Resources and Accountability in Education

If you don’t yet subscribe to the RealClearEducation newsletter, then you should consider doing so, as it not only provides a nice roundup of relevant edu news (also sign up for Chalkbeat’s newsletter while you’re at it), but furthermore insightful daily commentary.

As an example, here’s commentary from back in April pertaining to special education services that I had found insightful, and which is also important to bear in mind in the midst of all the backlash against accountability going on right now in many states.

The special education law [IDEA] worked in no small part because of resources and accountability. Students in special education have a claim on resources, and school districts are explicitly held accountable for serving them. It’s not a relationship without problems, but it’s an approach that special education advocates favor. However, among policymakers, some of the staunchest advocates of this approach to special education on Capitol Hill balk at applying similarly hard-nosed accountability measures to help other underserved populations. There is no serious effort to dismantle IDEA or other civil rights protections for disabled students, but cutting protections out from under low-income and minority students is more or less fashionable these days. It’s worth reflecting on why. [bold added]

For those of us that work in special education, we know that while there are great problems with the manner in which we implement accountability measures, the movement towards greater transparency, rigor, and accountability in education has been of great benefit to students with special needs.

Historically, students with special needs were either wholly segregated and provided little access to critical knowledge and skills, if they were acknowledged at all, or just housed indiscriminately with people with mental illness.

We also know that a push for greater rigor and higher standards for all—and not just some—students benefits children with special needs. This lies behind the movement towards inclusion of students with special needs in general education classrooms, and why I strongly believe in the value of inclusion and integration in schools.

But we also know that to assist students that face great challenges requires greater resources, in terms of time, attention, and sometimes materials, all of which require funding and explicit accountability to ensure that administrators budget time and space accordingly.

As the commentary above suggests, we know that resources and accountability are necessary to support all students who have been denied equity or access to critical knowledge and skills. We seem to be very willing as a society to hold individual schools, teachers, and parents to blame and thus accountable, yet very reluctant to provide the necessary and systematic funding to support their struggles to meet children’s needs.

It’s understandable that many are protesting testing and accountability in schools right now, given the double standard our society maintains. Yet the most important thing I believe we can do is focus on resources for schools and communities that need them the most, while maintaining high standards for the teaching of critical knowledge and skills for all. Anything else is most likely a distraction.


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