Devil is in the Details: Teacher Tells Us What’s Up With Local Accountability

The current form of Texas-style No Child Left Behind high-stakes testing and accountability has run its course. It is very clear that after 20 years in Texas and 10 years across the nation, the sanctions and rewards (the rewards disappeared a long time ago) system never produced an education miracle in Texas (as posited by President Bush and Secretary Paige) and did not result in all students across the US being proficient by 2014.

In 2012, I first proposed a new bottom-up form of accountability in the post Accountability: Are you ready for a new idea? I have written extensively about this new form of locally-controlled accountability that I have called Community-Based Accountability here. Or see the post A Refresher: What is Community-Based Accountability?

Here are Community-Based Accountability Executive Summary and Key Features. Please forward and circulate widely.

As discussed previously here on Cloaking Inequity, California has implemented Community-Based Accountability as a new reform for school finance and called it Local Accountability (See Bear in the Details: Codifying Community-Based Accountability’s Process). Over the past several weeks, folks from the education sector in California have reflected on the implementation of Local Accountability in California in the posts Local Accountability and Astroturf: Local Control without the Local Control and D.C. are you listening?: A New Local, Community-Based Approach for Accountability. Today Alice Mercer, a classroom teacher in Sacramento, reflects on the implementation of Local Accountability.

This piece will contain a lot of acronyms and include some of my insights (for what they are worth), so I’m going to start by introducing myself, and explaining a few of the basics here. My name is Alice Mercer, and I’m a classroom teacher in Sacramento City Unified School District, and large urban local in California (43,000 students, 38% are English Learners, and over 60% are low-income). I am also active in my union local, Sacramento City Teachers Association, and I was elected as a representative to the State Council of the California Teachers Association (CTA). The opinions in the article are only my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of either my school district, my local, CTA or NEA. I blog at Reflections on Teaching.

This discussion centers around the new funding formula being used to allocate how California gives money to local school districts. For a host of reasons (lawsuits requiring funding-equity, Proposition 13 affecting local property taxes as a funding base for education, etc.) school monies in California for most districts come from the state. Traditionally, that has been in the form of base funding, and what are called categoricals, or specific funds for specific purposes, like English Language Acquisition funds, Foster Youth Programs, Migrant Programs, etc. Governor Brown has come up with a new formula that will allocate extra money, but allow local districts to come up with plans for how it will be spent. This is called Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF. The plans that districts have to write are called Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs).

The commentary from the earlier guest blogger pretty much agrees with what I’ve seen. Implementation of LCFF in the first year is all over the map throughout the state. Dictatorial and controlling districts are writing LCAPs that do not have any meaningful stakeholder input. Other districts are involving teachers representatives in a variety of areas of discussion like curriculum and instruction. Some districts have already had contract provisions for this, and for site-based decision making. Some districts have had well functioning school site councils (which included teacher, community and parent representatives) that are able to contribute to this process. Others sadly, still have SSCs that are a rubber-stamp for the site administrator or the district. Many districts are just confused.

Two things will likely need to be “tightened” in how LCAPs are created. First, the implementing language says districts must “consult” with stakeholders (teachers, parents, community). That word, consult, has lost any meaning at this point. For example, a district will hold a town hall on a issue, present their side, and take some questions. They will then proceed with their original proposal, without any changes or input from this meeting, and claim they “consulted” the public.

This happened in DC with Rhee, and in districts run by Broad Superintendent (it’s in their rule book) and spread out to be a widespread practice. Consult has come to mean, “We’ll tell you what we’re doing, listen to you whine about it, then do it anyway.” This was something I heard more than once at CTA State Council.

They will either need to define “consult” better, or add other language like “based on a consensus of opinion from stakeholders” (this  language suggested by one State Council member). The state and CTA are saying we need to give the process time and look at it after the first year and that’s fair enough. But, I don’t think these problems will resolve themselves without districts being forced to change how they do business.

The next part that needs fixing is the structures for input at districts (SSC, District Advisory Committees, etc.) need to be strengthened. In my opinion, this will require more advice, direction and oversight from the state (something they have scaled back on with the horrific cuts to education that occurred during the recession). They will definitely need to beef up their oversight, BUT rules alone will not make this so. There will need to be an effort on the part of community groups and teachers unions to organize and demand that these committees be democratically created, democratically run, and listened to. If we want democracy, we’re going to have to demand it.

The previous article alluded to “problems” with the LCAP in my district in Sacramento. Recent agreements with the district leave me more hopeful that future versions of our LCAP will be driven by teacher and community input. These changes came about because of a grass-roots effort between the community and unions.

I’m in one part of this, the teachers union. I can say that these efforts dovetail nicely with the newly approved strategic plan adopted by CTA. It calls on locals to do outreach and engagement not just to members, but to the greater community. I think this is the right direction, and will be the only way to make LCFF/LCAPs work. If this new system just turns into a way to funnel money to inside players, and students are not getting the services they need this will fail and we’ll be back in the land of categorical funding with the state telling local districts how they can and can’t spend money.

p.s. Check out the 12 minute “TED-style” talk about Community-Based Accountability on PBS in the post New Community-Based Approach to Accountability Featured on PBS-TV EdTalk

Also see Weingarten and Darling-Hammond Call for a New Accountability

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


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s