'Seeing the Whole Elephant'

Changing Mindsets and Empowering Stakeholders to Meaningfully Manage Accountability and Improvement
Susan Bush-Mecenas
Northwestern University
Julie A. Marsh
University of Southern California
David Montes de Oca
CORE Districts
Heather J. Hough
Policy Analysis for California Education, Stanford University


School accountability and improvement policy are on the precipice of a paradigm shift. While the multiple-measure dashboard accountability approach holds great promise for promoting more meaningful learning opportunities for all students, our research indicates that this can come with substantial challenges in practice. We reflect upon the lessons learned from our recent research on CORE Districts’ use of multiple-measure data dashboards. The research indicated that a shift to greater flexibility and locally determined capacity building efforts brings its own set of challenges. Building on this foundation and drawing upon the expertise of a central practitioner–leader, this article explores these issues through one promising case: the use of these multiple-measure accountability systems in one CORE district, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). OUSD’s approach suggests that districts have substantial agency to help modify the mindsets of practitioners and the community by modeling the values of inquiry, openness, and flexibility. By loosening the reigns, districts can give school stakeholders the space and authority to meaningfully manage their own accountability and improvement.

This article was originally published in Education Policy Analysis Archives by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Suggested citationBush-Mecenas, S., Marsh, J. A., Montes de Oca, D., & Hough, H. J. "Seeing the whole elephant": Changing mindsets and empowering stakeholders to meaningfully manage accountability and improvement [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.