Civil Accountability

I’m traveling again. This time I’m in Las Vegas (which sounds better in theory than in reality) meeting with the Center Directors of the Coalition of Essential Schools, the group that provided the pedagogical foundation for my (and a lot of other folks) educational practice. It’s a good group doing good work- perhaps too quietly for my tastes, but humbly and powerfully to say the least. This morning I find myself thinking about the 10th Common Principal which reads:

Democracy and equity
The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.

This principal wasn’t part of Ted Sizer’s original plan, but the network of schools and centers created it in the mid ’90’s in response to a perception that progressivist/ constructivist teaching and learning couldn’t happen in environments that were inequitable. Looking back, it’s sort of a no-brainer.

It seems the administration has caught up with our thinking. Today’s New York Times has the early specs on Arne Duncan’s message today in in Selma, Ala., marking the anniversary of the confrontation between state troopers and civil rights demonstrators.

As part of this initiative, compliance reviews will address inequity in opportunity and achievement nationwide. These reviews are not new. In fact,

Russlyn H. Ali, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, said in an interview that the department would begin 38 compliance reviews before the current fiscal year ended on Oct. 1. That number compares with 29 such reviews carried out last year, 42 in 2008, 23 in 2007 and nine in 2006, she said.

In addition, about 15,000 schools and about several thousdand IHEs are being put on notice as well and one of the nation’s largest school districts (as yet unnamed) will find itself under investigation as of Wednesday.

It’s about time. How different would our system be right now if we’d focused our accountability efforts through this lens rather than that of High Stakes Testing? Would we finally be having those difficult but powerful conversations about the ways our expectations for our kids are shaped by where they live, how they look and the way they speak? I don’t know- but I look forward to finding out.

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