Friday, August 17, 2012

Assess Schools Like Hospitals

Pedro Noguera, a sociologist, is the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University. He is also executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education. This post first appeared in The New York Times here.

by Pedro Noguera

The Obama administration is right to have issued 32 states waivers to the No Child Left Behind law, a failed policy that has not lived up to its promise of elevating all students.

But the waivers continue to require states to judge teachers and principals on the basis of high-stakes standardized tests of students, which have undermined support for public schools. Numerous studies have shown that the data generated by the tests is often inaccurate and varies widely from year to year. It also creates disincentives for teachers to teach the students with the greatest difficulties.

What’s needed is a fundamental shift in the way we think about standards and accountability. We should judge schools the way we judge hospitals and clinics based on the quality of service they provide and the outcomes of their patients. If we adopted a similar approach to schools we would be forced to address the gross inequities among schools that contribute to unequal outcomes.

When schools don’t achieve expected outcomes state officials should be dispatched to determine why. This is the approach that is used in the Netherlands where an Inspectorate is used to insure school quality. Like hospitals, schools would use assessments to diagnose learning needs and monitor progress. States would use the assessments to make informed decisions about changes in practices, personnel or inputs.

Under such a system there would need to be clear quality standards that could be used to assess the performance of teachers, principals, students, possibly even parents. In schools where outcomes are low, states would have to do more than issue threats or apply pressure. They would be expected to help schools figure out what needed to be changed to improve teaching and learning. Robert Pianta, dean of education at the University of Virginia, has developed a set of measures that are being used in a small but significant number of schools to promote effective teaching by providing educators with clear guidance on how to be more effective in the classroom.

There must also be accountability on state commissioners, state legislatures and governors. They set policy and they play a role in providing the inputs to schools. Right now, accountability is unidirectional; we hold those with the least power accountable while those with the most authority are not held responsible for how the decisions they make impact schools.


  1. The ideas here can bring some much needed positive change to the system, especially with regard to reciprocal relationships and responsiveness.


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