Accountability (uh-koun-tuh-bil-i-tee) noun: The state of being subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.
At its face, accountability doesn’t seem like such a bad term. It is good to provide information or report. Additional explanation is always valuable. And who can really be opposed to the idea of being responsible or answerable. Yet, somehow accountability has now become a dirty word in K-12 education. For many, accountability is either a punchline to a joke or an accusation to be hurled at one’s worst enemies. For others, it is something we have to apologize for or be forced to defend.
The time has come to remove the scarlet letter from the chest of K-12 education. Accountability should be viewed as a good thing, whether one is the most ambitious of reformers or the most ardent of the status quoers. At a time when education dollars are at a premium and education needs are reaching all time highs, a little accountability is a good thing. It allows us to prioritize, while focusing on return on investment.
The federal government should be held accountable for how it spends its share (currently less than 10%) of the costs of education K-12 students in our public schools. Explain how those dollars are spent and the impact of that spend. The days of U.S. Department of Education program evaluations simply determining if they cut checks and the checks were received by the SEA. Federal accountability needs to focus on impact, both in terms of the students impacted and the quantitative outcomes.
The states should be held accountable for its policies, funding priorities, and overall operations. All students should have access to a high-quality school. Data must be used to compare schools in an apples-to-apples way. State funding formulas must align with community and student needs and expectations. The “right” assessments should be identified and implemented to ensure effective measure of both student learning and achievement. The SEA should be focused on ROI, both for the schools and the taxpayers.
The districts and individual schools should be held accountable for both their inputs (instruction) and outcomes (performance). Instructional efforts must be scientifically based Teachers should be qualified, motivated, and successful, with the right teachers in the right jobs and right schools. Students should demonstrate proficiency, regardless of the yardstick being used. And all students, particularly the historically disadvantaged, should be given options if their current schools aren’t making the cut.
Teachers should be held accountable, again for both their inputs and outcomes. All students should be learning, and that learning be measured in a quantifiable manner. All students must gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed Instruction should be based on best practice. District/SEA/federal instructional goals should be addressed on a daily basis, and not just on those days when someone from the central office may be observing.
Students should be held accountable, both for their own success and the success of their schools. They need to arrive on time, ready to learn. Students must respect their educators and maximize instructional time. All kids should be demonstrating proficiency (by international/federal/state standards) or at least demonstrate they are working toward it, and that proficiency must be measured quantitatively. And students should have (and execute) remedies if they aren’t getting the quality of instruction they need.
Families need to be held accountable. They must be engaged in their students’ schools. They should elect state and local officials committed to school improvement. They need to ensure teachers and administrators are using research-proven instructional practices. They must know how their students are doing in class, both from a qualitative and quantitative perspective. And they should take specific action steps if their kids aren’t performing at expected levels.
And, of course, all of the wonks, the talking heads, the influencers, the advisors, and the chattering class needs to be held accountable. Are we focused on student achievement? Are we focused on equity? Are we focused on student skills and knowledge? Do we help hold all stakeholders accountable, why doing the same to ourselves? Do we engage with both our friends and those we don’t necessarily agree with? Do we have clear, shared definitions of success?
Accountability should be a badge of honor. Being responsible and answerable is essential, particularly when we are talking about improving public education for our kids. While we may disagree on some of the specifics, can’t we all agree that all those who touch the lives of young learners should be held accountable, both for the inputs and the outcomes?