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The effects of accountability on education policies in the USA

by Florent Bick last modified 2010-11-04 10:37


University of Burgundy, IREDU. IUF

The effects of accountability on education policies in the USA

Accountability policies have been developed in some states or districts since the early 1990s: standards + evaluations + incentives. These policies through the No Child Left Behind Act have been extended to the whole American territory since 2002. This law represents the most coherent attempt to apply this type of policy to school systems and attaches greater attention to the performance of weaker or socially underprivileged students than the previous accountability measures.

This law meets philosophical opposition from those who mention Dewey but most agree to assess on the basis of its criteria, namely students scores at national tests. The effects of this law can be measured from two main perspectives: have the scores of American students improved and inequalities decreased since 2002? They have indeed from 2002 to 2007 in most states but opponents pointed out that gains were far below the target set for 2014 and were not higher than those observed before the law was enacted. The line has levelled off in some subjects since 2007. Consequently influential supporters of NCLB have joined the opposite side ever since. Have improvements been higher than in the countries – France in particular – in which this type of policy has not been implemented? In this regard, the three PISA surveys revealed that according to indicators scores improved or levelled off in the USA but decreased in France, especially for weaker and underprivileged students.

Hence two questions:

(1) Why are NCLB scores disappointing and clearly below expectations and targets set? The type of assessments (teaching to the test, threshold effects, etc.), the nature of incentives and overambitious targets were blamed.

(2) Is the deterioration of the French situation related to the opposition to accountability?

Obama’s political answers seem to take account of these two types of approaches. Some researchers justify these answers and show that the scientific logic (stating that a policy is effective once it is sure that the other hypothesis is discarded) is different from the political logic (not being blamed for not taking action, not excluding that deterioration is possible). The Obama administration does not seek to drop accountability policy but rather to extend NCLB to all states and teachers and improve it through an approach based on added value and school improvement.

Education et sociétés
Numéro 21
Former des élites dans un monde incertain
Coordonné par Yves Dutercq
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Association internationale des sociologues de langue françaiseComité de recherche n °7 Éducation, Formation, Socialisation
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