D.C. are you listening?: A New Local, Community-Based Approach for Accountability

It turns out that a new local, community-based approach to accountability is happening… I first introduced the idea of Community-Based Accountability on October 12, 2012 in the post Accountability: Are you ready for a new idea?

Here is some background from the post I am giddy!!: Community-Based Accountability

I had writer’s block all summer. I owed Professor Rich Milner and two co-authors (Dr. Muhummed Khalifa and Dr. Linda Tillman) my portion of a chapter for the upcoming Handbook of Urban Education to be published by Routledge.We were asked to write on a “direction for future work (and needs) in the field of urban education.” My co-authors had already written the theoretical underpinning (post-colonial theory) and had specified the problem (persisting achievement gap in the midst of NCLB, high-stakes testing, and accountability). So what was the alternative to NCLB in its current conception!? I thought about the school reform course I took with David Tyack at Stanford a decade ago that focused on the community-based schooling in the 1960s. Then i considered that our datasets and their interconnectedness has advanced rapidly over the past two decades. In the vein of Dewey, I considered the measurement of a child’s success in conjunction with their heterogenous pursuits. In the political sphere, i pondered that Democrats often support community empowerment and Republicans espouse local control— which conflicts with the current conception of NCLB.

I then considered….How can we blend these key ideas into a new form of accountability?

My primary line of research is high-stakes testing and accountability… Yet I struggled all summer with re-thinking accountability. In fact, I put a stack of books on top of the manuscript… so that I didn’t have to see it…. then, I went to an accountability conference in Rome and I had a break through. I am came back from the meeting inspired. My portions of the manuscript that I had struggled to write for months came flowing out in three days…

What came next in the post? I asked the question: Texas was the birthplace of NCLB. Could Texas envision itself as the birthplace of Community-Based Accountability? Turns out the answer is no. A consortium of districts seeking waivers from state and federal testing, ratings that had adopted the local approach to accountability was turned back by Michael Williams, Texas Education Commissioner.

But we were not deterred. I convened a work group of UT-Austin educational policy graduate students and faculty peers from across the United States. We released a Community-Based Accountability policy brief and executive summary pdfs in the post A New Way to Do Accountability: How to Banish NCLB’s Narrow Paradigm

But…California was listening… a source at the Philadelphia AERA conference told me last week that California modeled its Local Accountability plans for school finance after the Community-Based Accountability approach!!

WOW!! Sometimes you feel like your wheels are spinning in the policy discourse— but not that day! I first wrote about California’s Local Accountability in the post Accountability: California, the land of local control— wait, what?! I also wrote Bear in the Details: Codifying Community-Based Accountability’s Process

EdWeek then covered the Community-Based Accountability approach in the post Could Community Based Accountability Get the Federal Government Out of Our Schools? – Living in Dialogue – Education Week Teacher

So what is happening with Local Accountability in California? I presented the original Community-Based Accountability chapter from the Urban Education Handbook at this year’s AERA conference in Philadelphia. Debra Watkins, Founder and President of the California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE), came up after my presentation to talk to me about how the Local Accountability process was being implemented in California. Being that I am not currently California-based, I asked her to write for Cloaking Inequity. Here is her report on what is happening with Local Accountability in California:

 Democracy & the LCFF: Messy and Intense! 

After graduating from Stanford’s Teacher Education Program in 1977, I went on to work the next 35 years in one school district in Silicon Valley as a teacher, counselor, and project administrator. As an educator of African ancestry, I was disturbed early in my career by the dismal academic performance of Black students compared to the White and Asian ones in that same district. I helped start the Santa Clara County Alliance of Black Educators (SCCABE) about 30 years ago to address those disparities as a community-based organization. Twelve years ago, I founded the California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE) to address these same disparities statewide.

In order to affect statewide policy, I serve on a team comprised of groups like ACLU, Public Advocates, Children Now, Families in Schools, the Advancement Project, EdTrust-West, Children’s Defense Fund, CADRE and Californians for Justice. One of the main reasons this collaborative was formed is to pay attention to how the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is rolled out through the Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) required of districts serving significant numbers of low income, foster youth, and English Language Learners (ELLs).

For the first time in its history of public school funding, California has declared that local communities should have a major voice in how money is spent for the children who need the most help reaching their academic potential. This process has varied from district to district. In the East Side Union High School District where I worked, the superintendent has introduced innovations like a social worker and parent coordinator on each of its 12 comprehensive high school campuses. He has embraced the community’s feedback and incorporated much of it in his LCAP draft. After including those two features in his LCAP (along with others), he still had about $1.5 million left in what he assumed would be his “concentrated” funds allocation. He then turned to the community again and asked for input about how to best spend it. He is gathering feedback and plans to have a draft for board approval by mid-May. In San Francisco Unified, community members have also been intimately involved in making their suggestions loud and clear. They have organized locally and attended board meetings in large numbers and successfully lobbied the district to eliminate “willful defiance” as a reason for suspending students and to invest heavily in restorative justice practices through new LCAP funding.

On the other hand, some districts are circumventing broad community input and using existing parent groups essentially already “under their control” to satisfy the intent of the LCFF legislation vis-à-vis parent involvement in the development of the LCAPs. Some districts are reluctant to engage parents in the new level of decision making because they view them through a deficit lens and don’t think that they even know what is best for their own children.

Another problem that has surfaced has to do with how districts are interpreting what the concentrated funds can be used for. Los Angeles Unified is using the funds to place more police on their campuses under the state priority related to improved school climate. This has caused a firestorm of protests from local community groups and they vow to fight this until the funds are re-allocated for restorative justice practices and/or more school counselors. Some districts have proposed to use the money to increase salaries in order to attract and keep teachers in hard-to-staff schools. The ACLU has already issued legal briefs against such a practice. That alone will create serious tension in districts.

People who have seen drafts of Sacramento Unified’s LCAP and who have witnessed the process unfold in San Diego Unified are sorely disappointed. One college professor in San Diego called the implementation a “hot mess” there and summarily blamed parents for not knowing what best to advocate for while letting the district off the hook for not helping them effectively engage in the process.

Because drafts of LCAPs are just becoming public, I am confident that the more we see, the more evident it will become that some adhere to the spirit of the law and others are merely window-dressing and will not contribute to student success in schools. EdTrust-West has committed to review all 700 plus LCAPs that will have to be submitted for county approval before June 30, 2014. They will be flagging those that seem in gross violation of the LCFF legislation and calling them out. The statewide policy team on which I sit has also identified about 45 districts to “watch” because many of them have the lowest achieving students, highest poverty levels, and history of disproportionalities in suspensions and expulsions.

As “messy” as this process is for many, it is a grand opportunity to finally make democracy work for the least enfranchised in this “golden” state.

Texans are you listening? D.C. are you listening? There is a local, community-based option available for accountability. Arne Duncan (and whoever comes after him) does not have to be in control of our education system.

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Please blame Siri for any typos.

p.s. Check out my “TED-style” talk about Community-Based Accountability on PBS in the post New Community-Based Approach to Accountability Featured on PBS-TV EdTalk



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