Should schools be accountable? Yes. But here's a test.
Go to a wealthy suburb filled with parents who are well educated and tell me what you find when you ask about test scores and their feelings about accountability. My guess you'll find schools that brag. Then go to an urban school plagued by gangs, guns and drugs in the community and see what you find in schools there. My guess is that you'll find a lot of unsung heroes telling you about how they are struggling to do more with less (and a heck of a lot of dissatisfied parents and students, too).
Now imagine yourself teaching in the wealthy suburban school. I assume you can somewhat easily visualize being successful in your new job. Now imagine yourself working in the latter school. My guess is that you see yourself struggling to some degree.
Guess which one job pays more? Guess which job has nicer facilities? Guess which job has a clean bathroom to pee in and a place where the teachers' cars will not be vandalized?
Now, last question. Think hard. Don't our nation's most needful children deserve our nation's best educators?
I think you can clearly see that very few of the best and the brightest are making a B-line to public education's most challenging jobs. So really, how can you compare the two as apples to apples, especially if you are dead-set on administering the same test to both of them in the name of accountability? This is why I am so leery of the word "accountability." Politicians have turned it into a catch phrase, a sound bite, but here's a newsflash: OUR NATION IS DIVERSE! We have so many different contributing factors that it's very challenging to assess bona fide school performance and a one-size fits all approach is at best misleading and at worst destructive. This is why so many teachers are up in arms about NCLB and the government's oversimplified recipe for demanding accountability. It's not black and white in public education. More typically, it's a lot of grey in between and oversimplifications deprecate the contributions of so many people who are working so hard.
Yet, there is a way to restructure NCLB's aim of accountability. It's called growth models. It's a simple concept, really. Instead of measuring this year's crop of kids against last year's crop of kids (and remember, NCLB is measuring different kids as compared to different kids year after year. How silly is that?) measure a kid's ability at the start of the year and then measure that same kid's ability at the end of the year.
And then track that same kid's growth over the course of his schooling.
Accountability would then be linked to a measure of schools by how much their kids grow over the course of a year in their classrooms. (And don't use standardized tests - let's mix in a few elements of authentic growth assessment here like the implementation of student portfolios, writing samples, reading measurements, project-based learning demonstrations, etc.) If you measure growth, suddenly we are having a different conversation. The playing field is much more equal when the test becomes a kid being measured against his own prior performance. Athletes see it in the gym. Stock traders see it in their bottom lines. How come schools don't look for growth in students? We don't even measure the same child from last year to this year. It's crazy.
Of course, the question then becomes, "Well, who is going to grade all this stuff?"
Uh, the teachers, like they have always done.
So let's get right down to it, NCLB doesn't trust our nation's teachers. That's why it punishes us; that is why it legislates us without having first sought our genuine input; that's why it castigates us.
NCLB stigmatizes educational professionals. And guess what? It stings badly and the results are bad for all of us.
People can go on demanding they want accountability for all schools but you know what the absolute best measure is? See how many teachers send their own kids to that school. When teachers send their own kids to the school it means things are okay. And when they don't it means things need improvement.
My little test just saved the U.S. government at least 50 billion dollars. But will they use it? I doubt it. But should you?
Look around at our nation's school. My measurement is perfectly valid.