Center Education Fellow Taiyyaba Qureshi co-authored an article in this month's Poverty and Race Research Action Council Journal. Taiyyaba and Jason Langberg, Director of the Push Out Prevention Project in Legal Aid's Advocates for Children's Services program, presented their perspective on best accountability practices for education officials based on their experience in education advocacy across the state. Eldrin Deas, PhD Candidate at the UNC School of Education and 2012 Center for Civil Rights Southern Education Leadership Initiative summer fellow, contributed his knowledge of traditional education quality measures. Excerpts of the article are below and the full article is available on page 9 of the March/April PRRAC journal ().
Accountability in education must
include the idea that school systems have certain obligations to their
stakeholders. Traditional notions of accountability are mostly focused on
measuring performance outputs of students, teachers and principals, and fail to
identify metrics by which elected and appointed policymakers can be held
accountable for their actions. Unfortunately,
this trend has become even more prevalent as so-called market-based reforms (e.g.,
expanded high-stakes testing, merit pay, privitization) are adopted on the
federal, state and local levels. These policy changes in fact “de-form” democratic
principles of good governance and fairness, which require that school system
leaders be held accountable to the community. Over the past four years,
education policymakers and community advocates in Wake County, North Carolina
demonstrated that such accountability is essential to creating a healthy
relationship between the school district and the community it serves and to
producing high-quality, equitable outcomes for students.
Wake County’s education advocates learned several lessons from this
experience. When community concerns first arose, the Board had the opportunity
to gain allies through meaningful engagement with stakeholders. Instead, the Board
spent years and precious human and financial resources in media and legal
battles, rather than working with the community toward a high-quality, equitable
education for all students. As education law attorneys and researchers who
assisted advocates in the push for community-driven, democratic accountability,
the authors offer the following suggestions as best practices for elected and
appointed school officials:
Commit to honest and comprehensive engagement by reaching out to all segments of the community. Take the initiative to involve stakeholders early in policy development and implementation processes to create trust and buy-in.
Solicit diverse viewpoints by engaging with the
whole community—across geographic, age, socioeconomic and
racial groups. Even in systems with district-based elections (rather than district-wide
elections), each Board member should be conscious of needs across the whole
district. Avoiding the impression that the Board serves particular interest
groups creates trust in the Board as a body with the best interests of all
children at heart.
Provide regular, open, diverse forums (e.g., online
and phone surveys, public hearings, community meetings and task forces) to solicit
feedback from stakeholders, rather than relying only on time-constrained public
comments at regularly scheduled meetings. Short time limits may increase
meeting efficiency, but more importantly, they frustrate advocates and prevent
the Board from hearing the whole story.
Involve students, parents, knowledgeable
community members and trained educators in both the creation and implementation
of policies and practices, including significant financial decisions. This will
help the Board create evidence-based policies, promote community buy-in and
avoid the impression that the Board is making political decisions without
adequate consideration of or to the detriment of students.
Act with transparency and ensure due process for discipline, employment and all other grievances.
Develop and implement transparency policies,
including requirements for open meetings, adequate notice, publicly available and
timely copies of Board materials, thorough and quickly-released minutes, and prompt
and easy access to public records.
Be sensitive about scheduling important meetings
during times and places where stakeholders can attend. Some Boards rotate
meeting times and locations and repeat important hearings to attract parents
and students with inflexible work or transportation schedules. Anticipate
interest in issues and choose venues that have size and sound capacity to allow
everyone to attend and hear. Provide daycare and translation to facilitate full
Enact and comply with policies for fair dispute
resolution and appeals for employees and students, including grievances,
suspension and expulsion appeals, misconduct by law enforcement officers and
security officers assigned to schools, and special education.
Enact prospective policies to promote equitable student assignment and discipline at the district, school and classroom level for students and teachers.
Implement policies that position a district to
succeed with a high-quality, racially and socioeconomically diverse educational
experience at every school. Setting up schools, teachers and students to
succeed in this way enriches the educational experience, reinforces community engagement
and prevents legal confrontations.
Implement policies and practices that prevent
the push-out of students, such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports,
ample support services (e.g., psychologists, social workers and mentors),
restorative justice and high-quality alternative education.
Employment policies, including recruitment, benefits
and fair grievance procedures must be tailored to attract and retain highly-effective
and culturally-sensitive teachers and administrators.
Seek advice from law firms or organizations qualified
to objectively advise the Board on legally sound, equity-based policies, not
just risk management. Given the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (a
joint effort of the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice), voluminous
research from civil rights organizations, recent Title VI findings, and the December
2011 “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid
Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools,” school districts have
clear legal and policy paths to create diverse, fair and safe educational
Speak up! Fulfill ethical and professional obligations to promote transparency and equity in the system.
Even if representing minority viewpoints, Board
members and administrative staff should not be afraid to voice their opinions
and “blow the whistle” when necessary, including when budget cuts and resource
starvation force them into a position of violating the law. Courage, integrity and honesty are essential to accountability and
to the struggle for equity.
Posted by Taiyyaba A. Qureshi on Wed. March 20, 2013 9:16 AM
Education, Wake County