To the Editor:
While I strongly agree with William G. Wraga’s desire to increase incentives for local problem-solving in schools (“Incentivizing Educational Ingenuity,” Commentary, Jan. 6, 2010), he mischaracterizes the standards-and-accountability movement when he claims it asks that all locales use the same practices. Such a movement would more aptly be called the “standardized practice” movement, not “standards and accountability.”
The principles of common standards and outcomes accountability should provide a great deal of freedom for teachers and schools to implement the practices they deem best suited to their particular educational challenges, while still maintaining the pursuit of equality of educational opportunity.
There are some things that all students need (and have a right) to learn in order to function well in adult society. Common standards work toward ensuring that every student has access to these lessons. In turn, accountability for meeting those standards is necessary, to prevent lower expectations for equally able students who happen to have been born into disadvantaged families—lower expectations that have demonstrably existed in some of our schools for decades.
With these two principles in action, there should be little need to dictate from afar pat solutions to unidentified problems, since the principles assume that teachers and schools are capable of identifying and resolving problems on their own.
Granted, the accountability consequences set forth in the federal No Child Left Behind Act resemble the one-size-fits-all approach Mr. Wraga decries, but this weakness on the part of a particular piece of legislation is not the fault of the principles of standards and accountability. His recommendations for improving the capacity for local problem-solving are spot on from the perspective of the standards-and-accountability movement. But, for the sake of justice, we dare not implement them outside of it.
Department of Educational Psychology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Local Decisionmaking and ‘Standardized Practice’