Fighting Accountability. . .

In a reply to my Draconian and Dysfunctional post, Parry wrote:

But if we, as educators, fight accountability, ask decision-makers to lower the bar rather than raise it, can we maintain our credibility? In my opinion, if we want a seat at the decision-making table, our best hope is by setting higher expectations for ourselves and our work, and by translating those expectations into specific metric-based proposals.

This is a thought that really resonates with me because I believe that teachers ARE fighting accountability at every turn sometimes.  Rarely do I ever enter into a conversation about student learning with teachers and leave feeling convinced that the members of our profession are ready to accept responsibility for the outcomes of our work. 

Instead, almost every conversation becomes what I like to call a "because parade."  If you’ve spent any time in a teacher workroom, you know exactly what I’m talking about—It’s the litany of excuses that we like to throw on the table every time that students struggle in our rooms. 

"That kid is failing because he’s lazy."

"That one is failing because his parents are useless."

"That one is failing because he hasn’t done any homework all semester."

"I can’t reach these kids because I don’t have enough time in class."

"I can’t reach these kids because I don’t have the right supplies."

Now don’t get me wrong—there is some truth in every one of these statements.  I just chafe because our colleagues are all too ready to throw down the "because" card as soon as negative results appear.  And every time that we make excuses and refuse to admit that we play a leading role in the academic successes and failures of our students, we cheapen our voice in the general public.

No wonder we end up with scripted curricula and standardized tests?! 

Does anyone else think that it’s time that we stand up to those in our own profession who are an excuse waiting to happen?  Let’s quit looking for someone else to place the blame on and work within our own spheres of influence to improve learning for all children—-and increase our credibility at the same time. 

What would the first step look like for classroom teachers?  Administrators?  Curriculum Developers?  Outside consultants?  Policy makers? 

2 comments

  1. Bob

    Perhaps a few word changes, from an applied experimental learning research view, in Parry’s quote describes each teacher’s first step you suggested:
    If we want a seat at the decision-making table, set more precise expectations for ourselves and our instruction, and translate those expectations into specific metric-based results.
    We’re paid for results, such as increasing student learning. Show those increases. Students as well as policy makers consider measured results credible.
    Precise, measured results describe a bar that teachers can raise by refining instruction to match expectations.
    Other teachers can choose whether to follow results leaders, or find another assignment.

  2. Mike

    Dear Bill:
    To the degree that we should never make excuses for teachers who do not have legitimate explanations for student failure, I’m with you. You notice that I used the word “explanations” rather than “excuses.” “Excuses” imply that there is no valid reason for a behavior or outcome, but “explanations” implies the opposite. We all know teachers whose students fail because they (the teachers) aren’t giving their all, perhaps not even their minimum, and in those cases, there are no real explanations and excuses won’t help. These are people who need guidance and assistance from their supervisors, and if they cannot or will not improve, possibly a change in career.
    This has little or nothing to do with high stakes tests, which I suspect Parry was referring to when he talked about “lowering the bar.” Doing away with such things would allow teachers to raise the bar, not lower it. Nor do I believe that such measures of “accountability” have anything to do with our credibility as they were not imposed because legislators actually believed or had emperical evidence to indicate that teachers lacked credibility and the imposition of such tests would somehow restore it. Nor is it clear that attaining a given level of credibility would result in principals, administrators and school boards giving up any degree of their power and authority to teachers.
    But before I continue, I need a bit of guidance from you. What, exactly do you mean by “… accept[ing] responsibility for the outcomes of our work.”? It is well established, and I agree entirely with you when you say “…we play a leading role in the academic successes and failures of our students…” But are you suggesting that a given student’s grades, which for the sake of argument we’ll assume generally reflect their learning (boy, there’s a topic for another post, eh?), are entirely the responsbility of the teacher, and that the student bears no responsibility? What responsibility do you believe the parent bears, if any? Is there no explanation for student failure, such as being absent half of a semester without good cause or refusing to hand in 40% of their work, that you would accept as a valid explanation that does not reflect on the teacher?
    I’ll look forward to your response.