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AFT and other groups release new accountability framework

A broad-based group of organizations on Oct. 28 released "A New Social Compact for American Education"—a groundbreaking rethinking of accountability that replaces the current paradigm of "test and punish" with a focus on what is needed to support and improve teaching and learning.

Increasingly, communities across the country are developing the building blocks of a new approach to accountability. This new social compact, found at NewAccountability.org, is the most complete effort to date bringing together a diverse coalition in support of accountability systems that work to improve education.

"Real accountability in education is important. Parents and the American public are seeing what we have known for years—that standardized-test-obsessed accountability systems don't work," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Many education experts and advocates are devising new accountability systems that help support children's acquisition of the skills and knowledge they need, rather than simply testing and sanctioning. In communities across the country, we're seeing more and more examples of the building blocks of 'new accountability'—where students demonstrate their learning, teachers have data to inform instruction, and parents and communities know how their schools are doing. This new social compact is the broadest effort to date, drawing partners including superintendents, principals, school boards, civil rights organizations, education policy groups and, of course, teachers. Together, we really can build accountability systems that kids, families and communities deserve."

The new social compact grew out of discussions between a group of organizations committed to a paradigm shift in our education system that would promote better outcomes for all students. Seventeen groups—representing school boards, school administrators, teachers, school support staff, and civil rights and community organizations—have signed on to the statement of support. (See the complete list at the end.)

"The NEA wholeheartedly supports 'A New Social Compact for American Education.' We need to put the focus back on ensuring equity and supporting student learning and end the 'test, blame and punish' system that has dominated public education in the last decade. Our schools have been reduced to mere test-prep factories, and we are too-often ignoring student learning and opportunity in America," says NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. "Educators know that real accountability in public schools requires all stakeholders to place student needs at the center of all efforts. Real accountability in public schools requires that everyone—lawmakers, teachers, principals, parents and students—partner in accepting responsibility for improving student learning and opportunity in America."

The principles of the new social compact focus on three crucial areas: meaningful student learning, adequate resources and educators' professional capacity. These principles are the foundation of any strong accountability system, one that improves student outcomes and fulfills the public purpose of education.

"Our members have long recognized that there is a disconnect between the knowledge and skills needed by today's students and those being valued by our accountability systems," says Partnership for 21st Skills Executive Director Helen Soulé. "P21 is excited to be joining our colleagues in support of building new accountability models that support and enable every child to have access to high-quality 21st-century learning experiences."

"For too long, our nation has employed a punitive approach to school reform, setting standards and punishing schools, teachers and students who struggle to reach them," says John H. Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. "In recent years, education officials in cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia have used the guise of accountability to close or privatize dozens of schools, disproportionately harming students of color and students from low-income neighborhoods. It is time we acknowledge that this 'test-and-punish' system will not solve the rampant inequalities in our nation's schools. Instead, we need a new accountability system that builds the capacity of schools and the passionate educators who staff them to meet the needs of each and every student."

The NewAccountability.org website identifies places that are implementing key facets of this new accountability. It provides information about research and policy, a place for people to share stories of new accountability in action, and tools for individuals and groups to advocate for change, and it gives organizations an opportunity to sign on to the principles.

Read a story about the new initiative in U.S. News and World Report.

[Joint AFT, NEA, Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Schott Foundation for Public Education press release]

Alliance for Quality Education, American Federation of Teachers, American Youth Policy Forum, Center for Teaching Quality, Coalition for Community Schools, Committee for Economic Development, Education Law Center, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association of Bilingual Educators, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Education Association, National School Boards Association, Opportunity to Learn, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, the Albert Shanker Institute, the School Superintendents Association