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I Don’t Like “Accountability”

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In my opinion, many unwise actions are taking place in the name of accountability. I’d like to highlight three recent ones:

Educators are now being told in Memphis and in other areas that student evaluations of them and their classes will be included as part of the teacher evaluation process.

Videotaping is being used by the Gates Foundation on thousands of teachers to connect which practices lead to higher test scores, and some are calling for constant video monitoring in the classroom.

Several state legislators and other officials want to start grading and punishing parents who don’t come to parent/teacher conferences and other school events.

I’m not a fan of the word “accountability” when it is related to schools. It comes from the Latin roots meaning “calculate,” and it reinforces the view that everything that happens in schools is countable. I prefer the word some dictionaries use as a definition for the word — they say it means responsible, which is defined as:

Able to make moral or rational decisions on one’s own and therefore answerable for one’s behavior.

Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable.

Based on or characterized by good judgment or sound thinking.

Instead of using “accountability” as a bludgeon on educators and parents, perhaps it’s worth looking at the issues raised at the beginning of this post from the point of view of the “responsible” definition.

Administrators at our school have taken chosen that strategy and consider teachers as professionals who can be trusted, have good judgment, and want to improve their craft.

I have often written about how I use student evaluations of my class and me, and our administrators regularly encourage us to do them. They are valuable sources of input. Many of our teachers use them and take them very seriously — not because they are required to do so, but because they can be adapted by each teacher depending on their situation, and because so many of us speak positively of what we have gained from them.

And because they are outside of the official evaluation process.

You might want to read My Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers) for more information.

I have also written more about student surveys, and videotaping of teachers, at Why I’m Afraid The Gates Foundation Might Be Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft. As I explain in that post, we have a voluntary videotaping process — completely outside any kind of formal evaluation — that has a great deal of buy-in from teachers. You might also want to read The Best Posts & Articles About Videotaping Teachers In The Classroom.

With parents, instead of approaching them from a punitive perspective, perhaps those who advocate those actions might want to look at what we do at our school and District — teachers and classified staff, in return for a small stipend, make home visits (hundreds each year) to listen and build relationships with parents (many whom are facing multiple challenges of their own) of our students. In addition, we have a “Parent University” program that is genuinely led by parents themselves. You can read more about it at “Involvement or Engagement?” at Educational Leadership.

I know many “school reformers” like the word “accountability.”

I just wish they preferred the definition of “responsibility” that I shared earlier in this post:

Able to make moral or rational decisions on one’s own and therefore answerable for one’s behavior.

Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable.

Based on or characterized by good judgment or sound thinking.

That describes a ton of teachers, and parents,  I know.  A little encouragement and support, and a few more resources, might go a lot further than a bludgeon…

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

3 Comments

  1. I appreciate your perspective on this issue-this is clearly not an angry rant but a thoughtful critique of something that is a touchy subject for many educators. I completely agree with the shift to the word ‘responsibility’ as it better indicates our role as teachers than to simply ‘account’ that our numbers have been met, t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

  2. I am frequently told that what gets measured gets done. I have tried to start an “integrity” movement, doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

  3. @Mark-your integrity movement sounds awesome and I couldn’t agree with the premise more. If you are truly working on something like this, count me in. Follow me on twitter @mistergesl

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