How GOP Rep. Duncan Misses The Point On School Accountability

Our guest bloggers are Theodora Chang, an education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Jennifer Steck, an intern with the education policy team at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

In a committee hearing yesterday on “Education Reforms: Ensuring the Education System is Accountable to Parents and Communities,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) criticized federal measures of school accountability as “one-size fits-all” approaches that do not work for states, and praised several local efforts to improve education. In his opening statement, Rep. Hunter (R-CA) made this argument:

Instead of forcing a narrow and inflexible system on states and school districts, the federal government should encourage state and local officials to create new approaches for measuring student achievement and engaging parents and community members in the performance of schools…In my home state of California, some 1,300 schools are persistently failing. Rather than stand by and wait for the federal government to do something about it, parents have been banding together to demand change in their local schools.

What Hunter failed to acknowledge is that federal accountability measures played a key part in creating some of the very examples that he cites. The current Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind, was instrumental in pushing states and districts to report data on student achievement, including test scores, which were cited by many parents as the motivation behind their campaigns for change. Perhaps most importantly, the law required that student achievement data be disaggregated by race, poverty level, and disability status to illuminate achievement gaps.

Even the parent trigger law advocated by Hunter includes a place for federal accountability measures — it says that parents can petition for changes at their child’s school if the school has not made “Adequate Yearly Progress,” a benchmark measure established under No Child Left Behind, for four consecutive years. The fact is that by requiring that achievement data be made available to parents, students, and the general public, the federal government is giving communities necessary information.

Maintaining a federal focus on accountability is vital to keeping parents and school officials informed and motivated to act. Without it, parents and schools officials have limited information with which to keep their schools accountable. Perhaps Hunter should have considered giving the federal government a little credit where credit was due.