Education Accountability in Minnesota

The federal law known as No Child Left Behind has changed the dialogue about education in this country. In the past, the underperformance of minority children was masked when schools reported student achievement only in the aggregate. Those days are over. All schools are now required to report achievement for all groups of their students, and are being held accountable for helping students to meet specific academic goals.

The dialogue in Minnesota has started to change as well. In the past, we were able to stand proudly as our students were proclaimed as leading the nation on the ACT exam, or being among the top states in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). But now these proud accomplishments are tempered with recognition of the vast gap in achievement in Minnesota between white students and students of color.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige met with a group of Minnesota superintendents in February 2004 to discuss the implementation challenges of the law.  As a result of feedback received at that meeting, a policy change was made that had a positive impact on all schools in the nation.1 The success of that dialogue led to a summer listening tour around the state by the author to discuss No Child Left Behind so as to solicit additional feedback on challenges in implementing the law, thereby generating ideas for Secretary Paige as he and federal officials consider how to fine-tune it. What happened instead was a dialogue that went beyond No Child Left Behind and addressed much broader issues of accountability, including homegrown challenges faced by educators who understand that accountability in education is here to stay.

Education policymakers and administrators in Minnesota see accountability as an issue that both transcends No Child Left Behind and is sometimes constrained by it. In a series of meetings across the state, they made their concerns known. After providing historical background regarding the law, this report addresses the concerns raised by those Minnesota educators who serve as both policymakers and administrators. These concerns include:

  1. Measuring student growth: Transitioning to a value-added accountability model.
  2. Fairness: Addressing student subgroup populations.
  3. Ineffective teachers: What can be done?
  4. Teacher assignments: Targeting the needs of students.
  5. Mobility: Accountability for children educated elsewhere.
  6. Special education: A multiplicity of issues.
  7. Teacher Licensure: The need for flexibility.
  8. “Too Much Testing:” Confusion between diagnostic testing and testing for accountability.
  9. Funding: New strategies.
  10. Conflicts of Interest: Community Fairness and Protecting Classroom Dollars.

Each issue is addressed separately and is followed by recommendations for the local, state, or federal level. Minnesota educators understand that they have a dual obligation to (1) help all children to succeed, and (2) present taxpayers with the evidence that their investment in public education is paying positive dividends in the form of increased academic achievement. They recognize that this is a new era in public education, and most are embracing accountability even while confronting the challenges it brings. Any modifications suggested in this report are intended to strengthen No Child Left Behind and are in no way presented as a way to dodge the law or mask accountability. Educators recognize that a new day has dawned, requiring new and innovative approaches to old problems. We hope that the issues raised and recommendations made in this document will assist in the implementation of No Child Left Behind as the federal law matures, and also help to stimulate state policy discussions regarding those homegrown roadblocks to accountability that have been identified.