Accountability, Shmaccountability

Accountability, Shmaccountability
October 23, 2013

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

School Choice Weekly, Issue #13

At first, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan condemned California for legislation that would suspend state testing for a year in preparation for national Common Core tests in 2014–15.

“If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the Department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state,” he said in a statement.

After California thumbed its nose at Duncan and passed the proposal into law, Duncan issued a policy saying all states can substitute Common Core field tests for federally mandated state accountability tests. Yep, more “the law means whatever I want it to mean, not what it says” from the Obama administration.

“Those field tests will not result in student-, school-, district-, or state-level scores, so theoretically a state could administer the field test to all of its students and have no transparent or actionable data. ... California’s plan would also not result in actionable testing data next spring. The only difference between the two is that California doesn’t care if some students are given a one-year testing reprieve,” write Andy Smarick and Chad Aldeman in Education Next. “Both Duncan’s waiver and California’s plan would result in large numbers of students, schools, districts, and (potentially) entire states without testing data for this school year. In fact, Duncan’s plan could result in testing kids solely for the sake of testing them – little to no actionable information for educators and insufficient data to maintain state-level accountability measures.”

In short, the national transition to Common Core could very well mean three years lost in the past 20 years’ chain of test-based accountability. This policy may not be the best, but the alternatives are true school choice and market accountability or no accountability at all. The poor performance of the latter from the ‘60s through the ‘90s is why we now have testing regimes.

This is the point at which proponents begin to insist it’s not Common Core’s fault we have a bone-headed education secretary. Of course. Common Core is never at fault for anything it causes, so long as stupid decisions aren’t inscribed into the standards themselves. But this entirely sidesteps a primary argument against Common Core: Central planning does not work. Communism, remember, also looks great on paper. Its proponents likewise insist implementation is always the problem. But plans that do not take into account human nature should be laughingly waved off stage before they do serious damage.

SOURCE: Education Next, School Reform News


School Choice Roundup

  • MISSOURI: A ballot initiative aims to open a tax-credit scholarship program in a state with no private school choice. The tax credit would be worth 50 percent of donations to private K-12 scholarships.
  • TEXAS: Republican leadership continues to stymie school choice measures in a state that desperately needs an education boost, writes Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Judson. They prefer to lard on money and bureaucracy.
  • NORTH CAROLINA: The department of non-public schools announces it will randomly inspect homeschools statewide, then backtracks.

Common Core Watch

  • NEW HAMPSHIRE: After months of parent activism, the state’s largest school district decides 13–1 to repudiate Common Core and make its own education standards. This is the second school district in the nation to do so, after Colorado’s Douglas County. They also need federal permission to pursue their plan.
  • EXECUTIVE ORDERS: Three governors have issued orders related to Common Core that likely change little. The moves seem intended to placate voters in Arizona, Iowa, and Maine.
  • COMMON CORE: Jeb Bush tells opponents to stop spreading “conspiracy theories,” and an associate says opponents “think it’s a secret plot controlled by red Chinese robots in the basement of the White House.”

Education Today

  • MERITOCRACY: Some schools are shutting top students out of advanced classes and admitting worse students instead. The goal has shifted from giving capable students an extra challenge to taking all comers regardless of their track records.

Thank you for reading! If you need a quicker fix of news about school choice, you can find daily updates online under the Ed News Roundup at

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)