Rethinking Accountability Politics


Hochschild JL. Rethinking Accountability Politics. In: No Child Left Behind? The Politics and Practice of School Accountability. edited by Paul Peterson and Martin West. Washington D.C. : Brookings Institution Press ; 2003. pp. 107-125.

Full Text

Rethinking Accountability Politics



Jennifer Hochschild

Harvard University

Department of Government

April 9, 2003


Prepared for inclusion in Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West, eds.  No Child Left Behind?  The Politics and Practice of School Accountability (Brookings Institution 2003)






In this new era of accountability, candidates will be judged for their education leadership.  They must be knowledgeable about the issues and relentless about results. I predict that the avowed education candidates who fail to follow up platitudes with performance, and who fail to match rhetoric with results, won’t be around much longer.

-- James Hunt, former governor of North Carolina[1]



            The 1990s and early 2000s witnessed the an array of new policies to promote school improvement and accountability – charter schools, alternative certification programs, systemic reform involving standards and high-stakes tests, a Republican-sponsored law promising to “leave no child behind,” state or city takeover of failing school systems, and others.  Political logic suggests that these reforms should not have occurred.  Powerful teachers’ unions resisted many of them and were ambivalent about others.  Parents and citizens were reasonably content with the schools in their community; they saw more problems with students’ behavior than with their test scores.  Outcomes of schooling in most locations had not deteriorated drastically, so except in inner cities there was no crisis “demanding” a solution.  Elected officials had a long history of remaining far removed from the complicated morass of public schooling; more generally, they are almost always allergic to strict measures of accountability. The Republican Party has an equally long history of resisting federal involvement in state and local programs, especially schools. 

Despite all of these reasons to expect no change or merely token gestures, reforms to promote accountability in the public education system are arguably becoming more widespread and more powerful in their intended and actual impact on American schools.  The only proposed reform that has, so far, mostly met defeat in a hostile political environment is vouchers for use by public school students in school districts outside their own or in private or parochial schools.[2]

            This chapter explores more fully this surprising history. I begin by pointing to the strength and trajectory of accountability measures in education, and then contrast them with the varied forces arrayed against reform.  I conclude by suggesting why these changes did in fact occur, although I confess to remaining puzzled by their strength. The drive toward standards with accountability may yet fail, for substantive, political, and/or financial reasons – but so far it has not.

  Smoke and Mirrors?

            One interpretation of the changes over the past decade is that there has been much less reform than meets the eye.  In this view, laws and regulations promulgating standards with accountability are much weaker than they appear to be on paper, charter schools are small and constrained, and alternative programs for teacher certification are mostly symbolic. Alternatively, laws and new programs that started out strong will be greatly weakened as they run into increasing resistance from teachers’ unions, parents of failing students, some civil rights advocates, and educators disgruntled by too much or the wrong kind of change.

            Terry Moe predicts this course in his chapter for this volume; in their chapters, Andrew Rudalevige and Frederick Hess similarly express uncertainty about the long-term impact of recent reforms. These cautious predictions are entirely plausible. Already some states have postponed deadlines by which tests will determine whether students receive a diploma, or lowered the bar for passing, or excused students who are predicted to do poorly on a high-stakes exam, or eliminated sanctions against schools or teachers whose students do poorly. In some states charter schools are subject to increasingly assertive oversight. Yet other ways to blunt the force of the accountability movement may be added so that the drive for standards and accountability goes the way of “new math” or open classrooms. 

But the overall trajectory at present is toward stronger, not weaker, policies for holding schools and students accountable. During the 1990s, no states withdrew from a system of standards with accountability.  In fact, “by 1996, just ten states had active accountability systems, while by 2000 just 13 states had yet to introduce active systems.”[3]  Almost all states have promulgated standards for core subjects, and most are moving toward stricter measures of accountability for attaining those standards.  As Brian Jacob summarizes in this volume, “statutes in 25 states explicitly link student promotion to performance on state or district assessments. … 18 states reward teachers and administrators on the basis of exemplary student performance and 20 states sanction school staff on the basis of poor student performance.”  In many states standards are expanding to cover more subjects, more precision within a subject, more years of school, more students within a given cohort, or all four.  Reformers are working to align tests with standards so that students and teachers have fewer excuses for failure.  In some states the bar for passing a high-stakes exam has risen.  The recent federal law, known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), mandates much more testing of students than was required before 2001, and has more stringent penalties for failing schools than any federal law ever before. 

Standards and testing are not the only accountability measures that have expanded since roughly 1990.  Many states and districts have passed legislation allowing the takeover or closure of schools that do not show improvement. As Hanushek and Raymond point out in this volume???, “current movement is almost exclusively toward providing information [on test scores] at the school building level” rather than at the less informative and less responsive district level, as in the past.  In Massachusetts, despite opposition from a strong union, the state now requires more testing of teachers than it used to. No states have rescinded laws creating charter schools, and during the 1990s most states created a mechanism for starting them. Many more states have laws permitting alternative routes to teacher certification than did a decade ago.  States have taken over schools and school districts; mayors of many of the largest cities with the worst school systems have succeeded in attaining direct or indirect control over those systems.

            These measures appear in the aggregate to be improving what teachers do and what students learn. Hanushek and Raymond show that “the summary of estimated effects of introducing an accountability system is simple: Accountability systems appear to lead to significantly better growth in achievement.”  Another study that disaggregates scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) by state finds that “state activism has a significant independent effect on teachers’ use of classroom practices consistent with a standards-based model of mathematics education…. These policy effects on instruction may operate by promoting greater teacher receptivity to reform.”[4]  In other words, standards with accountability lead to higher test scores, in part because teachers teach differently.  In short, the momentum so far is toward greater, not lesser, accountability.


Why Is This Trajectory Suprising?

Mismatch between Problem and Proposed Solution: One might expect widespread reform to emerge in response to a deep and urgent problem. After all, a national commission famously insisted in the early 1980s that “we have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament;” a decade later, a popular book called for an “autopsy” on public education.[5]  If schools are that bad and getting worse, reform will soon follow.

That argument, however, has two problems that make it a poor explanation of the accountability movement of the 1990s. First, it is as easy to make the case that American schools have been improving, or at least stable in the face of a more complicated student population, as to make the claim that they have been worsening over the past several decades.  Others have provided evidence of worsening; I need not repeat it here.  Nevertheless, NAEP scores improved and then stabilized during the past thirty years, especially among black students; dropout rates declined, again especially among black students; students needing special education were increasingly incorporated into mainstream classes.[6]  SAT scores rose among both blacks and whites over the past two decades even though more people in both races are taking the test.[7]  These results are due partly to the fact that students are enrolling in tougher courses in high school than they used to.[8]  College enrollment is up in every racial or ethnic group.[9]

It is only schools in poor neighborhoods within inner cities that have deteriorated drastically. “For years, it was like storming the Bastille every day,” says one urban teacher. During the 1970s and 1980s, the gap in the quality of schools attended by blacks and whites worsened, entirely because poor inner-city schools and schools with fewer than 20 percent white enrollment deteriorated so much.  In fact, black students in nonurban schools actually did better during this period, while black students in urban schools were doing worse.  Similarly, during the 1990s, the most accomplished quarter of fourth grade readers improved their test scores on the NAEP, while the least accomplished quarter lost even more ground.  The top scorers were mostly white non-city dwellers; the low scorers were disproportionately nonAnglo boys in poor urban schools.[10] 

Measures of accountability have not tracked these patterns of accomplishment, or deterioration. The ambiguity in the evidence on the changing quality of schooling across the board implies that one ought to be uncertain about the urgency of reform for all schools; conversely, the consistency of the evidence of disaster in urban schools suggests that one ought to be passionate about the need for reform in urban schools. Instead, policymakers have shown strong and growing commitment to reform for all schools, regardless of how badly they appear to need it, but not a lot of precisely focused attention or resources directly aimed at the schools that desperately need help.

The second reason to be skeptical that the actual change in the quality of American schooling—regardless of whether that change is improvement or deterioration –explains the reform movements of the 1990s has to do with citizens’ perceptions.  Americans are no more or less satisfied with public education than they were thirty years ago, when there was no drive toward accountability. From 1974 (when first asked) through 2002, citizens’ “grades” for the schools in their local community have hovered around a C+.  Public school parents always give slightly higher grades than do those with no children in schools. Parents give a solid B on average to the school their oldest child attends, and that grade too has not declined. Americans give the worst grade, a C, to the public schools “in the nation as a whole,” but this grade too is stable.[11]  Regardless of whether these ratings are too high or too low, what matters here is the fact that they have not changed; one cannot explain a rising level of educational reform by a flat line of anxiety about school quality.


Americans’ Ambivalence about Academic Standards: Americans, in fact, seem thoroughly ambivalent – not to say self-contradictory – when it comes to substantive educational reforms. When people are asked directly about reform, polls show consistent strong support for accountability.  Most respondents endorse setting high and systemic standards, testing students, and rewarding or punishing students and staff based on the test results.  Enthusiasm is even greater among parents in large cities with many unsuccessful schools, such as Los Angeles, New York, and Cleveland. It is higher among nonwhites than whites.  Parents claim to endorse the policy regardless of whether their own child might be held back.  In 2000, although 40 percent of Latinos in Texas believed the TAAS to be biased against minority students, only 30 percent opposed its use as a graduation requirement.[12]

Nevertheless, when given a free choice of what to focus on, Americans pay a lot of attention to discipline, safety, extracurricular activities, and the work ethic; they give little attention to performance. Typically, a plurality of respondents (at least 15 percent) agree that “the biggest problem in schools today” is lack of discipline, and another 20 percent or more focus on violence and gangs, or drugs.  Five percent or fewer express most concern about the quality of education or standards.[13]  Twice as many Americans care that schools teach good work habits as care about advanced mathematics, and almost four times as many endorse teaching the value of hard work as compared with teaching Shakespeare or Hemingway.  But not too much hard work: 60 percent of Americans would rather have their child “make average grades and be active in extracurricular activities” than “get A grades”[14]

Until recently, in fact, Americans worried about too much more than about too little innovation.  In 1970 and again in 1982, more parents agreed that local schools’ curricula met “today’s needs” than thought they needed renovation.  At about the same time, more thought local schools were “too ready to try new ideas” than thought they were too dull (their children disagreed). Only in 1997 did a bare majority agree that the curriculum needed to be updated; policies to promote reform were changing citizens’ views rather than responding to them.[15]

In short, when asked about standards and accountability, the public is enthusiastic. When asked about schools, the public gives standards and accountability very low priority. One cannot argue plausibly that school reform of the past decade was a response to pressure from voters; if they judged by surveys, electorally-sensitive public officials would have focused on something else.


Teachers and Teachers’ Unions:  Unions show the same ambivalence as citizens. Albert Shanker pushed the membership of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), of which he was president, to endorse charter schools in 1988, thud giving the nascent movement its first crucial credibility.  Shanker continued to promote substantive school reform and high standards, writing, for example, in 1994 that the “centerpiece” of a report on school reform should be

an attempt to measure progress toward the goal of improved student achievement and an analysis of what seems to be working and what seems to be failing…. The whole point of school reform is to have students learn more. If this doesn't happen, the experiment is a failure, no matter how happy the children, the parents and teachers -- and the reformers -- are.

Two years later, he described “the key elements” of  reform as “safe and orderly schools, rigorous academic standards, assessments based on those standards, incentives for students to work hard in school and genuine professional accountability.”[16] 

Sandra Feldman carried on the message when she became president of the AFT; as she put it, “enhanced student achievement, based on high standards and research-proven programs and practices, must be the driving force behind all reform efforts.” She argued that schools should be closed or reorganized if they fail, and endorsed detailed guidelines for  “improvement programs and strategies.”  The larger National Education Association (NEA) was even more closely tied with school reform by the late 1990s. Its president, Bob Chase, gave a “legendary” speech, in the words of Education Week, in 1997, insisting that the union’s “narrow, traditional agenda” is “utterly inadequate to the needs of the future” and pledging to “work… to raise and enforce standards for student achievement.”[17] Chase reorganized his office and staff to promote student performance, and endorsed experiments in peer review and performance-based pay. He was re-elected without opposition.

            Nevertheless, “when he Chase  stood up and gave his reform message, there wasn’t always a standing ovation.”  In response to his request for union support of performance-based pay, for example, “the [NEA] assembly not only rejected the proposal, but also strengthened the union’s opposition to the idea.”[18]  Neither candidate to succeed Chase promoted his “new unionism,” and the eventual winner dismissed charter schools as a “fad.”  Both candidates campaigned vehemently against NCLB, calling it variously “another empty phrase” and “little more than Vouchers Lite.” [19]  Chase’s efforts had little discernable impact on the NEA.

Many local teachers’ unions also consistently fight serious reforms or measures of accountability.  In New York, to cite only one instance, “the top echelons of the UFT [United Federation of Teachers], generally regarded as more liberal than the rank and file, usually praise reforms.  At the school level, however, union representatives routinely respond to innovations by characterizing changes as violations of the union contract and filing grievances that prevent reforms.”[20]  The Ohio Federation of Teachers is part of a coalition challenging in court aspects of the charter school law in their state.

Unions, unlike school reformers, may be following the wishes of their constituents. Although teachers endorse higher standards in the abstract, very few identify poor curricula or low standards as the biggest problem facing their schools.[21]  Almost twice as many (43 percent) superintendents in Ohio ranked teachers as unenthusiastic about proficiency testing as the next highest group, parents.[22] A slim majority of teachers believe that the curriculum in their school needs no improvement; teachers consistently rate local schools much higher than do other Americans and higher than private schools.[23] Four out of five worry about unanticipated consequences of reform; their caution exceeds that of superintendents, principals, school board members, and business leaders.  Only 45 percent endorse “tying teacher rewards and sanctions to their students’ performance,”[24] and over twice as many teachers as members of the public agreed in 1997 that “there is too much emphasis on achievement testing in the public schools.”[25]  Unions oppose and teachers in polls are evenly split on the issue of alternative certification routes into the classroom. [26]

Teachers’ unions may be right to resist some reform efforts. And in any case, every professional association from doctors and lawyers through teachers and professors resists external monitoring and sanctions of its members’ accomplishments.  The substance of unions’ positions, however, is not at issue here; what is crucial is that their skepticism or even hostility to reforms promoting accountability deepens the mystery of why such reforms have been steadily gaining ground. The Economist recently described teachers’ unions as “one of the most powerful forces in American politics;”[27] if that were the case, the trajectory of the past decade would have been different.  We are left with one more reason to wonder why, from a political standpoint, the education reforms of the 1990s ever happened.


Party Politics: The Economist also proclaims that  “it is only a small exaggeration to describe the Democratic Party as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the teachers’ unions”[28] But that too seems wrong; Democratic politicians as well as Republican ones have endorsed strong measures of accountability despite union opposition and public ambivalence. President Bill Clinton strongly supported charter schools, and during his presidency they were authorized and implemented in over two-thirds of the states.  President Clinton, like President George Bush before him, endorsed national tests and standards.  Democratic senators and Representatives voted overwhelmingly for President George W. Bush’s  NCLB, and Democratic leaders such as Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative George Miller were essential to its passage.  States with Democratic as well as Republican legislatures and governors are creating programs for alternative certification of teachers and promulgating high stakes tests. This is not a record of which an all-powerful interest group in opposition, which purportedly controls one party, should be proud.


Political Incentives Not to Impose Clear Measures of Accountability:  The puzzle of why measures of accountability have expanded in the face of so many political obstacles grows even stronger when one considers that elected officials have put themselves on the line to produce measurable results among students.  Almost everything we thought we knew about the history of public schooling, and about political incentives more generally, seems to work against the growth of clear standards with public accountability for achieving difficult outcomes.

            As Terry Moe points out in this volume, “governors are [now] viewed as most responsible for improving the quality of schools.”  But that is new. Until very recently, governors were content to leave educational policy in the hands of obscure and ostentatiously nonpartisan state departments of education, and to leave educational programs in the hands of sometimes hundreds of largely autonomous local districts.  Mayors in large cities, where schools genuinely are in crisis, are also moving to take direct control of public schooling. That too is new; through most of the twentieth century mayors were content, even eager, to leave this whole arena in the hands of an often- autonomous local district(s) run by a directly-elected and frequently nonpartisan school board.  (Even in cities where mayors appointed members of the school board, the appointments were supposed to be nonpartisan.)

Even more surprisingly, the national Republican party has moved to claim public responsibility for schooling outcomes, despite its historic commitment to stay out of local affairs and the fact that federal dollars cover only 7 percent of schooling costs. After all, the Party’s presidential campaign platform called for eliminating the Department of Education up until the election of 2000.  Most surprisingly of all, leaders of the Republican Party insisted that NCLB require the disaggregation of students’ test results, so that it will be clear whether the children whose scores have proven the most intractable and whose parents are not Republican voters  – poor children, African Americans, English language learners – actually do better.

            As others have pointed out, politicians face a huge principal-agent problem in this arena. That is, the chain of control in public schooling is long and convoluted – from elected officials to school board (whose members may be competitors for their offices), to superintendent, to principal, teacher(s), parents, and finally student.  No pair of links on that chain have very tight causal bonds; in combination they epitomize “loose coupling.”  Furthermore, no one doubts that forces outside educators’ or politicians’ control greatly affect the ability of students to learn and teachers to teach.  These forces include children’s and their classmates’ socioeconomic status, the nature of their neighborhood, the stability and composition of their family, the health and disability status of a child and his or her family, the movement of women into professions other than teaching, the growth of non-English speaking immigrants in many schools, mobility across schools and districts, and more.  Some of these forces exercise random but important effects on a child’s capacity to reach a set of standards; most, however, work cumulatively to diminish achievement of poor children in poor communities. Why would any politically sophisticated elected official (that is almost a definitional redundancy) seek responsibility for attaining a clearly measurable outcome that is so difficult to reach and over which he or she has so little control? 

They seldom do. Douglas Arnold has shown the many ways that elected officials create institutions that permit deniability on contentious issues, maintain maneuvering room on issues with complex causal chains, duck issues on which many constituents have intense and contradictory views, and avoid offending powerful constituency groups with deep pockets and highly organized platoons of voters (e.g. teachers’ unions).[29]  And yet by mandating standards with accountability, elected officials of all political stripes and at all levels of government have eschewed deniability, narrowed their maneuvering room, and offended a powerful interest group—all for the sake of tackling a contentious and perhaps intractable problem. Why?


The Political Dynamics of Promoting Reform Economic and Demographic Imperatives:  Possibly politicians are responding to a fear that students are not learning enough to succeed in a changing economy. This argument is well-known, so I can be brief. Arguably, new technologies require a more highly educated workforce and the nature of work itself is changing, so that workers can no longer rise into the comfortable middle class by dropping out of school and taking a job on the factory floor. As jobs increasingly come to need higher levels of verbal and computational sophistication, employers find it harder and more expensive to train poorly-educated new employees, and political actors increasingly worry that poorly educated workers will be a drag on the new economy.  Thus, according to this argument, business leaders joined with political leaders and a few far-seeing educators in the 1990s to demand rigorous academic standards with clear assessments for all future workers.[30]

Politicians may also, or instead, be responding to a concern about who those workers will be and where they are coming from.  The outstanding demographic impact for the next few decades will arise from the aging of baby boomers and, absent a major change in immigration laws, from increased racial and ethnic diversity in the population, especially among the young. About 13 percent of the American population is now over 65; by 2030, the aged will comprise roughly 20 percent.[31]  Because of the growth in the elderly population and the size of the school-aged population, the dependency ratio--the ratio of those of working age to the young and old--is likely to become much higher over the next few decades.[32]   At the same time, the Anglo population of the country will decrease from 70 percent in 2000 to about 50 percent in 2050 as the proportions of Asian Americans and Hispanics both double.[33]  In at least 15 states, more than 40 percent of the school-aged population will be nonAnglo by 2015.  Latino children already outnumber black children by several million.[34] 

As demographer William Frey points out, these changes will have “enormous implications.  We’re looking down the road at a huge racial generation gap between the old, white baby boomers and these young, multiracial people.”[35]  This racial generation gap could create serious policy dilemmas if policymakers feel that they must choose between, say, higher budgets for health care for the elderly or higher budgets for schooling for youth.  The gap could also lead to severe social division; in addition to polarization between young and old, we might see increased divisions between Anglo and nonAnglo populations, immigrants and native-born Americans, or ethnic or racial communities.

These dangers can be averted, according to the argument from the demographic imperative, if all children attain a better education.  Better-educated workers and fewer unemployable adults will ease the dependency ratio, provide more funds for needed social services for the elderly, and reduce the need for social services for the young.  Fully incorporating immigrant children and children of color into the society and economy through the schools will reduce the pull toward polarization both by making Anglos better able to deal with differences and by making nonAnglos less different.  In short, recognizing that better schooling for all children will help to solve severe looming problems, political actors, far-sighted business executives, and a few educational leaders took action over the past decade to raise standards and insist on accountability.

It would be comforting to use the economic and demographic imperatives to explain the political puzzle that I have been articulating.  The logic here is that the nation was facing severe problems that improved education would help to solve, so people took steps to improve education. But any historian knows that political actors are not always far-sighted, correct in their visions of the future, or able to put those visions into practice.  Otherwise there would be no – or at least fewer – wars, famines, riots, scandals, and simple mistakes.  After all, anyone who has studied American racial dynamics for 20 years, as I have, knows that the presence of a deep and troubling problem does not imply that a solution is forthcoming. We need a more complete explanation for why, given all the obstacles described above, educational reforms of the 1990s actually took hold.


Issue Expansion:  A good explanation will show, not just why the reform movement started since lots of reform efforts start, but why it persisted and even gained momentum in the face of substantial obstacles. One set of political scientists describe this process as issue expansion, which has several stages.  First, “when issues reach the public agenda,… political leaders react… by doing whatever they can to provide support for specialists who convince them that they have the power to solve a major national problem. Leaders want to be seen as facilitating, not hindering, the work of experts when the public believes that something good may come it.”  Next, policymakers “create new institutions to support their programs…. These [new] institutions then structure participation and policymaking.”  Finally, the excitement dies away, replaced by either concern for another problem, frustration with the intractability of this one, or simply fickleness. But “after public interest and enthusiasm fade, the institutions remain, pushing forward with their preferred policies.  These institutional legacies of agenda access may structure participation so that a powerful subsystem can remain relatively independent of popular control for decades.”[36]

I have already shown that there was no popular demand for substantive school reform in the 1980s.  Many Americans, nevertheless, shared an amorphous but growing concern about “the rising tide of mediocrity” in the schools.  More importantly, voters’ opinions generally shifted toward the right end of the political spectrum, generating a growing desire to hold public officials accountable for using taxpayers’ dollars efficiently.  In some policy arenas, that desire took the form of a move away from public provision of services into markets; an example is the shift of health care for the poor from public hospitals and local community health services into competitive HMOs. But in public education, perhaps because of Americans’ commitment to “the ideology of public schooling,”[37] increasing public conservatism combined with a vague sense that education wasn’t good enough to generate a focus on more and better performance, whether within or outside the public arena.

During the 1980s, that focus crystallized into rules that increased course requirements and set minimal standards for graduation.[38]  It also emerged in calls for moving “back to basics” in elementary schools, and in what eventually became Goals 2000 and the abortive drive by presidents of both parties to develop national standards and tests. A few governors and state legislatures joined in the call for “higher standards,” perhaps because they thought it could be an unfunded mandate – that is, a requirement by a higher governmental unit that a lower one (or private actor) accomplish some public purpose without attaining additional resources to do so.  After all, if legislators could pass laws requiring teachers to make students work harder and learn more, why not?

Once a few political actors prominently demanded higher standards and greater accountability, others joined the movement. The political attractiveness of advocating coherence and high standards proved irresistible to politicians, if only for the pleasure of challenging their opponents to favor incoherence and low standards. That may be too cynical, but regardless of the reason the issue of school quality was prominently on the public agenda by the early 1990s. At that point political leaders began to provide the support needed by specialists who claimed to have solutions to the purported national problem of low achievement, just as the theory of issue expansion would predict. 

Part of what is so fascinating about this issue, however, is that neither leaders nor specialists were the people whom one would have initially expected. The specialists were not for the most part educators; they remained largely outside the arena of accountability and reform until late in the process.  The specialists were instead state supreme courts, which started demanding adequate schooling as a way to judge how much financial equalization was appropriate, and business leaders who wanted better-trained workers and measurable outcomes for their tax dollars. Other specialists included college professors and professional associations who designed the standards, and commercial test preparers who are creating the measures of accountability.

Similarly, the political leaders who moved in to support the specialists were not primarily liberals concerned about the terrible state of inner city schools. They were, instead, relatively conservative Democratic governors and mayors, perhaps concerned about the impact of the demographic changes that were appearing first in cities, and Republicans seeking to demonstrate their compassion as well as their conservatism. A few liberal civil rights advocacy groups also came to perceive standards with accountability as serving the interests of poor children of color in urban schools, so they united with conservative Democrats and Republicans on this issue.

That combination of actors has, so far, been enough to support the creation of new institutions to develop and maintain reforms.  These new institutions are indeed structuring participation and policymaking in the arena of accountability, just as the theory of issue expansion would predict. Every state and most districts have new offices whose purpose is to institutionalize a new repertoire of reforms, ranging from high-stakes tests and curricular coordination and revision, to charter schools, alternative certification programs, or receiverships of the worst-off schools and districts.  Mayors of several of the largest cities acquired direct accountability for schools, a major institutional change that will not easily be undone. The mandates of NCLB will also reinforce and expand state- and district-level institutions focused on testing and measurement of outcomes, and may generate yet more institutions as a result of that measurement.

We do not yet know how the third stage of issue expansion – the persistence of new policies and institutions once public attention shifts to another problem -- will play out. If teachers’ unions are as powerful as Moe, the Economist, and others[39] suggest and if the public is as indifferent to achievement as some surveys indicate, these institutions may be co-opted and hollowed out. In that case, apparent accountability will indeed become a sham.  But that has not yet happened, and so far the trajectory remains one of expansion, not contraction.  In either case, school reform for accountability persists as a fascinating topic: by the usual political criteria it should not have gotten off the ground, and by the usual educational criteria it should not have met with much success. But it was attempted and arguably is accomplishing its goals.[40]  Albert Shanker would have been pleased, even if many of his constituents remain ambivalent.




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--- (1995). Assignment Incomplete: The Unfinished Business of Education Reform. New York:  Public Agenda Foundation

--- (1996). Given the Circumstances: Teachers Talk about Public Education Today. New York: Public Agenda Foundation,

--- (2000). A Sense of Calling: Who Teaches and Why. New York: Public Agenda Foundation

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Raymond, M. and  E. Hanushek (2003). Shopping for Evidence Against School Accountability. Stanford CA: Stanford University, Hoover Institution

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[1] Public Education Network and Education Week 2002

 [2] As a consequence proponents have sought out sympathetic activist courts, where they are meeting with more success; the parallels with liberal supporters of school desegregation almost half a century ago are striking.

 [3] Hanushek and Raymond this volume OR p. 17, “Improving Ed. Quality” 8/02 Fed Reserve Bank of Boston

 [4] Hanushek and Raymond 2002: 12 of ms. version; Swanson and Stevenson 2002: 1. More fully, “a state’s level of standards-based policymaking exerts a significant positive effect on the use of standards-based instructional practices within the classroom” (ibid., p. 13). This study did not look directly at measures of accountability.

 [5] National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983; Lieberman 1993; see also Chubb and Moe 1990

 [6] On worsening, see Peterson 2003.  On NAEP, see National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2002: tables 112, 124; on dropouts see NCES 2002, tables 108, 109; on special education, see NCES 2002: table 53

 [7] The proportion of white 17- and 18-year-olds taking the SAT rose from 18.5 to 22 percent between 1977 and 2000, while the average white’s combined SAT score rose from 1036 to 1060.  The proportion of African Americans of the same ages taking the SAT rose from 12 to 19 percent over the same period, while blacks’ average SAT score rose from 789 to 859  (calculations by author from census data and data provided by the Educational Testing Service [ETS]. Test scores control for the “recentering” done by ETS during this period.)

 [8] From 1987 to 1998, American students increased the number of courses they took in virtually all subjects.  Four times as many blacks and six times as many Hispanics now take a full curriculum as their predecessors did in the early 1980s.  Many more students are now studying advanced algebra and chemistry, and here too African Americans and Latinos are closing the gap with Anglos and Asians (Center on Education Policy and American Youth Policy Forum 2000: 6-8). 

 [9] NCES 2002: table 184

 [10] Quotation is from Olson 1998: 1. Data on inner city schools is in Cook and Evans 2000; NAEP results are in Zernike 2001

 [11] NCES 2002: table 22

 [12] Hochschild and Scovronick 2003: 97; for some public skepticism, see "Improving Our Schools" 2001. On Latinos, see Dyer 2000.

[13] CBS News 1999, and all Phi Delta Kappa or Gallup polls on this issue.

 [14] On work, see Public Agenda 1995: 43; on extracurricular activities, see Phi Delta Kappa 1996

 [15] Phi Delta Kappa 1970, 1974, 1982, 1997

 [16] Shanker 1994; Shanker 1996

 [17] Feldman is at; Chase 1997-98 (emphasis in original)

 [18] both quotations in Archer 2002: 10; the first is from an NEA activist

 [19] The comment about charter schools is in Keller 2002a.  Reactions to NCLB are in Keller 2002b, quoting, respectively, Reg Weaver (the eventual winner) and Denise Rockwell

 [20] Ross 1998: 127

 [21] Phi Delta Kappa teacher surveys; Public Agenda 1996: 22-25

 [22] Sutton 2001

 [23] For these views, see Phi Delta Kappa 1997 (teachers); Public Agenda 1992: 14; 1996: 19-20; Metropolitan Life Survey 2000: 112. check cites

 [24] Public Agenda 1996: 41; Public Agenda 2000: 44

 [25] Phi Delta Kappa teachers’ surveys, 1997 and 1996

 [26] Public Agenda 2000: 44.

 [27] "Lexington: Inching Toward Reform" 2002

 [28] ibid.

 [29] Arnold 1990

 [30] Goldin 2001 provides a historical perspective on the relativer virtues and vices of the American and European educational systems from the perspective of the economy. She too concludes that the “forgiving” American educational system no longer fits our economic needs.

 [31] Frey and DeVol 2000

 [32] By one prediction, the dependency ratio in the U. S. will increase from about 63:100 in 1992 to about 83:100 in 2030 (Bureau of the Census 2000; see also Toder and Solanki 1999: 5-10).

 [33] These figures assume that the racial and ethnic categories now in use will remain meaningful over the next century. That is unlikely, especially if intermarriage continues to grow at the same rate that it has over the past few decades.

 [34]  Vernez and Krop 1999.  Hodgkinson 2000 surveys the implications of these demographic changes for schools.

 [35]   In Los Angeles County, the “elderly population is still majority white, its working-aged population is only about one-third white, and its child population is predominantly Hispanic and other racial and ethnic groups” (Frey 2000: 23; see also Skertic 2001).

 [36] Baumgartner and Jones 1993: 83-84.

 [37] The first quoted phrase is in National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983; the second is in Moe 2001

 [38] see the chapter by Thomas Dee in this volume.

 [39] Brimelow 2003

 [40] Debates rage furiously over whether accountability measures are helping, harming, or having no effect on students.  A powerful recent claim of ineffectiveness or even harm is Amrein and Berliner 2002; a powerful response claiming benefit is Raymond and Hanushek 2003.