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Diane Ravitch Condemns 'Accountability', I Dissent, She Responds. So: Let's All Discuss It.

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Eric Zuesse

On August 29th, America's leading voice on 'reform' of k-12 education condemned President Obama for being supportive of 'accountability' in our educational system. Headlining "Why Is the Obama Administration Making War on Teachers," she closed by wondering, "Why did President Obama embrace the Republican agenda of testing, accountability, and choice?" She blanket-condemned there all three of those.

In a reader-comment (as "cettel22"), I responded to another reader's comment, which seemed to be endorsing Ravitch's opposition to "accountability." I pointed out that a falsely-measured 'accountability' should not be understood as diminishing the value of truthfully-measured accountability:

"The current formula [for evaluating teachers] calculates the performance of entire classes of students, not the improvement in performance of individual students -- the latter isn't even tracked at all; only the performance of the collective is. Consequently, teachers in rich districts, with well-endowed students, needn't worry -- their jobs are safe. It's only teachers in poorly-endowed districts who are jeopardized by the existing formula.

The current formula doesn't measure a given teacher's actual achievement (the improvement-percentage of his or her students) at all. Only by calculating the improvement in students' performance can that be tracked -- and it's not tracked; it is not the basis for evaluating teacher 'performance.'

The current formula is designed to turn the screws on teachers in poor districts. Those are the very same teachers who ought instead to be paid extra, because they face the most difficult and challenging jobs.

Obama is the friend of the rich and comfortable, and the enemy of the poor and uncomfortable.

You're fooled by his rhetoric."

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A reader then requested clarification, considering that the current education policies are "fully bipartisan," and I responded with this:

"The teachers' unions accept the jiggered formula for rating teachers. The reason they do is that the unions' leadership want to stoke the conflict, not to end it. The conflict would quickly end if management were to change the formula so as to rank performance on the percentage-improvement in each teacher's students during the course of a year under his instruction, instead of on the sheer performance of that teacher's students. Of course, the sheer performance will be relatively low in low-income, under-resourced, districts, and relatively high in affluent schools. Changing the formula would transform everything. But none of the elites would gain from that. All of the elites would lose from the change.

There would no longer be any motivation for gaming the system, such as by excluding from a school low-performing students. There would also no longer be faked test-scores, because only a student's improvement, or test-score-increase (as compared to that student's prior-year test-score) would count in calculating the given teacher's 'performance.' Everybody except the elites would gain, and everything would be much fairer. But in today's U.S., only the elites gain. As a result, all of the income-gains are going to the richest 1%. They're the only ones with power. They crush the lower 99%. So: we stay with ranking teachers on the basis of their students' test-scores, instead of on the basis of the improvement in their test-scores."

Then, I directly addressed a comment to Ravitch herself:

"Diane, if you continue to say that "accountability" is bad, then you are supporting Obama's entire agenda, because his basic agenda is to enforce responsibility (obligations upward in the power-structure, such as of employees to employers, and borrowers to lenders) but not accountability (obligations downward in the power-structure, such as of school-administrators to teachers, management to unions, etc.).

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Teachers aren't opposed to accountability. If teachers are evaluated according to proven-successful criteria for evaluating their individual performance, then teachers will support that. They won't support criteria that merely blame teachers when the system itself is rotten from top to (even including some teachers) bottom. They certainly won't support criteria that hold teachers accountable for, basically, teaching in the lowest-income and most-stressed school districts, the very same "hazardous-duty" districts that should instead be paying their teachers extra for teaching there.

Your use of the term "accountability" is sick, and it provides a very false view of the teaching profession. If anything, teachers want fair accountability, rather than the existing 'accountability' which is the reverse of that and rewards the teachers who need (and often deserve) it the least: the ones in rich districts -- the teachers of the rich."

Ravitch replied directly to this, by saying,

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You are arguing passed one another. Ravitch is arg... by Art Costa on Sunday, Aug 31, 2014 at 2:51:17 PM
Without truthful accountability, on the part of te... by Eric Zuesse on Sunday, Aug 31, 2014 at 6:27:45 PM
Hmmm. I'm not sure I'm intellectual enough to ente... by b. sadie bailey on Monday, Sep 1, 2014 at 11:23:06 AM
The true measure of teachers is complicated. Unle... by Sandra Parson on Monday, Sep 1, 2014 at 3:03:08 PM
Accountability has become the primary concept in t... by Dennis Kaiser on Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014 at 10:27:48 AM