Editor’s Note: Last week, Education Sector released On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service, which outlines how school inspections have become part of the accountability system in England. Would such a system work in the U.S.? We asked a variety of education experts to weigh in with their thoughts. We’ll share them throughout the week, and we encourage you to share your reactions as well.
Guest blog post written by David Plank, Research Professor at Stanford University School of Education and Executive Director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE).
After a decade of NCLB, the moment is clearly ripe for a smarter, more effective approach to school accountability and school improvement. Craig Jerald’s report can help to focus our thinking about what a new approach might entail, based on a review of the national school inspection system in England. Jerald raises critical questions about how we should measure school performance and how we should use that knowledge to make schools work better, and concludes that U.S. states should experiment with school inspections as a superior alternative to our current, formula-driven accountability system.
The idea of a schools inspectorate has already attracted policy attention in California. Governor Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Educational Excellence included a call for school inspections among their recommendations, and Governor Brown has recently identified inspections by local panels as a possible complement to standardized test scores in the evaluation of school performance.
Despite these glimmers of interest, though, it’s unlikely that the school inspections parade will march down Main Street in California anytime soon. The annual cost of school inspections would be relatively modest, according to Jerald, but with all of the education cuts that are waiting to be restored in California (instructional days, summer school, transportation, nurses, counselors, librarians) and the competing priorities that are waiting to be funded (early childhood education, broadband access for schools, Common Core implementation) the odds of finding $100 million per year to fund an inspectorate are vanishingly small. Governor Brown has already declared all policy initiatives that imply “cost pressures”—not to mention actual new expenditures—out of bounds.
But suppose that California did find $100 million locked in a budgetary cupboard somewhere—what are the chances that the state would use that money to establish a school inspectorate? In our present political environment the honest answer is zero. With Americans convinced that half of every dollar that government spends is wasted, persuading voters that a new state bureaucracy staffed by experts is the key to improving public schools is an unimaginably heavy lift. Persuading California teachers that creating an elite corps of inspectors to pass judgment on their schools would serve them better than NCLB poses an equivalent challenge. Sadly, therefore, I have put Jerald’s report into my fat and ever-expanding file of thoughtful and informative policy reports labeled “Good ideas—Going nowhere.”