• by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2003
Music is a passion of many people, and the effects of choral singing produce an excitement that is hard to describe. There is nothing quite as exciting as a group of individuals coming together, raising their collective voices in the production of a well-rehearsed, beautifully executed song.
Rod Paige, the U.S. Secretary of Education, began to “sing a song” last year when President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act. He said, “For too long, many of our schools did a good job educating some children, with this new law, we’ll make sure we’re providing all of our children with access to high quality education” (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).
This was truly music to many ears. It seemed so familiar. The ring of it was so right. It was like a song we had heard before – wait a minute, it is a song we have heard before. Some, like the federally-funded equity assistance centers, have been singing it for almost 30 years. What is new about the current rendition? It may be a new obbligato line that has been added called accountability.
In music, an obbligato is a musical part that, when present, must be performed as formidably as the melody. “All students meeting high standards,” is the melody everyone is now singing. But the obbligato must be, “with everyone being held accountable for student success or failure.”
The administration has asserted:
The No Child Left Behind Act is designed to help all students to meet high academic standards… Data will be disaggregated for students by poverty levels, race, ethnicities, disabilities, and limited English proficiencies to ensure that no child – regardless of his or her background – is left behind… Districts and schools that do not make sufficient yearly progress toward state proficiency goals for their students first will be targeted for assistance and then be subject to corrective action and ultimate restructuring” (2002).
The work of the equity assistance centers, including the Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) South Central Collaborative for Equity, has always centered on access for children to quality education regardless of race, gender, or national origin. Since the inception of these centers in 1974, the charge has been to work with school systems and all education stakeholders to ensure that learners have non-discriminatory access to schools and the programs within those schools.
While the mandates did not specifically mention disability and economic circumstance, it has been difficult not to include these two identifiers in the equity assistance centers’ collective call for quality education for all.
Since 1986, the equity assistance centers have consistently called for strong accountability for education stakeholders as a way of ensuring equitable access to quality education for all learners. This advocacy effort resulted in a publication entitled, The Resegregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation (Network of Regional Desegregation Assistance Centers, 1989).
Additionally, organizations like IDRA have a history of advocacy of strong accountability (see box). Now that there is an administrative voice, a presidential call for action, accountability, and change that has joined the chorus, the major question is whether this voice will make a difference.
It can make a difference if the following things occur.
- The accountability measures do not blame and victimize the very learners they are established to support;
- The educational reform that is sought in public schools is meaningful, purposeful, deep, broad, and based upon the best of what we know from good research;
- Educators and other stakeholders do not use it as a weapon to save their own necks at the expense of others;
- The accountability measures are tied to real opportunities for learning for all students;
- The state standards and the tests to which the accountability measures are tied that will assess students are fair, realistic, and reflect what is actually taught in schools;
- The power managers of the educational system value ensuring students achieve more than they care about protecting the system itself;
- Those who must act in whatever role and capacity they have do so with honesty, integrity, and the fierce determination that the educational system will work to educate and serve students;
- Those who are undermining the success of all students, whether through ignorance or by design, are uncovered, compelled to change and grow with assistance and support, or are removed to prevent further damage to learners; and
- The new outcome we seek to create with the No Child Left Behind Act is genuine reform and not political fodder for someone’s next run for the gold.
Educators, administrators and policymakers will have to be courageous, honest, focused, persistent, and resilient to make the No Child Left Behind Act work in a way to benefit learners. Accountability efforts can not be reduced to smoke and mirrors.
The equity assistance centers have been singing this accountability song for a very long time. The No Child Left Behind Act is not a new song. Sure enough, the arrangement is different, but it has been sung before. Others have now joined the chorus. Hopefully, the music will not be a hodge podge of dissonant voices this time. It may be possible for us to sing a good song if we harmonize the tune appropriately and really work at it. Who knows, we may even produce a new outcome for all students this time.
Resources on Accountability
“Bridging the Digital Divide in Our Schools – Achieving Technology Equity for All Students,” by Laura Chris Green, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2000).
“Coming of Age,” by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2001).
“The E-Rate and the Battle for Equity in Educational Technology,” by Felix Montes, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 1998).
“Equity Principles and School Reform: What It Takes to Ensure that ‘All Means All,’” by Adela Solís, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
“The Fourth Generation of Desegregation and Civil Rights,” Bradley Scott, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 1995).
“From ‘DAC’ to ‘EAC’ – The Expanding Role of the Equity Assistance Centers,” by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
Multicultural Education: A Generation of Advocacy by José A. Cárdenas, Ed.D. (Needham Heights, Mass: Simon and Schuster, 1999).
“Successful Bilingual Education Programs,” by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. and Josie Danini Cortez, M.A. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2003).
“We Should Not Kid Ourselves: Excellence Requires Equity,” Bradley Scott, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
“Who’s at the Table? Or Is There Room Enough for All?” by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 1998).
Network of Regional Desegregation Assistance Centers. The Resegregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation (Portland, Ore.: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1989).
Network of Regional Desegregation Assistance Centers. Desegregation Assistance at Work Today for Tomorrow (Chevy Chase, Md.: Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, 1994).
Network of Regional Desegregation Assistance Centers. The Road to Equity in Education: Milestones on an American Journey (Portland, Ore.: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1997).
U.S. Department of Education. No Child Left Behind – A Desk Top Reference (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2002).
Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is a senior associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2003 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]