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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Statement on District Accountability

The motion that is pending before the Board is certainly historic. In many respects, it is as historic as the vote this Board took four years ago to establish a statewide graduation requirement based on academic achievement. Although there have been other instances when the state has intervened in school districts, the causes of past interventions have been related to fiscal crises or allegations of malfeasance. Today, however, as required by the Education Reform Act, we are considering whether the state should intervene in school districts on the basis of inadequate educational performance.

Before we take up the Commissioner's specific recommendations, we should first make clear what we are not considering today. We are not voting to place any district into state receivership. According to state law and our own regulations, receivership may occur only when a district is declared by this Board to be "chronically under-performing." The motion before us today, however, involves merely a finding of "under-performance," the consequences of which are quite different from receivership.

A declaration of under-performance triggers three things. First, is an in-depth diagnostic evaluation, which will be conducted by the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, in collaboration with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Office of Accountability and Technical Assistance. On the basis of that evaluation, the Department will engage with the district in a joint planning process, to develop an improvement strategy, which will then be presented to this board for final approval. The district, supported by the Department, will then be afforded a reasonable period of time to implement its turnaround strategy.

Although there may be some embarrassment in being labeled under-performing, this is not a punitive process. Instead, it is a process that is rooted in collaboration and shared responsibility.

Under-performance does not imply that district personnel are incompetent. Nor does it imply that they have shirked their obligations to their students. Under-performance means that students are struggling to meet the higher standards we have established and the district is struggling in its efforts to help them succeed.

As often as not, these problems will be associated with structural or systemic barriers, rather than irresponsibility. They will more frequently be the result of inadequate capacity, rather inadequate competence.

Accountability for results is an uncomfortable and awkward process. Nevertheless, it is the very essence of education reform. Local decision-making and community pride are hallmarks of our educational system. But they are not ends themselves.

Effort and good intentions are simply not enough. Student learning is the non-negotiable bottom line. And when students are consistently failing to meet expectations, all of us-the state included-have a responsibility to act.

As we embark on this new phase of education reform, we must recognize that educating all children to high standards is hard work-very hard work-and the state doesn't have all the answers. But if the interests of students are to come first, we must be willing to put aside long-standing institutional prerogatives and work together.

Last Updated: December 1, 2003
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