"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Bernie Shows His Ignorance about "Accountability"

When Bernie Sanders was asked recently about why he always votes for corporate education reform, he said the short answer was "accountability."  

Apparently, he knows nothing about the racist underpinnings of "accountability."  That, or his bold statements on equality and equity and non-racist practices mean nothing.  

In case it is the former, I include below a clip from our book, The Mismeasure of Education, which may help his understanding of how "accountability" has been an instrument of racism.

“Sound and Cheap”

There is the fact that some skills are clearly more measurable than others, and that some most
highly prized intellectual characteristics (creativity, ingenuity, motivation) are hard to measure at all.  –Alice Rivlin (1973)
         By the end of the 1960s, a backlash was taking hold in both the South and the North to compensatory education programs [as ESEA] and desegregation efforts. Analysis of the Coleman Report (Mosteller & Moynihan, 1972) zeroed in on the negative effects of families on test scores and the limited effects of additional resources to raise achievement in poor schools. On the national political stage, Richard Nixon used race as a wedge issue in 1968 and exploited resistance to the War on Poverty to peel off support among disaffected Southern Democrats angered by Democratic alignment with the Civil Rights Movement.  By late 1969, Nixon had a name for the new permanent voting bloc he hoped to build for Republicans based on “the Southern Strategy,” and in a speech (Nixon, 1969) on Vietnam in November of that year, he appealed to a new constituency he labeled the “Silent Majority” by declaring their rightful role in maintaining social order for the entire history of America,
. . . the policy of this Nation has been made under our Constitution by those leaders in the Congress and the White House elected by all of the people. If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this Nation has no future as a free society.
In 1970 the new champion of the Silent Majority was ready to challenge the compensatory education programs that had become the vehicle for delivering Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in schools.  In a “Special Message to Congress on Education Reform” (Nixon, 1970) on March 3, Nixon began with “American education is in urgent need of reform,” and directly came to the reasons why:
         We must stop letting wishes color our judgments about the educational effectiveness of many special compensatory programs, when--despite some dramatic and encouraging exceptions--there is growing evidence that most of them are not yet measurably improving the success of poor children in school . . . . Years of educational research, culminating in the Equal Educational Opportunity Survey of 1966 have, however, demonstrated that this direct, uncomplicated relationship does not exist. 
         The President’s speech called for a new focus on school outputs rather than inputs, along with the creation of a new National Institute of Education to  “lead in the development of educational output.”  In initiating “a new concept: accountability,” Nixon called for new “dependable measures” even at the local level: “School administrators and school teachers alike are responsible for their performance, and it is in their interest as well as in the interest of their pupils that they be held accountable.”
A year later Nixon appointed Sidney Marland, Jr. to operationalize his new accountability concept within the Office of Education, and Marland proved eager to apply “management by objective” strategies toward creating a “science of evaluation” that sounded strikingly similar to Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “scientific management principles” from sixty years earlier:
Once large objectives have been hammered out, each must be broken into specific and carefully defined sub-objectives.  Accountability is implicit from day to day and from month to month as all echelons in the Office of Education focus their energies on the objective and its sub-objectives and perform the various tasks which lead to their completion (Marland, 1972, as cited in Martin, Overholt, & Urban, 1976, pp. 70-71).
Though Marland’s further speculations on the future of accountability would be off in terms of timing, he could not have been more of a visionary in regards to the eventual outcome:
Indeed, within our time—perhaps within the next ten years—there could well be a nationwide accounting process or institution which would act like a certified public accountant in business, objectively assessing the success and failure of our schools and reporting the findings to the public. . . . [on] how productively are our teachers being used . . . (p. 71). 
We may see, then, the die as cast in the first years of the Nixon Era for another generation of “objectively assessing” schools in ways that would continue to cast doubt on the effectiveness and efficiency of compensatory programs for the poor, while turning concerns for raising student achievement into an obsessive fixation on test scores for a shrinking number of subjects.
         Haney and Reczak (1994) found that the federal education clearinghouse and database, ERIC, began using “educational accountability” as a descriptor in 1970, when nine documents using the term were collected and made accessible by ERIC.  
The graph above represents our recent search of all ERIC publications, including documents, journal articles, and books, from 1966 when ERIC was established through 2011. The second steepest increase in publication activity occurred from 1971 to 1972, when the number of found items increased from 142 to 440.  That sharp increase cannot match, however, the rise in the number of found items between 2008 and 2009, when the number shot up from 1,591 to 1,934.  In 2010, the number of items reached 2,200.  It took thirty years, in fact, for the number of citations per year to reach a thousand, and it has taken only thirteen years for the number of ERIC entries per year to go to over 2,200.  Note, however, the sharpest one-year decline ever in the number of citations for 2010-2011, when the number plummeted by over 400 entries.
          “Accountability” means “the ability to deliver on promises” (Lessinger cited in Glass, 1972), and “an accountable relationship between seller and buyer involves three elements: 1) disclosure concerning the product or service being sold, 2) product or performances testing, 3) redress in the event of false disclosure or poor performance” (p. 636).  Accountability has not always meant the same thing to all people in the many different situations for which the term has been applied, but the field of education in particular has developed more unique misuses of the term than could be expected, even of a sub-discipline that borrows liberally and regularly terms and concepts from more respected disciplines for which such facile transfer remains entirely inappropriate. Forty years ago, Glass noted that
The term [accountability] drips with excess meaning. In recent months it has been applied variously to 1) the statement of instructional objectives, 2) performance contracting, 3) voucher systems, 4) economic input-output analysis, 5) accreditation, 6) community participation, and so forth. How can a word that means so much mean anything at all?” (p. 636).
If the narrowing of focus over time can be counted as a virtue, then the last four decades have brought Goodness to the field of educational accountability,  as the term’s unmistakable usage in schools has come to be associated with the repeated performance testing of products for which the clerks (teachers) and even the customers (children and parents) are held liable, in this case for a product line for which the manufacturers (policy elites and the education industry) reap the rewards while accepting none of the responsibility for quality.
If 1970 signaled the beginning of the new era when “accountability” that would bleed into almost every thread of the schooling fabric, then 1990 marks the beginning of a second generation of an accountability and standards movement. Before we go there to examine what happened to exhort accountability reformers at the end of the 1980s, we must first look briefly at what happened at the beginning of the decade.   A thirty-year fitful history of attempts to establish a more equitable public education system ended with a whimper during Ronald Reagan’s first term as President.  The shift came as no surprise, however, for Reagan had clearly signaled during early campaign swings throughout the South that he was a believer in “states’ right,” and if elected, he would work to “restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there”  (The Neshoba Democrat, Nov. 15, 2007).  Education policy was at the top of Reagan’s restoration list, and he was unambiguous that, if elected, federal attempts to steer education policy toward compensatory efforts would be seriously curtailed.  In Meridian, Mississippi on August 3, 1980, Reagan warmed up the Neshoba County Fair crowd with one liners aimed at Ted Kennedy, who at the time was mounting a challenge to President Jimmy Carter’s incumbency: “They're having quite a fight in that conventions that's coming up. Teddy Kennedy-I know why he's so interested in poverty: He never had any when he was a kid.”  With wife Nancy sitting near him on stage in a rocking chair, Reagan did not waste time getting to the message that the crowd came to hear:
I believe that there are programs like . . . education and others, that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them, and let the people [applause drowns out end of statement].  I believe in state's rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level.
         By 1983, Reagan had honed his message to clearly suggest that civil rights enforcement had been the culprit for what was described as a growing crisis in education, which the Administration’s alarmist document, A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), declared as a national emergency.  In a speech to build support for the reform agenda laid out in ANAR, the President implied that civil rights enforcement was responsible for the downturn in test scores:
The schools were charged by the federal courts with leading in the correcting of long-standing injustices in our society. Racial segregation. Sex discrimination. Lack of support for the handicapped. Perhaps there was just too much to do in too little time (Mondale & Patton, 2001, p. 186).
         What Reagan’s provocative remarks fail to acknowledge is that, between 1964 and 1980, the United States had gone from what Gary Orfield describes as an apartheid system of schooling in nineteen states to a largely integrated single system that included most racial groups, students with disabilities, and English language learners. And even with the influx of children whose educational opportunities had been sharply curtailed or denied previously, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed trends in average scale scores in reading, math, and science either unchanged or slightly improving for 9 and 13 year olds from its inception in 1971 to 1983, when Reagan’s Commission on Excellence declared in ANAR the nation’s schools were in crisis, based on falling test scores.  The drop in SAT and ACT scores, which had coincided with the end of apartheid schooling, was largely attributable to changing characteristics of test takers that, in fact, had bottomed out and started moving back up four years before Reagan came to Washington (Stedman & Kaestle, 1985).  Even the NAEP averages for 17 year-olds, which had declined slightly in math and science, had bottomed out and started back up again prior to 1983, when ANAR offered this alarming assessment that went viral even before the internet:
If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might very well have viewed it as an act of war.  As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. . . . We have, in effect, been committing an act of unilateral educational disarmament (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 5).
         As historian James Anderson (Mondale & Patton, 2001) points out, the significant strides by “groups that had lagged way behind and had not had access to good public education . . . was lost because of concern over the economy, which we blamed on the schools” (p. 186).  In effect, policy elites pronounced an educational catastrophe that called for stronger accountability measures, school choice in the form of private school vouchers, and more the introduction of “market-driven” reforms (Berliner & Biddle, 1995) that disguised the effects of myopic economic policies and an insular arrogance by the U. S. auto industry, which failed to retool or adjust in the face of foreign competition.  Too, the mythical school meltdown reported in ANAR created a policy space for new initiatives aimed to challenge the “the public school monopoly” (Everhart, 1982) and the social policy advances emanating from past federal actions such as the Civil Rights Act, ESEA, Title IX, the Bilingual Education Act, and IDEA.  If there had been a meltdown in student test scores, it would have ended before the Reagan Revolution could ever came to Washington, intent as it was upon trading in the goals of equality and equity for the efficiency-seeking and less expensive ones of higher standards and more test based accountability.
         Even though NAEP and SAT test scores were on the way back up to pre-desegregation levels before Republicans swept into office in 1980, Reagan’s criticism of public schools escalated during his two terms.  By 1988 when George H. W. Bush was elected as President, congressional Democrats had been successfully cowed by Reagan’s aggressive attacks that were eagerly parroted by the mass media, which was eager to repeat Reagan’s popular rhetorical flourishes, such as this one (Reagan, 1983) delivered to promote ANAR in 1983:
You’ve [the Commission] found that our educational system is in the grip of a crisis caused by low standards, lack of purpose, ineffective use of resources, and a failure to challenge students to push performance to the boundaries of individual ability -- and that is to strive for excellence….So, we'll continue to work in the months ahead for passage of tuition tax credits, vouchers, educational savings accounts, voluntary school prayer, and abolishing the Department of Education. Our agenda is to restore quality to education by increasing competition and by strengthening parental choice and local control.

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