYC who have no alternative but put up with the shoddy education provided by local schools, and look forward to a life of underachievement. Teachers' and bureaucrats' unions in NYC control the Democratic political machine thanks to their donations and grassroots organization; local initiative will not be able to dislodge their power. Federal involvement is the only hope that a poor NYC kid has for a better education.

The US has a free market tertiary education sector that is the best in the world. We have private secondary schools that are at least on par with the best in the world: Andover, Exeter, Groton, Choate, many others. We have public school districts that provide world class education for less than what NYC spends per pupil: Shaker Heights near Cleveland, Scarsdale and Great Neck near New York, Newton/Wellesley in Massachusetts, and surely many others. Even in New York City, there are schools whose principals have managed to provide excellent education: Park Slope High School in Brooklyn, or Bronx Science. We know how to provide good education, and we know what good education looks like. What we need is a weapon to break the stranglehold of teachers' unions on public education. No Child Left Behind is not that weapon (only vouchers will do that) but the screaming coming from the unions is a satisfying indication that NCLB, at least, moves in the right direction. 
pauln antwortete am 8. Feb, 21:46:
Settle down dude, I hate teachers' unions as much as you do. But what you are advocating is not a free market in education, but a centrally-planned one.

A good, and easy to measure, proxy for educational outcomes are SAT or ACT scores. You can choose to believe what you'd like to be true, but these standardized test scores haven't improved over time.

I'm not calling for reduced standards. In fact, no US federal standard requires any proficiency in calculus for high schoolers. My concern is exactly that teachers subject to these standards and govt. standardized tests are forced to spend their time ensuring that their poor students learn very basic concepts so their classroom failure rate on the tests is as low as possible, and as a result they have less time to devote to their bright students. My brother used to be a teacher, and quit for exactly this reason. His lesson plans became essentially mandated by the state; he had virtually no freedom to implement the methods he saw fit. When I refer to reduced "educational diversity" I'm talking about the dumbing down of teachers' lessons brought about by NCLB and the like (not some flowery "let's sit in circles and talk about our feelings" mumbo-jumbo).

The private schools you cite are excellent specifically because they are nearly free from curriculum requirements, and are free to tailor lessons to suit their students' strengths. This attracts the best teachers. Public schools that are successful usually have an intelligent student body to begin with, and teachers want to teach these students.

It's tempting to turn to the federal government for help every time something doesn't work, but history has shown that decentralized control (vouchers are a great example) is more effective in almost every case.