Utah’s most recent school accountability results have just been released, using a new framework to provide a more in-depth picture of how students are doing in every school in the state. This framework informs both the policy debate at the Legislature as well as recent discussions at the local level about school closures.
Education is complex and no measurement approach is perfect, but this new framework is an important tool for understanding our education system as a whole. It tells us where we’re strong and where we have work to do to make sure that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school and in life.
But grading schools is a tricky business. No school grading and accountability framework, no matter how sophisticated, tells the complete story. We all have to acknowledge that schools alone don’t produce the results we see. Education is a team sport. And winning — achieving excellent results for every child — requires everyone on the team to work together. It’s not just teachers, principals and district leaders. It’s students, parents, policymakers and the broader community — business leaders, nonprofits, philanthropists, churches, volunteers, taxpayers — everyone. And where there are significant barriers to education, like poverty, the breadth and strength of the team working to educate our students is even more important — and everyone must share accountability for the results.
Creating an environment of shared accountability sounds easy, but, in practice, it’s pretty tough. Too often we point fingers when results aren’t what we hope. We blame teachers, administrators and the “bureaucracy.” We blame parents. We blame the Legislature. We blame the assessment method itself. We create a type of circular firing squad where trust is destroyed along with the possibility of actually working together with the focus and rigor needed to succeed.
The Promise Partnership Regional Council, or PPRC, was created to tackle this problem. Our commitment is to build the broadest and strongest team possible and to transform the educational environment for Utah kids. The PPRC spans six school districts from Ogden to Canyons School District in southern Salt Lake County. It encompasses 10 community-based partnerships that draw even more partners to the table — often led by city mayors. It goes deep in more than 40 school and neighborhood partnerships where principals, teachers, parents and nonprofits are working together every day. Overall, the PPRC engages hundreds of organizational partners and thousands of volunteers. The PPRC, composed of business and community leaders, superintendents, mayors, state government leaders and others, coordinates this effort and is building the type of shared accountability and teamwork that has to happen to help every school and every child succeed, regardless of barriers they face.
School grades should never be a cause to point fingers. And imperfections of our grading system should never allow us to shift our focus from real inequities in our society. We know that improving outcomes for students, especially those living in poverty (roughly 35 percent of Utah’s students), requires all of us to work together differently.
No school and no sector can do this alone. We have to build a bigger and better team with the trust to have honest conversations about where our own contributions are falling short, and the commitment to support each other in changing what isn’t working. It may be easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize the players, or even the game itself. But education is not a spectator sport. We encourage Utahns to get involved and be part of the solution.