Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Trip to India Part 3 - Accountability

For a country as intentional as India, it was pretty incredible to see the lack of outcome data.  Students take a test once in 10th grade, and that's pretty much it.  It caused me to reflect on the value of No Child Left Behind.  There aren't too many things I agreed on with George W. Bush, but this was just an amazing step forward in accountability in the United States.  I remember soon after that law got going, I presented my first charter application for Rocketship.  Part of that process was to justify the need for a new school.  So I took the school district results and disaggregated them into the results for upper-income students and low-income students, for white students and students of color.  What I showed was a 50 percentage point gap in the number of students who were at grade level between upper-income and lower-income students.  As I was presenting this to the school board, the superintendent's face got redder and redder, and he was clearly incensed with me.  I could not figure out what was going on.  I asked one of the board members afterwards and her response was telling: "John, we have never seen those numbers before.  Our average result across all students was fine, so we thought our district was doing well."  This was a school board member!  Without outcome data, it's simply impossible for us humans to figure out the size of a problem, we aren't equipped to do that by observation.

So here is India with 400 million kids to educate and this incredibly rich system of government and private schools doing the work.  Within hours, you are talking to people about why a given school approach is good or bad, all completely without any data to prove effectiveness.  In the vacuum that this lack of accountability creates, the government of course regulates the only way it can, with inputs and process.  So India is going to have to move very quickly to get outcome measures in place.  My guess is that they can start with a couple of grade levels with beginning and end of year tests so that they can see gains, probably 4th and 7th grade or something like that.  They also have the complexity that we do, which is that private schools could easily decide to opt out of the accountability system so that their results were not comparable to the government schools.  For the upper-income private schools, I would expect them to do exactly that.  But for most students,  I think India has a great advantage over the United States.  Because their affordable private schools are small businesses, they are incredibly competitive in recruiting students.  Given the urgency of Indian parents, it is likely that outcome data would become one of the chief criteria they use for choosing schools.  So affordable schools would be highly incented to take the test and then recruit with their results.

This aspect of India's system actually made me appreciate the U.S. approach, by focusing on outcomes (although of course people always question their validity), we have moved to a much more rational discussion than only a decade or two ago.  Let's hope that India makes this jump soon!

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