Thursday, May 5, 2011

What is accountability?

One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students' academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic peformance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers' influence. Nowhere in the federal accountability scheme are there measures or indicators of students' diligence, effort, and motivation. Do they attend school regularly? Do they do their homework? Do they pay attention in class? Are they motivated to succeed? These factors affect their school performance as much as or more than their teachers' skill.

Similarly, the authors of the law forgot that parents are primarily responsible for the children's behavior and attitudes. It is families that do or do not ensure that their children attend school regularly, that they are in good health, that they do their homework, and that they are encouraged to read and learn. But in the eyes of the law, the responsibility of the family disappears. Something is wrong with that. Something is fundamentally wrong with an accountability system that disregards the many factors that influence students' performance on an annual test - including the students' own efforts - except for what teachers do in the classroom for forty-five minutes or an hour a day.
Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 162-163.

Only lazy people argue against accountability. Accountability is the single most important factor in a person's life. It is what makes a person work hard, do their best, accept responsibility, learn from mistakes, grow in knowledge/ability, and become a better overall person. It can be painful and at times the exact opposite of fun. However, in the right framework and with the right prodding, it can be the difference between mediocrity and excellence. All of that being said, accountability must be in place to help people and systems improve. The goal of it should not be for punishment but for profit. Excellence is not achieved by tearing people or systems to shreds over mistakes, errors or lack of top level talent.

The issue in education is that teachers are getting held to high standards based upon faulty logic and tests. The mistake the general public falls for is that high test scores equate to solid education. Of course the mistake teachers make is that accountability is evil and should be left outside the school. Both sides take stances on either side of the fence which encourages mistrust and a major lack of cooperation. As a result, education gets stalled and society as a whole does not benefit. In addition, students are left out of the picture as talking heads argue back and forth about who is responsible for the broken system. The primary goal of education must be the preparation of younger generations for leadership and contribution to society. What has to happen is the development of a system of accountability to ensure that primary goal.

So how do we get back to focusing on the right goal? The first step is developing the right way to hold teachers accountable. Stop worrying about test scores and what looks good "on paper". Both of those can have meaning, but they fail to tell us whether or not our students are actually getting well educated and developed as young men and women. What we need is solid evaluations of teachers with the goal of pushing educators towards maximizing their ability to impact students in their subject knowledge, responsibility level, and critical thinking. Next, we need to figure out a way to get parents back involved in the education field. I strongly believe that parents are the most important ingredient to academic success. Teachers, schools, and communities must push strongly for parent involvement in the classroom. If parents are not involved, they will be hard pressed to actually hold their own children responsible. Finally, students need to be held accountable for themselves. Educators need to be able to effectively challenge students for their lack of initiative, effort and focus. Students need to learn that taking responsibility for themselves and their learning process is the single most important lesson in academics.

It is only when all three of these groups in the academic process are held to a higher standard that education will start to thrive. As of right now, society is content with looking at test scores and punishing teachers and schools as the key to academic improvement. As a result, we continue to flounder about with no real achievement or goals being grasped.