Location, Location, Location

by Robert Pondiscio
February 19th, 2009

The real estate agent’s mantra — location, location, location — also works for schools.  Just as an identical home can fetch different prices in different places, an identical school can make AYP in some states, but not in others. 

That’s the upshot of a terrific new report by the Fordham Foundation, The Accountability Illusion, which looked at 36 actual schools (18 elementary, 18 middle schools) and determined whether each one would make AYP under the accountability rules of 28 different states.  No, they would not. 

In Massachusetts – a state that ensures students have to score high in order to be considered proficient and one with relatively challenging annual targets and AYP rules – only one of 18 elementary schools was projected to make AYP. In Wisconsin, with lower proficiency standards and more lenient annual targets and rules, 17 schools were projected to do so. Same kids, same schools – different states, different rules.

“In short,” the report concludes, ”how a school is labeled under NCLB depends largely on the state in which it’s located. This can demoralize educators in states with tough AYP rules while letting under-performing schools in lenient states slip under the accountability radar screen. It also creates the illusion of a national accountability system where there isn’t one.”

Here’s the executive summary of Fordham’s report, and here’s a video interview with Checker Finn about it.  And if you are one of those who prefers to laugh rather than weep in the face of outrage, Mathew Ladner of Jay Greene’s blog turns this whole miasma into a parody of the Budweiser “Real Men of Genius” ad campaign.  “Here’s to you, Mr. Wisconsin No Child Left Behind compliance guy!” Hilarious.

Can we now officially say that accountability as currently conceived and practiced is a joke?  A bad school in Massachusetts is a good school in Arizona. Failure in Nevada is magically redefined as success when it moves to Wisconsin.  Our crazy quilt of accountability systems only breeds cynicism about the whole enterprise (why improve schools when you can lower the bar?) and makes it baby simple to evade responsibility and all but impossible to reach informed conclusions about your child’s school. 

One standard, one yardstick, or else don’t bother.  Instead of location, location, location, let’s try transparency, transparency, transparency.

1 Comment »

  1. The current multi-standards are so unfair to everyone involved, not just educators, but parents and children as well. We need to end this apples to oranges comparison and have a strong coherent national curriculum. That’s when we can really start to make sense of what’s happenning in our schools.

    But you have others out there like Pianta saying curriculum doesn’t matter…only the teacher does. Well of course curriculum doesn’t matter, when it’s totally incoherent.

    Comment by Souzanne A. Wright — February 22, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

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