With Schools Closing Around The Country And A Nominee For Secretary Of Education On The Horizon, The Hoover Education Success Initiative Releases An Evidence-based Policy Paper Exploring “School Accountability—Past, Present, & Future”

Thursday, November 19, 2020
Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Image credit: 

The third of four education policy briefs to be released by the Hoover Education Success Initiative in 2020, it explores the past, present and future of school accountability systems at the federal, state, and local levels, making recommendations on how state governments should proceed amidst uncertainty.

STANFORD, CA – With a nominee for Secretary of Education expected soon, and with governors and legislators planning  their 2021 sessions around the country, the Hoover Education Success Initiative (HESI), an education policy research initiative at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has released “School Accountability—Past, Present, & Future”.  The evidence-based policy paper includes both a summary of findings and a set of practical recommendations for state and federal policymakers’ consideration and usage.

With a new administration taking the helm, the country five years into school accountability’s “ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) phase”, and with a huge gap in school performance information due to last spring’s “testing waiver,”  the paper explains the evolution of school accountability, examines how it has been working, considers how it can be made stronger, and outlines what should lie ahead.  It makes clear that results-based school accountability has led to academic gains, and recommends that it continue with modifications to boost effectiveness.

The paper has four sections. The first recaps the evolution of school accountability over the past half century.  The second section appraises the evidence-to-date regarding its impact, finding that well-crafted, outcomes-based accountability that relies on solid data and incorporates consequences generally led to stronger school performance and student achievement. The third part of the paper describes changes made by the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which remains the law of the land.  In this section, the paper offers a roadmap for state policymakers and education leaders to make the most of ESSA, including state-driven consequences and interventions for struggling schools.

The paper’s final section looks to the future, urging state and federal official not to forsake results-based accountability and to resume student assessment as soon as possible.  It also offers recommendations for federal lawmakers and state officials to strengthen our nation’s approach to school accountability.

This policy paper was informed by background research papers crafted for HESI by Thomas Dee, Paul Manna & Arnold Shober, and David Steiner & Alanna Bjorklund-Young

“The research is clear that results-based accountability systems based on high-quality assessments of student learning leads to stronger achievement, more effective schools and better educated children,” said Chester E. Finn, Jr., author of the briefing. “To forego them would cause K−12 education in America to fly blind, akin to a plane in the fog without instruments. Today’s accountability systems should be maintained, strengthened and in time superseded by more effective versions.”

“Each state’s ability to inform families, celebrate successes, drive improvement, and intervene on behalf of students is significantly hamstrung without strong school accountability systems,” said Christopher N. Ruszkowski, executive director of HESI and former state commissioner in New Mexico. “This paper provides research and roadmap to state policymakers who have the responsibility of determining what student performance information to collect, how to make determinations about school performance, and how to present it to schools and the public.”

Click here to read the paper.

About the Hoover Education Success Initiative

With passage in 2015 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states were again placed clearly  in charge of American education policy. To support them in this undertaking, the Hoover Education Success Initiative (HESI), launched in 2019, seeks to provide state education leaders with policy recommendations that are based upon sound research and analysis.

HESI hosts workshops and policy symposia on high-impact areas related to the improvement and reinvention of the US education system. The findings and recommendations in each area are outlined in concise topical papers.

The leadership team at HESI engages with its Practitioner Council, formed of national policy leaders and interested state government leaders. HESI’s goal is to spark innovation and contribute to the ongoing transformation of the nation’s K-12 education landscape, thus improving outcomes for our nation’s children.

Executive Summary

About HESI