Unlocking the Future

Education Accountability Can Learn from Health Care

Nearly two decades ago, policymakers on both sides of the aisle came together to establish clear academic expectations for students, assess student progress toward achieving those standards and use the resulting performance data to identify struggling schools and provide needed interventions. 

Those accountability benchmarks, unfortunately, have not produced the expected improvements or transformative changes that were promised, and support for them is diminishing in many circles.

What if we changed our approach? 

In an essay included in the Opportunity America collection UnLocking the Future, John Bailey, a fellow at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and a non-resident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, suggests abandoning the top-down, sanctions-driven approach. 

“Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the existing approach to accountability has been educators’ widespread inability to turn around low-performing schools,” wrote Bailey, also an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation. “Policymakers have tinkered with indicators and weighted measures to better identify struggling schools. But they have yet to figure out how to take a struggling school and turn it into a high performer.”

Instead, he writes,  we should adopt a reimagined approach which resembles the value-based payment systems that have been at the center of recent healthcare reform.

Bailey said the “reimagined” approach should retain the best of what exists, including high-quality assessments and high-academic expectations aligned with those of colleges and employers.

“Until recently, health care had a similar problem,” Bailey wrote. “The much-maligned, fee-for-service structure rewarded the quantity of health care offered, not its quality. The same is true in education, where struggling schools are rewarded for the quantity of instructional interventions provided, not the improvement they produce.”

Mark R. Lowery
Mark R. Lowery was formerly managing editor of Ed Post. He is a veteran journalist who has managed national magazines and worked for major newspapers, including New York Newsday, the Detroit Free Press and the Plain Dealer. He previously served as editorial director of October Research.

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