I find it bizarre and disappointing to read the constant barrage of commentary that the accountability measures put in place by states and through the No Child Left Behind Act are only about shaming, hurting, or putting the “stick” to teachers and other adults working with our students.
Some, but by no means all, of this moaning comes from traditionalist educrats and their supporters. This includes the National Education Association, the American Federation of School Teachers, and those associations representing suburban and even urban districts. They simply don’t like the pressure of accountability and want to eviscerate it altogether. Many of these folks have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and quite a lot of people power and time over many years to destroy accountability instead of helping teachers, school leaders, families, and communities leverage those tools to help our children. They are what I call the “end, don’t mend” crowd.
Yet there are legitimate complaints from teachers and parents who have never been given the tools needed to help students, who have been victims of accountability practices from school leaders and others that have run amok and implemented poorly to the detriment of everyone else. These complaints deserve attention, merit fixing, and shouldn’t be dismissed by school reformers or anyone else. As powerful as accountability has been in helping more students achieve success, the tools cannot survive if we don’t address legitimate complaints.
What’s most disappointing about much of this is that many of these problems have actually been caused or worsened by inept school leaders who either weren’t trained in the best consequences to apply to improve teaching and learning or cynically chose the path of blaming accountability instead of fixing the problems it identified.
This is unproductive and shameful. Instead of responding with solutions that would actually use accountability to help teachers and improve schools, school leaders and others who run public education systems too often put a bad name on accountability and, at the same time, kept students behind.
I want to illustrate two ways that administrators could respond to a bad diagnosis in a more constructive way. These examples have been mentioned by other Dropout Nation contributors, including André-Tascha Lammé, and even your editor. This was (and still is) the purpose of accountability: to use standards and measurements to help schools improve. It was not to blame or shame, but it was also not to continue to hide problems or neglect to fix them.
The federal Institute of Education Sciences has produced 19 outstanding practice guides that, based on the very best research, show in practical ways how many of our most difficult problems in education can be best addressed. The George W. Bush Institute, with which I am affiliated, has compiled similarly excellent resources to help middle schools become more successful. There is no reason why school leaders don’t leverage those resources, along with the data from accountability, and improve their schools and districts.
My basic question is this: how many school leaders do you know who have turned to these resources and implemented them vigilantly and with fidelity to improve their schools? On the other hand, how many school leaders do you know who have complained about testing and accountability? If you know more of the latter than the former, you now know the nature of the main problem you face.