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Educators Weigh Schools, Solutions To Problems

The symposium began with the address by Susan Furhman, president of Columbia University Teachers College in New York, titled Ten Assumptions About Accountability. 

Often cited as an expert on the need for accountability in school districts, Furhman chastised both federal and state governments for failing children in public education.
 
Furhman urged the participants to consider education “in the context of the last 20 years, including the No Child Left Behind Act.”
 
“The focus is on whether students have profited from the tests,” she said. “Are the tests correct in measuring achievement?” Her assessment was that if such tests are accurate, they show “a little, but only some, improvement.”
 
Next, she asked, “Are the tests adequate?” To that question, she responded that a universal lack of accountability has called their usefulness into question.
 
“Individual schools are not improving consistently,” she said. “Accountability gives an incentive to improve.”
 
Findings across the country are not consistent that such improvements are taking place, she said.
 
She stressed that long-held concerns about student achievement are in line with the need to insure the interaction between students and teachers.
 
“That capacity is limited, especially among less affluent students,” she pointed out.
 
Fuhrman also brought up the problem of educating children without English language skills.
 
Teachers have to act in concert to achieve the goal of teaching these disadvantaged youngsters, she said.
 
“In many schools, this doesn’t happen,” she said. She urged teachers in schools with these students to act together.
 
“Accountability systems will provide interpretation of future success,” she said. “Very few systems supplement scores with other information — qualitative reviews, surveys. 
 
“We need to provide evidence that the process is working. But we don’t do that. If we’re failing, the burden is on districts and states to remedy the failure.”
 
In the United States, the lack of unified curricula, testing and evaluation is an approach that as a nation fits our decentralized education system, she said.
 
But decentralization, according to Furhman, “prevents state control over proficiency levels.”
 
The present system doesn’t take advantage of state variations, and it prevents accountability, collaboration, assessment and teacher development,” she said.
 
She said there is relatively little uniformity in governing schools.
 
“There is no punishment of elected officials: accountability is not required of leaders or policy makers,” she said. “Supposedly, elective and employment leaders are to consider school performance.”
 
To meet the challenge, Furhman suggested, state flexibility is the remedy, adding we need experimentation to find ways to improve. “Accountability is part of the solution,” she said.
 
Furhman stressed the need for more funding to provide what she sees as five major changes necessary for student improvements:
 
standard assessments and consequences:
 
specific curricula, possibly created on a national level or by some kind of educational consortium;

better assessments;

investment in capacity;

combining “bigger and better” programs with raised standards  and accountability.
 
She predicted that with a new administration in Washington, “we will see more effort with the states in improving schools and accountability.
 
“I hope we’re moving to a point where we’re thinking about investment,” she told the audience before they split into groups to take part in panel discussions.
 
Concurrent with the UCSB forum, but not as part of it, the Sacramento State Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy announced it will release a report showing California lags in higher education.
 
The article "Educators Weigh Schools, Solutions To Problems" was published on February 12th, 2009 in the "Santa Ynez Valley Journal" http://www.santaynezvalleyjournal.com/archive/7/7/3856/
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