Two commentaries in the October 30, 2013 issue of Education Week caught my attention. Assistant professors Jack Schneider and Anil Nathan of Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts and Craig Hochbein at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania each authored separate but compelling opinion pieces on assessing school quality.
According to Schneider and Nathan school quality is a function of standardized testing and word of mouth, “mechanisms that are highly problematic and deserve close scrutiny”. Craig Hochbein weighs in with his commentary by pointing out how the “grading, judging and ranking of schools has spiraled out of control”.
Worst of all the authors point out that the current measures of school effectiveness are susceptible to manipulation and corruption and have failed to demonstrate an ability to bring about or sustain school improvement or to raise student performance.
The professors have the issues right. Current measures are too narrow. If we are going to be able to accurately assess the added value of a particular school and use that information to bring about meaningful and sustainable school improvement we need richer and more useful information.
However both commentaries offer less than perfect solutions to the issues they raise. In the case of Schneider and Anil they have recently designed a school rating tool in collaboration with the Boston Globe and Hochbein’s contributions to the debate appear to center on his research on school achievement factors and the effectiveness of policies intended to improve school performance.
I was disappointed that neither of the commentaries looked to their regional accrediting agencies in their pursuit of a more robust system of assessment. New England and the Middle States Associations each have a rich history of measuring school quality and bringing about school improvement. Both agencies for over 125 years have been looked to by colleges and universities as evaluators of school quality and both serve as gatekeepers for the U.S. Department of Education for schools seeking Title IV funding.
Accreditation is a process that through its self-study, adherence to established standards and improvement planning requirements addresses the assistant professors laments about the current approaches to school measurement and then some. Its requirements for broad based community involvement and support, public transparency and accountability, peer review and validation guarantee that more useful and richer information will be collected and used to make informed decisions about how to best improve student performance.
What we don’t need are new approaches to determining school quality co-sponsored by the press or more school improvement policy promulgated by politicians. We know what needs to be done and how to get it done. We simply need to start doing it.
Lehigh University and Holy Cross are accredited by the respective regional accrediting agencies and both institutions would resist, I am sure, efforts to substitute standardized testing and increased regulation for the thorough, rich and useful information that their institutions receive through the accreditation process.
I invite professors Schneider, Nathan, Hochbein and their colleagues interested in improving education to reach out to the regional accrediting agencies when pontificating about PK12 education to inform their discussion of what needs to be done with those of us who are actively engaged in getting it done.