Defining Accountability. . .

One of the things that I love about the Radical is that we’re developing a solid core of contributing thinkers who leave regular comments that extend my thinking. Mike, Parry, Bob and Jake have all left their marks on my mind. I hope they’re doing the same for you….and if you’re a regular reader, I hope you’ll dive into the digital waters and share your thinking too. From the beginning, my goal has always been to see this blog become "our" blog.

Bob, Mike and Parry have all left interesting comments on my last post regarding educators accepting accountability for student achievement. I think Parry has done a nice job extending the thinking of both Mike and I in this strand.  Here’s what he wrote:

While I disagree with some of Mike’s post, I would like to wholeheartedly support, and even extend, one of his points.

According to Mike, "The danger here is, again, that proclaiming that complete responsibility for learning is invested in the teacher has numerous deleterious effects.  Learning is a collaborative effort." This is a point that Mike has made in previous posts, and he usually attaches it to the idea that the students themselves, along with their parents, are also responsible for their own learning.

I would like to put a different spin on this assertion. I would argue that an entire school, and all of the staff members in that school, are responsible for student learning. To limit accountability solely to individual teachers, thereby ignoring the context and environment within which teachers work, is to view schools and school systems with a myopic naivete.

For example, Mike describes a situation in which a fictional student fails to turn in multiple assignments, receives failing grades on numerous tests, and is egregiously tardy or absent throughout the year. When reading this description, the question that pops into my mind is not, "What else could the teacher have done for this student?" but rather, "What else could the school have done?"

In the school, do guidance counselors or administrators keep a regularly-updated list of struggling students? Do administrators and/or guidance counselors meet regularly with these students? Are there before-school or after-school interventions (e.g., study hall, individual tutoring) available? Do social workers make house calls for students who are chronically absent? Is there some type of school-based student support team to which struggling students can be referred?

Mike says that students fail his class because they don’t do the work. What is the school doing to ensure that these students get their work done? Teachers have a limited number of resources available to them to convince students to work, and they should be held accountable for using all of them as well as possible, but administrators can bring to bear a whole additional set of tools. What structures, process, and resources are in place schoolwide to ensure that all students are successful?

If a student fails in Mike’s class, he asserts that, "I need no excuses, for I am confident that I have given each and every student the best opportunity to learn that I possibly can." If that is the case, can the same be said of the other staff members in the building? As educators, can we really ensure academic success for all students if we define accountability strictly in terms of the classroom teacher?


  1. Mike

    PS: I just found an interesting article touching on these issues that was linked on Here’s the URL: .

  2. Mike

    Dear Parry:
    Please allow me to elaborate just a bit on your extension of my comments. I limited my comments to the teacher/student-parent equation because that seemed to be the thread we were all pursuing, but you are indeed correct that schooling is a cooperative effort that involves the entire school community.
    In my school, for example, every student is placed, when they enter 9th grade, in a PGP (Personal Graduation Plan) class, which is a sort of homeroom wherein a single teacher will be their PGP teacher until they graduate, keeping track of their grades, encouraging them, contacting parents, coordinating with other teachers, etc. We have Wednesday and Saturday school for students who aren’t doing their work, and we can demand they attend these supervised homework sessions to catch up. We have before and after school turoring sessions that go above and beyond the one on one tutoring offered by individual teachers. We provide, at no cost, study guides, books and other materials for topics that students find difficult. Our counselors and principals are constantly busy with these issues, and last year, we even assigned five or so kids to individual teachers who were to periodically speak with and encourage them to do well in a given discipline wherein they were having trouble, above and beyond what the teachers in those disciplines were doing. It is also impossible for a student to receive less than 50% on a term or semester report card in any class even if they do absolutely nothing–nothing–in that class.
    We can, if there is interest, consider whether it is wise, productive, or even minimally sane for a school (including teachers and everyone else working there) to become a kind of uberparent, relieving biologic parents of much of their responsibility, but I think that you can see that in my school, students get every opportunity to learn and acheive, short of having teachers (or other school personnel, if you wish) do their work for them. As I am in contact with educators throughout the nation, what we’re doing is the norm rather than the exception.
    Yet, with all of these opportunities, despite literally being positioned on the 50 yard line of a 100 yard race when the gun goes off, students still choose to fail. Wednesday or Saturday school? Tutoring? They just don’t show up. What are we to do? Beat them into submission? Chain them to their desks? Stand above them screaming “learn! Learn!”?
    One little digression. In my PGP group, agreeable kids who as a group do better than average, my efforts can account for little. At the beginning of each semester I send each parent a form with checkbox responses and, of course, space for written responses, asking for their goals for their student’s learning. I enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelopes. All a parent need do is check a few boxes, fold the form, seal it in the envelope and drop it in a mailbox. Are you seeing the punchline? Three. That’s how many, out of twenty, parents responded. And these are among the more concerned, involved parents. Perhaps if I also enclosed pens in the envelopes? Came to their homes and guided their hands…?
    And I e-mail parents at the beginning of each month telling them what we’ll be doing, how they can help, what to watch for, etc. I gave my kids 150 extra credit points, directly added into their averages, for merely providing their parent’s e-mail addresses. All the parents had to do to secure those 150 points for their child was to simply e-mail me identifying themselves and their child. You’re way ahead of me. Only 36% ever did, and it took me until the final month of school to reach that level.
    Anyway, I’m never comfortable talking about myself, and would rather discuss philosophy and best practices. Still, I remain anxious for anyone to explain how I, or my school, can possibly do more. How can we legitimately, rationally be held accountable when Johnny, under the circumstances I’ve described, chooses to fail, and his parents let him do it?