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 by Louis Freedberg, who heads EdSource, a respected, authoritative source of information and policy analysis about California education.
It will come as a surprise to even seasoned observers of the education scene to read in the new Education Sector report On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service, that No Child Left Behind actually mandated a somewhat similar system in the United States, at least for schools that ran afoul of its accountability measures.
Section 1117 of the law requires districts to establish “support teams” for struggling schools—a mandate which has received a fraction of the attention in California, and, I imagine, in most other states compared to the plethora of NCLB mandates focusing on test scores and outcomes.
The California Department of Education website indicates that these support teams are “a priority strategy in supporting school districts’ efforts to serve their low-performing schools.”
Then the website states that the support teams are “still under development.”
During the current school year, 3,892 schools out of 6,157 Title 1 schools held “accountable” under NCLB—some 63 percent—are in “program improvement” (PI) this year, meaning that they have failed to hit the student achievement targets set by the state. An abysmal 85 exited PI.
Several principals of struggling PI schools have told me that they did not get enough help to turn themselves around. Had an “inspectorate” system as described by EdSector been in place in the United States or established during flusher times in California, is it just possible that a larger number of “program improvement” schools could have been turned around?
It is hard to imagine how the record could be much worse, at least as measured by NCLB’s accountability standards. On this count at least—the number of schools that exited “program improvement” or should have succeeded as a result of the inducements offered by NCLB—the law has been a near complete failure.
Section 1117 of the NCLB law requires states to convene support teams to help schools identified as being in need of “corrective action,” and spells out in great detail how these teams should be constituted and what their functions should be.
The teams bear some resemblance to the inspection teams described by Education Sector. A major difference is that the law did not call for in-classroom observations, a key responsibility of the English teams.
In California, the state established what it calls S4, a Statewide System of School Support, intended to help districts “build capacity to support low-performing schools.”
That apparently was in response to the daunting task of trying to assist thousands of struggling schools in California.
In place of support teams, California established “district/school liaison teams.” It is not clear what impact they have had on turning around PI schools. They have also been virtually invisible in the statewide, and national, reform debate.
It is of course impossible to say what might have been. But it is worth some examination why this portion of the law received so little attention, including the extent to which local school districts implemented it in an effective manner.
As the Education Sector report notes, inspection and assistance from local support teams along the lines of the British system can make a real difference. For that reason, it makes sense to again include the idea of support teams in the next iteration of NCLB.
But next time, the concept should be more clearly spelled out, and be made a far more prominent element in the national reform agenda.