Community-Based Accountability: Best Practices for School Officials

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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 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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 engagement.
    • 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.
  3. 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 environments.
  4. 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
Categories: Education, Wake County
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