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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 07/ 2/2010

Reality check on school accountability movement

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Dave Russell, a teacher in Montgomery County public schools.

By Dave Russell
It is time to end the childhood obesity epidemic once and for all.

Obesity decreases a child’s quality of life and longevity. It contributes to a host of medical conditions and costs our country millions each year. Childhood obesity is preventable and our country should take responsibility for helping all children achieve a healthy weight.

My proposal will guarantee that no child will be obese by the time they graduate from high school. This will be accomplished by simply holding schools as well as health and physical education teachers accountable for insuring that all students reach or maintain a healthy weight before graduating high school.

Before I begin, let’s address all the naysayers whose excuses will be endless.

“What about the children who have obese parents, there may be a genetic predisposition?” That does not matter; these children can be successful at reaching a healthy weight.

“What about parents that do not buy nutritious foods or require their children to eat healthy meals?” That does not matter.

“What about children who are not active and never exercise?” That does not matter.

“What about children who play video games or watch TV all day long?” That does not matter.

“What about children who do not attend school regularly or show effort when they are in school?” That does not matter.

“What about children who live in areas where affordable nutritious foods are not accessible to them. That does not matter.

“What about children who enter kindergarten already obese?” That does not matter.

“What about parents or children who do not agree with these standards or goals?” That does not matter.

“What about children who come from other cultures that may not value these goals?” That does not matter.

“How do we determine that it was the school or teacher that caused a child to be successful? Maybe the child had a personal trainer who helped him/her reach a healthy weight.”

None of the excuses matter. We owe it to our children to ensure their success at achieving a healthy weight and we must hold our schools and teachers accountable.

My Proposal

Body mass index (BMI) is the most widely recognized and universally used measurement tool to indicate whether an individual has a weight problem. It is not as precise as measuring body fat. However, it is accepted as an easy, inexpensive, and adequate way to determine whether an individual is obese, overweight, or at a healthy weight.

To calculate BMI, all you have to do is multiply a child’s weight (lb) times 703 and divide by the square of his or her height (in). A BMI of 18-25 is considered a normal or healthy weight, a BMI of 25-30 is considered overweight, and a BMI of over 30 is considered obese.

Every child will be tested at the beginning and end of each school year to determine the competency of his/her school and teacher. Each child’s BMI will be tracked and trended to see what schools or teachers are being effective and which ones are not.

Schools will be held accountable for improving their students BMI scores and ensuring that all students maintain a healthy weight. Improving our students’ health is just as important as improving their intellect. It is hard to grow up and be a productive citizen if you are disabled or die prematurely because of obesity related health problems. Schools will be required to show improvement on BMI scores. Schools that improve student BMI scores will be rewarded and labeled effective. High schools will also be evaluated by their percentage of healthy weight graduates.

To accomplish this goal, schools will need to utilize strategies that have been proven to be effective at improving BMI scores. Schools may decide to focus more time in their schedule on activities that will improve BMI scores. Health and physical education classes may be extended or offered everyday. Recess may also be extended to provide more time for exercise.

Before school, after school, and summer school programs may be dedicated to nutrition and fitness instruction. Teachers in other subject areas may be required to incorporate fitness and nutrition into their lessons. Specialists in weight management may be brought in to help train the staff and work with students. Schools may hold regular evening events to encourage family involvement and participation. Schools that do not improve their student’s BMI scores will be labeled failing and will face closure or takeover by the state.
They could also be converted into charter schools.

Physical education and health teachers will be evaluated and paid based on the BMI scores of their students. If a teacher’s students improve their BMI scores or maintain a healthy weight, that teacher will be rewarded and labeled effective. If a teacher’s students fail to improve their BMI scores or maintain a healthy weight, that teacher will be labeled ineffective. Ineffective teachers will be given support to improve. Supports can include extra training, more frequent testing of their students, or more observations. They can also be assigned to a master teacher who will help guide their planning and teaching. However, if his/her students’ BMI scores do not improve, that teacher can be terminated from their job.

Interventions will be utilized to help students who are not improving their BMI scores or maintaining a healthy weight. Struggling students may be placed in double periods of health or physical education to give them more support in weight management. They can also be pulled out of other subjects to receive extra support from nutritional specialist or personal trainers. Struggling students and their parents will be highly encouraged to enroll in before school, after school, and summer school programs that will focus exclusively on weight management and fitness. Students may also be grouped in classes according to their BMI scores so teachers can focus weight management instruction for the students who need it most.

Student success is the number one goal and BMI scores are the primary way to hold schools and teachers accountable.

Finally, parents will have a way to determine what school they want to send their children to. All they will have to do is look at the scores to see which schools are the best and which are the worst. We will improve education, conquer the obesity epidemic, and save our nation hundreds of millions in obesity related health care expenses.

Reality Check

If you think my plan is ridiculous and a little crazy, you are absolutely correct. I would never think of holding schools and teachers accountable in this fashion.

We can never accurately show that a student’s success was caused by teacher effectiveness. Student success can be a product of effective parents, tutors, siblings, and other factors like a student’s values, determination, and perseverance. Schools and teachers do not and should not have sole control over their students’ values, actions, or BMI scores. Schools and teachers were never given the authority to dictate what BMI score a student needs to reach.

What is equally ridiculous, crazy, and a little scary, is the current state of the education reform movement.

Former President Bush, the Senate, and the House of Representatives implemented policies that have caused education reform to mirror just about every aspect of my ridiculous BMI proposal. The only difference is their policies focus on student test scores in math and reading, not BMI.

President Obama’s actions thus far appear to indicate that he will continue the status quo.

Policymakers, schools, and teachers do not and should not have sole control over our students’ values, actions, or achievement. No one has been given the authority to dictate what math and reading scores a student needs to reach, whether a student has to graduate from high school, or whether a student should attend college.

Our society and our government have a responsibility to provide every child with a free high quality education. Students and families determine to what degree they will take advantage of this opportunity.

It is rather arrogant and self- righteous for a policymaker or anyone else to assume that schools and teachers are a greater determinant of student performance than the actual students and families that they serve. Schools and teachers need to be held accountable for providing a high quality education to all children.

Students and families will ultimately determine performance and achievement outcomes.


The author, Dave Russell, wrote the following:
I am a product of The Howard County Public School System in Maryland. After spending 5 years at Oakland Mills High School, I finally graduated in 1989 with a cumulative GPA of 0.6. I never took the SAT’s and required remedial reading and writing courses when I attended Howard Community College in Maryland. I graduated from Towson State University in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in Education. For the last 14 years, I have taught for the Montgomery County Public School System in Maryland. I am the father of two daughters, who I believe are receiving an excellent education from the Howard County Public School System in Maryland. I can be reached at 443-472-7061 or


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By Valerie Strauss  | July 2, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  obama and school reform, school reform  
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yeah that is true, major brands do give out free samples of their popular health products best place to get yours is tell your friends and family too

Posted by: luisjustin02 | July 2, 2010 6:43 AM | Report abuse

You had me worried there for a while until I got down to the last section. I wonder how many comments will be directed towards your BMI testing analogy and not your overall premise.

Posted by: arlington101 | July 2, 2010 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Fabulous idea! I agree wholeheartedly, as you can see from this comment I made back in March when DCPS announced that it was hiring a food guru to address the problem of childhood obesity:

“I had no idea that DC kids are at the top of the charts for childhood obesity. For all Michelle Rhee cares about kids, I’m surprised she hasn’t been going cross-country blaming food service personnel for obesity that way she’s been blaming the teachers for low achievement. She’s been here three years already and many of the kids get free meals at school, so this would have been an energetic and resourceful way to transform the system and make a bold move to lower the childhood obesity data from the start.

Maybe Mr. Mills hasn’t heard – in order to stay employed in DCPS you must show data-driven improvement indicating that you are worthy of remaining on Rhee’s crack reform team. In this case, it means a significant weight loss for the students in his first year. Let’s say 10%? Then another 10% the next year. And remember the entire responsibility for student weight loss is his – no blaming the kids’ home lives. That’s what’s known in these parts as being jaded.

And by 2014, DCPS students will be the slimmest and healthiest in the country! (I’m making that last part up, but Rhee has promised that DC will have the highest performing students, so why not the healthiest too, if we have a hotshot chef?)”

Posted by: efavorite | July 2, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

You left out the importance of frequent measurement. There must be a couple of vendors with political connections that could develop special scales and rubrics for measuring BMI for different grade levels. Then they can train teacher weight specialists to use them and create databases to keep track of which teachers should be blamed when the kids don't loose weight on schedule.

It will be very important to weigh the kids and recalculate the data frequently, perhaps each week, in order to do it right. It's a fact that collecting more data will make any program work better.

Posted by: aed3 | July 2, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Now if only we could convince Congress and the President of what Dave Russell is saying. We can forget Arne Duncan, he will never listen.

Posted by: aby1 | July 2, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

The author claims that the government has a responsibility to provide a "high quality education" to every child. Would he care to define what is considered "high quality?" Does the current state of DCPS fit that description? Since you anti-accountability advocates don't want to use numbers, how about the fact DCPS was so bad that the mayor had to take over control of it from the school board? Does he consider Fairfax and Montgomery county schools to be "high quality?" If so, why? Remember we aren't allowed to use quantifiable data to determine what "high quality" is because we couldn't use it when defining schools that were not "high quality." See this is the problem with you anti-accountability hacks, including the blog host. You whine and moan that it's not fair to use test scores to hold teachers accountable for student achievement, yet never EVER suggest alternative ways to determine the effectiveness of techers and schools. I've been following this blog for quite a bit and have never seen a post that provides answers; the only thing this host is interested in is her crusade against testing. If she wants to restore any credibility with what's left of her audience, she will show us how SHE would assess teacher effectiveness. We're all ears.

Posted by: octopi213 | July 2, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

good ideas, aed3. Also, the kids should be patted down on their first weigh-in to make sure they're not carrying hidden weights that they simply remove later to show weight loss.

Also check to make sure that no teacher has her foot on the scale and that the scales are regularly re-calibrated by a neutral outside contractor.

Posted by: efavorite | July 2, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Love it! If you aren't already, maybe you should teach creative writing....

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | July 2, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Hi octopi213,

Here is one place to look to see how students can receive a high quality education.
It's from this blog.

Posted by: tutucker | July 2, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Another blog from this site, and one that I have passed on to a few powers that be.

Hope you find these as helpful as I have found them to be.
Thanks Valerie for posting these.

Posted by: tutucker | July 2, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse


Are you aware of the problems with standardized tests? They are many. You ought to check that out before you call us anti-accountability.

Posted by: aby1 | July 2, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Aby1, I was simply asking for what, if any, accountability you people would support. Previous to the second pointed out by tutucker I had not seen this blogger offer up and alternatives to it. The first post does much of what this post does, complain without offer solutions.

Now, onto the proposed accountability solutions. Basically the proposal boils down to fewer, but larger scale tests, and then the rest of it is based around believing what the teachers tell you about how much students have learned, i.e. trusting the teachers. My problem with this is twofold:

1. Teachers have a vested interest in making their students look good grade-wise. They knew that a class full of As and Bs looked better than one with Cs and Ds, so they would inflate everyone's grades when scores were poor on a particular exam or project. This is the reason SAT scores play such a big role in college admissions. They are the one objective measure of what a student has learned and how well he has learned it.

2. Letting teachers tell you how their students are doing is like letting the home team keep score with no verification; they are biased just like everyone else, and I saw first hand that bias play out in grading when I was in school. I am not very far removed from attending public school in Fairfax county (one that is supposedly tops in the nation) and I recall grade inflation was quite rampant for favored students; they were given the benefit of the doubt, allowed to submit late work, etc. Students out of favor were given poor grades as teachers would grade them harsher. My friends and I could tell this by comparing the comments on our similar work. After spending so much time with their students over the course of the year, there was no way they could not be biased when grading them. Plus they had tenure, so they didn't care whether they were fair or not. The token reviews proposed are not nearly enough to deal with this problem. As far as I am concerned an A can stand for a whole range of work quality, and I do not trust those grades at all.

As for the SQR, who are these "experts?" What are their credentials? How do they assess the schools? What separates a good school from a bad school? What does "comprehensive" include? What happens to the recommendations, are there consequences for not following them?

Posted by: octopi213 | July 2, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse


The best people for working on effective assessments are educational and school psychologists. I've spent time with school psychologists many times going over the results of their student testing (none of which are standardized tests) and they have taught me a lot.

I also have had the opportunity to take courses from school psychologists.

The standardized tests used by states to assess student learning are extremely poor in comparision to the type of tests done by school psychologists. The issues with standardized tests are so enormous that I don't even begin to know how to start to summarize them.

If only Duncan would listen to the educational and school psychologists he would make wiser decisions about testing. But that won't happen.

Neither the non-educational press or the politicians have any interest in talking to eductional and school psychologists or looking their research. Instead they promote standardized tests.

Posted by: aby1 | July 2, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse


One more thing: it's Duncan who is not accountable. There is plenty of research out there that shows that high standardized test scores are linked to socio-econmic status, and not the effort of the teacher. There is so much evidence of this sort out there that for Duncan to promote standardized tests as a measure of teacher accountability is unprofessional.

Posted by: aby1 | July 2, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

There are numerous problems with standardized tests as they are given now. I'll list a few that I see as a special ed teacher.

1) testing v. teaching conditions not equitable. This is a reflection of the requirement that special ed students be taught *at their true grade level*. However, students are tested with their peers.

2) Testing accommodations don't come close to their teaching conditions. NCLB simply doesn't allow for the range of supports often used in the classroom.

3) Standardized tests don't allow for enough information regarding student growth. For example, a 5th grade student may score "below basic" on both reading and math. However, this same student may have started out at 1.2 grade level and moved to 3.5 grade level during the school year. This student remains far below the grade level standard but has made very good progress. is the teacher a failure? No!

4) The PSSA (PA state test) math test requires reading and writing skills, not purely math skills. Reading deficits are common in low-income students and the structure of the test impedes test performance.

My suggestion: There needs to be a clear understanding of what a test is for and what it tells us. The standard acheivement test is important to let us know, basically, how many students are at grade level, below, or above grade level. That's it folks.

If you want to know whether or not specific interventions or teaching strategies have been effective, I would suggest obtaining grade levels for each student. I would also expect test conditions to mirror teaching conditions. It's not easy or cheap but it is *accurate* for the purpose.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | July 2, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Another issue is that standardized tests are written in standard English. Any student who does not get heavy exposure to standard English will find the test more difficult to read than someone who does. This is one of the reasons (and there are many) why African American and hispanic children test lower than white children.

The issue with hispanics is that many hispanic children only hear standard English from their teachers at school. On the playground and in their neighborhood and community they hear Spanish. Thus they do not get the same amount of exposure to English as a child who for example, has parents from India. The Indian child generally hears standard English in the neighborhood and the community as well as at school. They only hear Hindi in their family. The hispanic child on the other hand only hears English from their teacher. As a result they are not as fluent in English as the Indian child is.

Posted by: jlp19 | July 2, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse


I'm very familiar with psych evals since all of my students must have comprehensive testing in order to qualify for special ed services. I don't think that psych evals are really what we want or need for understanding how most students learn. In the case of SLD's, yes, these tests are needed.

As a special ed teacher, I use standardized assessments that derive grade levels for reading and math. I assess at least 2 times per school year. The subtests on these assessments give you a really good idea of strengths and weaknesses and shape the kinds of interventions you select for each child. Achievement tests only tell you how well a student has learned grade level material. This is important but it tells a very incomplete picture.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | July 3, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse


Where I live, school psychologists give academic as well as psych evaluations. It's the academic evaluations I was talking about.

I think that what a school psychologist does varies by state, and by district within the state.

Posted by: aby1 | July 3, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse


Are you sure you aren't using norm referenced tests rather than standardized tests?

Posted by: aby1 | July 3, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse


The assessments are both standardized and norm referenced. I was trying to make a distinction between achievement tests and grade level assessments which give a lot more info on student fucntioning. In my classroom, I use the Woodcock Johnson reading assessment and the KeyMath3 specifically. I also use the Brigance for my lower functioning students.

In my district, psychologists only do assessments that teachers cannot do (WISC, CARS, Adaptive rating Scales, etc..) The special ed teacher is expected to derive grade levels for students but I guess you're right, psychologists could do this as well. Philadelphia has a severe backlog of special ed initial evals and re-evals so we teachers are expected to complete as much testing as possible to move along the eval process.

Posted by: Nikki1231 | July 3, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Again...those upper socioeconomic schools will have the unfair edge. Anorexia is most common there so the average BMI scores will be lower. Facetious example, but according to CEO Duncan good teaching is about numbers. There are no points for genuinely caring about real kids' lives and trying to help them. Your clever satire is sadly profound.

Posted by: redrockin | July 4, 2010 3:19 AM | Report abuse

I really wish schools would have more accountability somehow, someway. I am not sure how to get there and the only place I can logically start is with our kids school locally. Our son has severe food allergies and intolerances and he will never be able to even there food. Even though his intolerances are much better from his Belly Boost, I still always pack his lunch and snacks because I do not trust that there is enough set in place to oversee special needs. I feel the same about the healthy/non healthy food choices they provide for our other child who does not have allergies, but desires whole foods.

Posted by: smilinggreenmom | July 4, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

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