to schools with more disadvantaged students, and an infrastructure to sustain reform. These policies were, in short, the main elements of standards-based reform.
Grissmer and Flanagan found few data to show how teachers and administrators in North Carolina and Texas changed their practices in ways that produced higher test scores. “But,” they conclude, “it appears to be the changed design of the organizational environment and competitive incentive structure which is responsible for teachers and administrators finding creative ways to foster higher achievement in their students” (p. 21).
Other evidence suggests that standards-based reform can be effective when district policies to establish standards-based assessments and accountability mechanisms are coupled with strategies for instructional improvement. Case studies of reform efforts in San Antonio, Philadelphia, and Memphis, for example, show that these districts achieved gains after instituting standards-based accountability systems and assistance to local schools to revise curricular and instructional practices (Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, 1998).
Other studies suggest that if the link between standards-based policies at the state and district levels and instructional improvement at the school level is not clear-cut, then higher student performance may not result. In these instances, the theory of standards-based reform may not work as designed.
For example, an examination of district policies that call for “reconstitution” of failing schools (breaking up the faculty and staff and rebuilding it from the ground up) found that schools threatened with severe penalties are not changing their instructional practices in fundamental ways. Instead, they seem to focus on short-term gains in test scores, rather than deep improvements in student learning (O'Day, in press).
Another study of 20 schools found that the internal accountability within schools—that is, teachers' collective responsibility for improving student learning and for making the changes necessary to bring such improvements about—varies widely (Abelmann and Elmore, 1999). When such internal accountability is weak, the willingness of teachers to change their practice in fundamental ways to respond to external accountability pressures may be lacking.
These studies and observations from our own experience have led the committee to call into question some of the assumptions that appear to be embedded in the theory of action underlying the standards-based reform model in general and the Title I law in particular. Chief among these assumptions is the idea that teachers would institute effective practices if they had both the freedom and the motivation to do so. Relaxing rules would provide the freedom; holding schools accountable for results would provide the motivation.
The committee found that this idea may be overoptimistic. First, it assumes that teachers—indeed, the education profession generally—know enough about what it takes to educate all children to challenging standards of performance. The experience since 1994 suggests that, although some schools and communi-