New Community-Based Approach to Accountability Featured on PBS-TV EdTalk

How can we banish No Child Left Behind’s top-down and narrow paradigm? Local control has been a bedrock principle of public schooling in America since its inception. NCLB sent us in the opposite direction of this traditional notion. A return to a traditional locally-based educational policy can be again realized via a multiple measures approach to accountability that is democratically decided on the community level.  On Sunday October 20 at 1:30 CST, a 12 minute EdTalk will air live on KLRU PBS-TV Austin. I will provide an introduction to a new approach to NCLB, testing, and accountability that we have dubbed Community-Based Accountability. This EdTalk is part of a new show on PBS called Blackademics Television.


Call your local PBS station and ask them to syndicate the Blackademics on PBS-TV in your area. To see the 12-minute Blackademics Television EdTalk on Community-Based Accountability now and for free— click on the video link below. The Community-Based Accountability talk begins at about 13:58.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 12.51.14 AM

Here are the Community-Based Accountability Executive Summary and Key Features. Please forward and circulate widely. These are living documents and will be revised as feedback and comments occur.

For all Cloaking Inequity’s posts on Community-Based Accountability go here.

If you would like for me to make a CBA pitch to your legislators— let them know. 🙂 If you like the community-based, bottom-up approach to accountability, forward the links to the Executive Summary and Key Features to interested parties.

Please Facebook Like, Tweet, etc below and/or reblog to share this discussion with others.

Want to know about Cloaking Inequity’s freshly pressed conversations about educational policy? Click the “Follow blog by email” button in the upper left hand corner of this page.

Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

Click here for Vitae.

Please blame Siri for any typos.

Special thanks to Dr. Kevin Foster and the  UT-Austin Department of African and African Diaspora Studies for producing Blackademics.



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  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Alharris161, you wrote:

    “My place in this world is not to fight that long term strategic fight, but to fight a more tactical/operational level fight day-to-day in the poor community where I live, making a difference with the limited sphere of influence I possess. And if KIPP or Noble or another proven charter comes to my neighborhood asking to build a new school, I’ll feel no regret at all responding “yes, please come help us, I can’t wait 30 years”.

    Thank you, Alharris161, for your insight, honesty, and for demonstrating the dilemma that those of us in schools and communities face. Thank you too, for the undeserved kind words! You have done a “Strategic” service and I’ve enjoyed your writing very much. I’m 70 and can’t wait 30 years, either!

    In my case, I had the kind of opportunity of which you speak. Not with a “corporate charter” but, with a school district charter from an adjoining county that I found for my community. A charter I helped “create” when the “public” alternatives, “in our district-county” that I work for, and that I also suggested; were exhausted.

    In my district, the Board on a 3-2 vote, with the support of the Superintendent foolishly closed our poorest isolated elementary school where 70% plus of the students are on “free and reduced lunch” and it’s the poorest school in our district. Meanwhile, as a “deposed” district administrator, I’ve been assigned as a teacher in the “tiny” high school in this same region of Mariposa county. They tried to close my school too, however, I was able to show them that “legally” they couldn’t do it and they backed off- (for now) and I’m still happily teaching high school students here.

    Back to the Greeley Hill (Charter) Elementary school which sits adjacent to the fenced off, closed, boarded up “public” elementary school. I should send Julian a photo for his blog! The district buses students to another school that’s a 1.5 to 3 hour ride down a dangerous winding mountain road as the only “public” option, in our county. Last year in a snow storm we had a bus overturn. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. Kg. to 4th grades, especially, should not be on that bus!

    The districts’ misguided plan was to use the ADA from the closed elementary in Greeley Hill to help pay for a new gym and food service facility in a bedroom community nearer the San Joaquin Valley; a school near where many commuters live. So, the school board chose to close a “historic” nearly 150 year old school named after the cousins of the historic, eccentric, abolitionist, Horace Greeley, who visited here. Even metaphorically, from my point of view, the closure could not stand- so, I made my tactical/ethical choice!

    The community that got behind the Greeley Hill Charter to replace the Coulterville-Greeley Elementary boarded up next to the new charter are a group of conservative rural folk- some with money. Many of the supporters are retired without children but with good hearts. I was open about my “fundamental problem in general” and my opposition “in general”, “strategically” with charter schools. And, meanwhile, I helped guide them to build it! The dilemma I felt, not to mention the political opposition I felt from colleagues (other teachers) fearful of losing their jobs with declining enrollment in the “public school” was acute. Actually, one teacher did lose his job and he now teaches at the charter.

    Thanks to Julian, we can do both- you are now doing both- being “tactical” for the kids here and now, and being “strategic” and giving insight into the “dilemmas” we face, as you have done and I’m trying to do here on “CLOAKING INEQUITY.” Again, keep on, keeping on!


  • Thanks for replying and your insight Dr. Thornburg. I’m humbled by your eloquence and writing style — my writing is a bit more brash and clumsy (and sometimes sharp tongued), as my trade is in redesigning legacy software systems and not English teaching. I’m awed by your breadth and depth of public education history — my more narrow views on education have been shaped by what’s happened in the communities I grew up in and where I reside now. I’m intrigued by the educational research that Dr. Heilig and others participate in with the hope of transforming public policy/public education for the better long-term. That’s big brain kind of work that requires a particular skill set and disposition.

    With those acknowledgements that we come to our views on public education from different life experiences, I’m sensing an interesting dilemma between those who are thinking about what public education/policy should look like year/decades from now, versus those who are in the front lines today. If I accept your and Dr. Heilig’s perspective of where public education should trend toward, I see the following playing out:

    a. The education traditionalists battle with the education reformers for the next 10 years, and ultimately convince Federal/State legislators to cease all taxpayer dollars to “Teacher Corps'” programs and “Privatization” efforts. Federal/State legislators finally get on board with the idea of returning responsibility of education back to local communities, and the ever dynamic pendulum of education policy swings back towards a local control philosophy.

    b. Another 10 years of effort is required by education traditionalists to convince Federal/State legislators to adjust budgets and provide additional funds to local school districts with a “no strings attached” philosophy. One less aircraft carrier being built, a few less interstates built/repaired, a reduction in farm subsidies, etc. and budget priorities are shifted to allocate an additional xx billion dollars to public education.

    c. Another 10 years of effort is required to distribute this xx billion dollars from Federal/State budgets to local school districts to augment their current property tax funded budgets. Now after 30 years of policy wonks dedicated effort, our local communities see 1 extra year of free pre-school for all, 1 new art teacher, 1 new music teacher, 2 new guidance counselors, and 1 new P.E. teacher.

    So what just happened… it took 30 years to get a few more resources that won’t really transform much in poor communities. Maybe all that effort will slowly progress us from 30% proficiency to 37% proficiency in math and reading. Maybe our graduation rates will rise from 51% to 54%. Maybe our mean ACT scores will rise from 17.1 to 18.2. .Don’t forget the multitude of education traditionalist minor alternative reform initiatives our local schools will be asked to embrace every 5 years or so. Every Ph.D. or Ed.D. who feels they have a novel approach to transforming poor schools will come to sell their magic potion to our State Board of Education, or to our District School Board, requiring administrators and teachers to jump through hoops to learn what’s required of the latest reform initiative.

    What will have happened in our communities over those 30 years? Two generations of kids will have passed through a broken system, with multitudes not fulfilling their potential. Both education traditionalists and education reformers will believe to the core of their souls they have the solution, and our kids will continue to wither on the vine. Do you see the dilemma between policy wonks like Dr. Heilig and front-line soldiers like my wife and I?

    I suppose there’s really not much more to say on this topic from my perspective… I hope Dr Heilig and Ms. Ravitch and all of the education traditionalists are successful in moving our education system to a Finlandian model decades from now… my place in this world is not to fight that long term strategic fight, but to fight a more tactical/operational level fight day-to-day in the poor community where I live, making a difference with the limited sphere of influence I possess. And if KIPP or Noble or another proven charter comes to my neighborhood asking to build a new school, I’ll feel no regret at all responding “yes, please come help us, I can’t wait 30 years”. Thanks again for your reply above, I really enjoyed it and do appreciate your thoughts.


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Fortunately, for me, as a “white guy” who grew up in a relatively affluent (not wealthy) farming community in CA, I didn’t experience growing up; the poverty, violence, drop-outs, and “crappy schools” as you describe them. But, I’ve taught in them- for years!

    As an adult, starting in my twenties as a public school teacher in inner city New Orleans, and living in inner city New Orleans, and now teaching in poverty stricken rural America, I know, I see, I’ve listened to; many others, such as yourself, talk about what you are writing about, alharris 161.

    I salute you, and your wife and family, for your tenacity and for your work for kids!

    Unfortunately, I believe, your community is but one of many, many communities with similar stories to tell!

    I’ve been at this for over 40 years, going back to the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. At one point in the 80s, during the Reagan Administration era, and out of frustration with what seemed to be an intractable bureaucratic education system and with superintendents as you describe them I studied “privatization” -Parental Choice” models as an option.

    I came to believe, as you do, in “privatization” and in (circumventing) the public systems of education. I believed, as you do, in changing the working conditions for (on the surface) seemingly, “apathetic teachers” as you describe them!

    I never expected, however, to see the “choice issue” and “privatization” be turned on its head, into a “racist” strategy and as a strategy to dismantle even the most “basic programs” and “liberties.” -e.g., cutting health care in the 80s, and now food stamps, even voting rights, not to mention education under the guise of “accountability” and NCLB.

    With “privatization” we are seeing the mass closing of schools in poor neighborhoods in cities like New Orleans, Chicago, L.A., and other cities and communities. This is coupled with profiteering by the mega wealthy, using tax dollars! And, to top it off and justify it all, we see the use of “privatized” “Teacher Corps” to gain undue political influence in education; i.e., elite TFA types now making education policy across America.

    i get your point, Alharris 161, but, I get Julian’s direction through research, too, as I’m looking at the “effects” of “privatization” from organizations such as KIPP, “CLOAKING INEQUITY.”


  • Context from where my positions on education reform come from:

    I’m of mixed ethnicity, and grew up in a single parent household, poor minority neighborhood, crappy zone school.. I was lucky enough to have a parent who was determined to see me exposed to music, athletics, civics, and church, and had a local community center that provided after school tutoring and social activities. I escaped to college and get a B.S./M.S. in Computer Science and currently work as a software engineer, but most of my K-12 peers didn’t graduate high school, those that did couldn’t possibly have survived a rigorous bachelors degree, and I’m guessing most would have found community college insurmountable. Now most of my K-12 peers are dead, in jail, slinging dope on the corner, surviving on welfare, working as ladies of the night, or living hand to mouth working part time manual labor jobs when they can find work. Cue the violins, that’s my childhood story.

    Even though I make ~$100K/year, I moved to an inner city neighborhood where I live now where the average home sells for ~$20K, amazingly only 5 minutes away the “good” side of town homes are ~$200K. My wife and I have been here for about 15 years and have forged a niche in working with the poor minority and immigrant neighbors in my community. The foci of our efforts have been engaging local youth in athletics, music, foreign language, civics, and tutoring. Each year we have ~15-20 kids (K-6) on the track team, and ~40-50 kids (K-12) on the swim team. My day looks something like this:

    Monday thru Friday:

    0500-0600: Personal cardio workout at home
    0600-0700: Youth track club practice at local elementary soccer field (ages K-6)
    0700-0720: Transition kids to elementary school, kids personal hygiene, and breakfast
    0720-0740: Drive to work
    0740-1500: Work (software engineering)
    1500-1520: Drive to local Boys & Girls Club
    1530-1600: Afternoon Snack #1/Homework/Tutoring for track & swim athletes
    1600-1630: Daily Spanish lesson for track & swim athletes
    (** all of my track & swim athletes speak & write fluent Spanish)
    1630-1700: Afternoon Snack #2/Homework/Tutoring for track & swim athletes
    1700-1720: Transport kids to swim practice
    1720-1730: Kids get dressed into swim gear
    1730-1815: Youth swim club practice at local middle school pool (ages K-12)
    1815-1830: Kids get showered, dressed, and have Evening Snack #1
    1830-1900: Kids practice violin, viola, cello, or bass; formal lesson on Fridays
    (** all of my track & swim athletes play a stringed instrument)
    1900-1920: Transport kids to their homes; Evening Snack #2 in car on way home
    1920-1930: Arrive at my home, shower
    1930-2000: Family dinner
    2000-2200: Additional software engineering work at home (work allows flex time)
    2200-2230: Personal weight lifting workout at home


    0800-0830: Pickup parents/kids involved in Saturday morning activities
    (** target poor/minority/immigrant neighborhood, i.e., my neighborhood!)
    (** funds raised thru local church donations, community drives, bake sales)
    0900-0930: Free swim lessons for kids ages 6 months – 5 years
    0945-1015: Free Spanish lessons for kids ages 6 months – 5 years
    1030-1100: Transport parents/kids to their homes; Morning Snack #1 in car on way home

    1x per month kids ages K-6 participate in youth indoor track / outdoor track / cross country year round

    1x per month kids ages K-12 participate in youth swim meet year round

    1x per month all kids participate in afternoon civic project year round

    This program has taken me and my wife ~15 years to develop, has respect with the community, has active participation and assistance by many adults, has allowed dozens of kids to graduate high school with college ready skills, allowed dozens to attend and graduate college. But we can only do so much — not all parents decide to place their kids in our free/volunteer programs, some dropout because of the transient nature of their work, some dropout because they needs their kids at home to look after younger siblings, the quality of the local school system is very poor, etc. We routinely see neighborhood kids that don’t join our athletic/music/foreign language/tutoring program fall well behind in school, eventually drop out before graduation, and their nightmare life begins.

    So now that I’ve provided context on my youth, my current activities in my impoverished neighborhood, and the limitations on my scope of influence in the community, I’ll bring the conversation back to this education reform topic. I have little faith in our local superintendent, school board, or school staff to independently develop/implement/maintain school initiatives that would transform our schools into high performing schools. I have little faith in our current crop of K-12 neighborhood teachers to provide high level education to our students, even if some reform at the school took place — they are some of the least effective, uninvolved, apathetic individuals I know (scary that they’re teaching our kids, and thank God we have an afterschool tutoring program!) I don’t see a Community Based Approach to accountability having any teeth in the community, because there aren’t enough competent or tenacious individuals (especially those with positional authority) to make the consistent efforts required of change. The programs that my wife and I developed are saving some kids, but the rest are lost souls when they get into teenage years. I would welcome a proven, successful charter like KIPP to come into our neighborhood and build a new school from the bottom up, starting with pre-K and adding a grade a year until a new elementary school, then middle school, then high school were completed. My first-hand, in the trenches experience tells me that education traditionalists with their minor alternative education reforms will do nothing in my neighborhood to change our struggling community. I suppose it’s great fodder for philosophical discussion of education theory at the 50,000 foot level, but in the trenches our community is suffering… right here… right now… and has been for the 15 years I’ve been here… through all the “reforms” the education traditionalists have “implemented” in our local public school system that have produced no results. Forgive me if I’m not experiencing an “ah-hah” moment on this newest reform idea.


  • I’m all for eliminating NCLB, eliminating or significantly down-sizing federal Department of Education, and returning responsibility of education to grassroots level. Top down hasn’t worked, and won’t work — for many things including education. A colossal waste of money, and a pain in the butt for everyone. But…… here’s where I differ from you significantly. You’ve railed against charter schools, school choice, TFA, etc. etc. and seem to think that a simple grass roots, traditionalist approach to public education with some minor alternative education reform ideas aimed at the local level will solve the problems of poor neighborhoods. Education traditionalists w/minor alternative education reforms had their way for decades in poor neighborhoods, and never came close to cracking the educational inequity dilemma. Now you want to eliminate the top down approach (which I agree with), bash the efforts of TFA and KIPP and others, and more or less return to the status quo of yesteryear. Have you ever lived in a poor neighborhood? Have you ever sent your child to a school in a poor neighborhood? Do you know how dysfunctional our really poor neighborhoods are? Do you understand the crisis we face today? Do you know what it’s like to see your 1% local sales tax go into an education general fund that mysteriously evaporates, while the suburban school district across town has brand new schools and facilities built with their 1% sales tax? Do you comprehend that we’re not keen on hoping that some policy that has no real proven track record in fixing schools might help us slowly transform our schools, so that 15 years down the road our proficiency levels will have increased from 30% to 37% in reading and math? Have you been with us when traditionalist educators with minor alternative education reforms came to our schools and told us that kids wearing uniforms would solve the problems, then they told us metal detectors would solve the problems, then they told us reducing class sizes from 20 to 17 would solve the problems, then they told us same sex classrooms would solve the problem, then they told us changing from semesters to trimesters to reduce summer brain-drain would solve the problem, then they told us team-teaching would solve the problem, then they told us SmartBoards and Google Chromebooks would solve the problem. Do you hear my frustration and angst? Can you feel my skepticism?

    Here’s an example of my criticism with your alternative education reforms suggested: Your Community Based Approach focuses on the following element to help shape change:
    – Superintendent
    – School Board
    – School Staff
    – Parents
    – Community Stakeholders

    Sounds great on paper, but let me tell you why this will fail in many poor communities.
    – Superintendent — superintendents of large urban school districts are usually not agents of change, not visionaries of transformational thinkers. They’ve often rotated from one district to another over their career, have ingrained status quo thinking from years or decades on the job, are happy with their multi-hundred thousand dollar salaries, view urban education as pretty much static (“it is what it is”), and often time are not too keen on or capable of the really hard intellectual work and community engagement required for substantive change. They’re big talkers, not such big do’ers.
    – School Board — school boards are made up of community lay people with often time no educational background. In poor communities, school boards tend to be very dysfunctional, and the intellectual capital of the school board members is on par with Forrest Gump. Ever wonder why effective school boards in middle/upper class neighborhoods fence money from local sales tax for school capital improvements, while school boards in poor neighborhoods will direct local sales tax funds into a “general fund”? Nepotism, corruption, and incompetency are hallmarks of poor community school boards. Good luck getting any meaningful insight or actual leadership out of a school board in a poor community.
    – School Staff — school staffs in poor communities usually represent the weakest teaching pool in the state. Excellent teachers avoid teaching in poor communities like the plague, and you’re left with low content knowledge, apathetic, ineffective teachers. Those that are truly excellent are often so inundated or burned out from Herculean classroom management issues and individual student personal/social issues, they have no desire to add another duty to their plate. Good luck getting meaningful contributions from this group.
    – Parents — parents in poor communities are disengaged from school in monumental numbers. Ever go to a PTA meeting in a poor community — you’ll be lucky if you need two hands to count the number of attendees, usually only need one hand. Ever go to parent-teacher conferences in a poor school — you can usually hear crickets chirping at these conferences.

    So your alternative education reform, Community Based Approach to reforming education in poor neighborhoods is based on the input and collaboration of a group of people who’ve shown for decades they’re not capable of saving their own neighborhoods? Doesn’t sound too promising to me. So I’m with you on nixing the top down approach, and I’m also with you in engaging (not depending on) local community to collaborate in the turnaround. But where we differ is that I believe organizations like KIPP or Noble, who bring in outside expertise and knowledge of how to build great schools from the bottom up, are critical to changing educational outcomes in poor neighborhoods. I used to believe they’d be engines of innovations for the poor public schools to draw from, but my enthusiasm on that front has pretty much dried up.

    As jaded as I sound (and probably am), I do think the education research work you do is important for shaping federal, state, and local policy. Qualitative and quantitative analysis is important for our decision makers at all levels to rely on. I would love to see our education system slowly navigate towards the vision that you and Diane Ravitch have. But I’m a realist, and that takes decades, and will always be subject to the whims of federal/state purse strings and priorities. I’m frustrated because I’ve been in the trenches for years, and have seen too many alternative education reforms touted and then wither on the vine. If there is a proven charter that has built from scratch (or turned around on the fly) great schools in other poor neighborhoods like mine, I want that charter to come to my neighborhood.


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Sixtiessman: I left a reply on the blog about Susan Ashmore’s “Carry it on” … “The war on poverty and the civil rights movement in Alabama, 1964” … DHEW was actually with Education being de-coupled happened toward the end of the Carter Administration. The Nixon Administration, Republicans and especially Dixie Democrats who would soon become Republicans under the Nixon strategy and solidified during the Reagan Administration were all working against Johnson’s “War on poverty” programs including in education. The decoupling served their interests with Wm. Bennett to become the first Sec. of Education under Reagan. The US Dep. of Agriculture at first did its damage to Black farmers across the South … and, health care was soon to follow (especially mental health) with privatization occurring across America … (from Columbine to Sandy Hook school) … are the outcome in my opinion … so this movement toward “privatization” isn’t just in education! I think these things are all structurally connected in the meme Gov’t v. Private!


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    The references found in Ashmore (2008) below, will be a wonderful resource for you sixtiessman. In progress is a paper on the topic: it’s written as a biography “hidden history” and from a case study perspective in Alabama. Our paper will be presented at the History of Education Society meeting in Nashville two weeks from now.

    Ashmore, S. (2008). Carry it on: The war on poverty and the civil rights movement in Alabama 1964-1972. The University of Georgia Press. Athens and London.

    Thornburg, M. & Terrar, T. (2013) “Professor Robert Brown. Social justice, voting rights, inspiration and legacy: A history of educational leadership- missed, hidden and denied” Paper presentation: History of Education Society meeting, Nashville, TN. (October 31-November 3, 2013).


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    How can we banish No Child Left Behind’s top-down and narrow paradigm? Answer!

    I say, eliminate the Federal Department of Education and go back to the H.E.W. (Health, Education and Welfare) Department model.

    Under the H.E.W. model we passed, for example, the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and other bills in 1965 that significantly improved education and reduced segregation. Under the Dept. of Education, “privatization” “cronyism between political operatives and politicians, text book companies, testing companies, e-corporations, and, the “NCLB” now CCSS, Rttt. etc. etc. have all been invented. These all seem designed to forward “privatization” goals.

    Meanwhile, the general “health” and “welfare” have been decoupled from education, – in national policy, and made it easier for conservatives and libertarians to attack welfare programs. Never mind the “developmental” programs, (head start, upward bound, etc.) but even safety net programs like food assistance for the working poor and destitute!


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