School Accountability

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Three big shifts in our K-12 system are converging, setting up San Francisco and Oakland schools to lead positive changes for students well beyond their own.

The Dept. of Ed.’s new accountability system is being developed as two other landmark changes ripple through: changes in how we test children and fund schools. Students now take adaptive tests by computer and schools have more local control over how they spend state money. Despite hiccups, these changes mean access to significantly increased information about kids and choices about school spending, simultaneously.

This unprecedented situation offers opportunities to take better pictures of our schools and use them for good. Bay Area schools are uniquely poised to lead.

San Francisco and Oakland Unified are among nine districts in California piloting a “School Quality Index” that innovates by measuring more than students’ academic performance. This Index also makes students who may be small populations at their schools—such as students in foster care—more visible. To be better accountable for all children, it helps to see them in our snapshots.

Early trials show the Index is capable of revealing exemplary schools where students are “beating the odds.” We could learn from such schools. Will we?


The new, more nuanced pictures from these districts will be published in February.

Parents, educators, and community members can influence their local schools and how they invest state funds for positive change. It takes data, meetings, and speaking up. I encourage you to. Speaking up could ripple out, because as the new accountability system is implemented, schools across the state will be looking to learn from one another. And there’s a good chance they’ll look to schools in San Francisco and Oakland.

Positive changes won’t happen overnight, but they can happen. When they do, we’ll have pictures others can learn from. That’s leading.

With a Perspective, I’m Carrie Holmberg.

Carrie Holmberg is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Leadership program at San José State University.