Welcome back Dean Millot:
At the least, NCLB accountability implies a new allocation of decision authority between schools and districts – along with the relevant capacity, and entirely new capacities. Details matter, but the general direction of change is apparent. Schools need the authority and resources to determine and meet the educational needs of individual students. The central office needs to support schools in their non-educational functions.
NCLB's almost inevitable centralization of authority at the district level combined with a focus on accountability at the school level is what makes NCLB feel like a trap at the school level. Teachers get more pressure and less control at exactly the same time, and as the pressure increases, teacher autonomy does down further, the pace of seemingly arbitrary changes in policy accelerates, etc.
Here is how I look at it.
NCLB centralizes accountability at the state education agency level, according to standards the agencies set within criteria and processes "hard wired" by the federal law's AYP provisions.
Specific measures of merit, academic levels, or standards are not mandated by NCLB or the Department of Education. The law does does mandate the consequences for school and district failure but, even here, leaves vast discretion with state officials - for example om the nature of "reconsitition."
No provision of NCLB requires a centralization of decision authority for states, districts and schools to meet the standards the states have set. NCLB is completely agnostic on this matter. A state is perfectly within its rights to make every school a charter school, privatize the whole system, keep the system pf district operated schools we have today, or operate schools from the state level like Hawaii.Indeed, anything different would implicate the state's 10th Amendment rights.
"Teachers get more pressure and less control at exactly the same time, and as the pressure increases, teacher autonomy does down further, the pace of seemingly arbitrary changes in policy accelerates, etc" not because of any provision you will find in NCLB, but because of the more fundamental rule that "people who don't know what they're doing, they do what they know." The managers of centrally controlled school districts don't know how to reallocate authority and accountability down to schools. They do know how to exercise tighter control. So that's what they do. But they are not "required" to exercise tighter control by law, they simply think it's the only way to get better results.
My own view, as stated in the series you noted, is that a system based on individual student outcomes rather than average student performance is to push authority and power over teaching and learning down to the school and its staff. The fact that districts are trying to meet AYP by exercising tighter control over schools reveals the shortcomings not of NCLB, but of centralization.
While the law does not explicitly require centralization, its design creates a strong incentive to do so. To the teacher on the ground it doesn't really matter whether this is a direct or indirect result of NCLB.
I think you need to explain specifically how NCLB creates the strong incentive, rather than simply assert that it does, and why this tendency towards centralization is a function of NCLB rather than the preexisting legal, historical and cultural history of school district organization and administration in the states. I think I've laid out a plausible argument for why the legislation itself incemtivizes districts to push authority down to the school, even while history resistys. You have basically just said "it ain't so" and left it there." I'm happy to let readers decide for themselves rather than draw this out, but unless you are preaching to the choir, you owe an explanation that links cause (NCLB) to effect (further centralization). I'd just like to see the case spelled out.
You probably have a point in theory. But in practice, I have not observed or heard of any school districts responding to NCLB by decentralizing decision making. I haven't heard of ANY. Well, maybe New Orleans, but that's an outlier.
So from my point of view it is an academic argument. If you set up a law to incentivize a certain behavior, and virtually nobody picks up on that, and does the opposite, it is a flawed law.
NCLB would violate the 10th Amendment if it mandated decentralization. As for failure, I just can't agree. Put enough schools and districts in need of improvement - something bound to happen if NCLB were to remain in place, and decentralization would happen because districts would have no other plausible choice. This - not kids - is the root of political resistance to NCLB itself, and efforts to gut the law's accountability provisions. Centralization has become a value and an objective in and of itself to support a power structure that is based on central control. The teacher on the ground feels only the pain of NCLB accountability transmitted from the central office - without the concomitant authority required to do the job properly. Its very easy too accept the idea from up top that the problem is NCLB rather than the centralized system that's really just passing the buck down to teachers. I am quite sympathetic to the problem.
Readers, especially teachers might want to listen to my podcast here:
On the inevitability of institutional resistance to change listen also to:
I just don't see this actually happening: "Put enough schools and districts in need of improvement - something bound to happen if NCLB were to remain in place, and decentralization would happen because districts would have no other plausible choice." I'm looking forward to your next installment in the capacity series.
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