JACKSON — The PEER Committee has released a report titled “Opportunities for Improving the Accountability of the Mississippi Department of Education.”
According to PEER, the Mississippi State Board of Education requested a third-party review to seek opportunities on how to hold the State Department of Education (MDE) accountable to the board. The board’s chair noted that the board needs assistance in helping to improve the accountability of MDE under the new state superintendent of education, Dr. Tom Burnham, who began serving in his position in Jan. 2010.
In performing this review, PEER sought to answer the following questions: What factors affect the board’s ability to hold MDE accountable for its use of resources; and, how could MDE’s accountability be improved?
PEER found that the Board of Education’s ability to hold the department accountable is affected by federal and state mandates, how accountability tools are used and changes in educational standards and programs.
PEER provided a list of 20 opportunities for improving the accountability of the Department of Education. They include:
• Define Mandates — The Board of Education, working through MDE, should operationally define as many mandates as possible.
• Advocate for Unified Reporting Mandates Based on Meaningful Outcome Measures — After developing logic models for its major activities, the Board of Education, working through MDE, should present the Legislature with suggestions for improving statewide reporting mandates.
• Refocus the Office of Educational Accountability — The recent reorganization of the Office of Educational Accountability would allow for a shift from financial accountability to increased accountability of MDE programs and resources. The office could then play a critical role in helping the board fulfill its role to hold MDE accountable for programs and resources.
• Goal Setting — The Department of Education could improve its strategic planning process by establishing realistic goals based on research data.
• Strategies, Outcome Measures, and Action Steps — The Department of Education could improve its strategic planning by improving consistency in designation of objectives as goals, strategies, or outcome measures.
• Identify What is Under the Department’s Control — The Department of Education should differentiate between outcome measures and activities that are under its direct control versus those under the control of external entities.
• Link Resource Allocation to the Strategic Plan — The Board of Education should align resource allocation (both financial and staffing) with its strategic plan.
• Periodically Assess Staffing Patterns — To help ensure efficient use of staff in accomplishing educational goals, the Department of Education should periodically assess staffing patterns in relation to departmental workload and long-range plans for educational improvement, particularly in the area of improving instruction.
• Improve Reporting of Expenditures for Contract Staff — To establish accountability for contract staff, the Department of Education should improve its reporting of contractual expenditures for contract staff, annually compiling a summary report of categorized contractual service expenditures that provides the contract purpose, the expenditure amounts, the number of contracts, and retiree status of contractors.
• Apply Principles of Performance-Based Contracting — To enhance accountability for contract staff by focusing on end results, the Board of Education should familiarize itself with the elements of performance-based contracting and apply those principles when reviewing contract expenditure information presented by the department’s staff.
• Improve the Quality of Performance Measures — The Department of Education should improve the identification and use of its performance measures.
• Utilize Grant Funding for Development of a Statewide Longitudinal Data System — In June 2009 and May 2010, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Mississippi grants — one for $3.4 million and one for $7.6 million — to design and implement a statewide longitudinal data system. By the end of the second grant period in 2013, MDE expects to have a relational database linking all education (K-20) and workforce data.
• Use Research on Outcome Measures to Demonstrate Overall Effectiveness of Programs — The federal government has established meaningful outcome measures that the Department of Education could use as models for indicators of overall program or system effectiveness.
• Produce Multi-Year Trend Reports — To provide for better analyses of student performance data, the Department of Education should produce multi-year trend reports for districts. MDE could connect staff from the Office of Research and Statistics to district staff in order to increase the level of analysis and interpretation of student performance data.
• Use a “Data Dashboard” — The Department of Education’s implementation of a visual instrument that contains key indicators of performance (i.e., a “data dashboard”) would enable the board to see, at a glance, whether current efforts toward meeting its goals are on track and to respond quickly and appropriately when problems arise.
• Measure and Manage Change — In order to mitigate the challenges of changing standards and programs, both the Board of Education and the Department of Education could benefit from focusing additional effort on developing performance management capacity supported by a full complement of sound measurement tools (i.e., longitudinal data systems, creative use of multiple indicators, a data dashboard).