An evaluation of ideas from Scott Abernathy, No Child Left Behind and the Public Schools (2007).
Money, resources, efficiency. Abernathy writes that money matters such that “careful thought into where it goes and on what basis it is handed out” become important (p. 133). An ambitious proposal would be for local education agencies (LEA) to encourage cultures of efficient spending to stretch each federal dollar farther—but this is more of a policy opportunity than a legislative proposal. However, this might be done legislatively by larger appropriations for technical assistance to LEAs and through guidance that encourages LEAs to let accounting and budgeting contracts to companies that can partner with the school district central offices. (Abernathy echoes that rewards (and resources) “should be both financial and bureaucratic” (p. 134).)
Expanding charter advantages. Abernathy takes the ideology of choice and charters head on in boldly suggesting “we should consider extending the bureaucratic advantages of charter schools to all public schools” (p. 137). I think this suggestion is worth policymakers really considering for several reasons. First, because it does call into question why traditional public schools that house high-need student populations should bear burdens other schools don’t. Secondly, because it would ironically create real public choice in the market, as traditional schools are unhinged to actually compete with charter and private counterparts. And, thirdly, because it would require a serious analysis of whether the fewer burdens on charter schools have produced the raving results people often associate with them—whereas researchers and education policywonks acknowledge the mixed results (Abernathy, p. 136). I read what Abernathy proposes, however, as different from the flexibility for local schools rhetoric that some Congressmen have displayed. Instead, he is asserting that accountability still be in place but bureaucratic requirements lessen (whereas some congressional proposals use the term flexibility to reject some accountability measures altogether). Upon consideration, however, it appears that this proposal might actual bifurcate political groups—especially those that position themselves in favor of public choice but fundamentally against traditional schools or those that rely on teacher unions because unions contracts may strain school flexibility in some areas.
Assessment of Managers as part of school culture. Abernathy hits the nail on the head when he notes that teachers’ assessments of principals regarding school performance is needed in NCLB modifications (p. 139). Let’s call this a school culture metric. Since much of the performance-accountability structure is adapted from private sector metrics, Abernathy’s observation points out a fatal lack of fidelity to accountability models. “It is difficult to imagine a private-sector system that fails to incorporate subordinates’ assessments of their managers in assessing whether those managers are performing adequately” (p. 139). I concur! Teacher retention data attributable to school management practices might be a part of the school culture performance metric as well. Perhaps this can be done legislatively by including teacher satisfaction surveys with leadership as school culture metrics, which are but one of the many achievement indicators (alongside traditional indicators like graduation rates and student test scores).