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Civil Rights Groups Want Resources for Students to Factor in Accountability

Federal and state accountability has to do more than just hold schools' feet to the fire when it comes to student outcomes, a coalition of civil rights groups said in a letter sent to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Tuesday. The systems also have to ensure that school systems and policymakers at all levels are held accountable for "inputs," including providing conditions that make it possible for learning to take place.

Students—especially poor and minority kids—need equal access to resources, including good teachers; social, emotional, and health and nutrition services; and high-quality instructional materials (everything from technology to facilities).

Schools must also provide tailored professional development to educators that work with diverse student populations, and sustained outreach to parents and communities, the groups contend. 

Here's a snippet from their letter:

"While the need for accountability is almost universally agreed upon, there have been concerns raised about overly punitive accountability systems that do not take into account resources, geography, student populations, and specific needs of schools," the groups, which include the Advancement Project, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrote. "We must shift towards accountability strategies that promote equity and strengthen, rather than weaken, schools in our communities, so that they can better serve students and accelerate success."

Such accountability systems should consider factors like school climate and discipline alongside things like graduation rates, and student improvement, the groups write.  

The letter was also signed by: the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, the National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Council on Educating Black Children, the National Indian Education Association, and the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center.

The Obama administration took some recent action in this area, releasing civil rights guidance this month on "resource equity"—reminding school districts and states that they must make sure low-income and minority students get the same quality of teachers, facilties, and programs as their peers. 

What's more, this isn't the first time that groups have pushed to have resource equity play a role in accountability. In fact, similar proposals have been around since the beginning of the standards-based education redesign movement, when some educators pushed for what they termed "opportunity to learn standards" alongside standards for student outcomes and success. 

Since then, there has been a long debate in education policy over whether it's fair to hold schools accountable for student outcomes without also holding policymakers accountable for providing resources to schools. What's your take? 

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