California enacted a standards-based accountability regime in 1999, aiming to boost achievement overall and narrow gaps among subgroups. Yet we know little about the efficacy of specific accountability practices and reform tools observed by teachers and principals. The loose-coupling critique of school organizations, positing that local educators steadily buffer interventions mounted by state actors, is challenged by a selective-coupling representation where school-level actors do experience rules and incentives that encourages compliance with state advanced curricular standards, pedagogical practices, and standardized testing. After surveying educators across a band of similar elementary schools, we can account for sizeable shares of the variance in mean Academic Performance Index (API) scores among schools and in the size of achievement gaps within schools. We found that achievement levels are higher when principals report a stronger district focus on a unified curriculum and their teachers share high expectations for learning. Gaps between white and Latino students are smaller when teachers report steady attention to meeting accountability targets. Latino achievement is more sensitive to these accountability practices, compared with the performance of white students. Even after sampling schools with similar student populations, the social-class background of students continued to heavily influence achievement levels, explaining greater shares of the variance than accountability practices.
Henne, M.K. and Jang, H. (2008), "Chapter 5 Raising achievement or closing gaps? Identifying effective accountability tools", Fuller, B., Henne, M.K. and Hannum, E. (Ed.) Strong States, Weak Schools: The Benefits and Dilemmas of Centralized Accountability (Research in the Sociology of Education, Vol. 16), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 133-155. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1479-3539(08)16005-0
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