Diane Ravitch & Accountability

by theschoolprincipal on December 15, 2010

I’ve been struggling lately with who is accountable for what in the Land of School Reform. No Child Left Behind introduced a storm of accountability activity, most of which has had negative unintended consequences for public education.

For example, in Arizona a new bill, SB1040, concerning teacher and principal evaluation  is on the Governor’s desk for signature. 33 – 50% of an educator’s evaluation will be based on student academic progress. In other words, the teacher and principal are accountable when students do not succeed — which means that teachers and principals can lose their jobs when this happens. Hmm.

What part of this failure is the state accountable for? Will the state be held accountable if funding was not available to get a student back on track or to hire a truant officer to haul students back to school? It’s a complicated issue.

*Who’s going to keep track of each student’s progress? As principal, I did not have time to do this and neither did anyone else on my under-staffed staff. So it would have fallen to me to do it — and I would have  managed to get-er-done.

Such well-intended solutions only breed more problems — which need more solutions –which need more resources — which cost districts more time and  money for such things as additional personnel — non-teaching personnel, accountability personnel.   Simplicity, where  art thou?

Well, I just found Simplicity in Finland and she’s doing quite well. I encourage you to read the blog “Bridging Differences” on edweek.org where Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier take turns posting. Here’s an excerpt from Diane’s December 14 post:

“Finland is at the other end of the educational spectrum. Its education system is modeled on American progressive ideas. It is student-centered. It has a broad (and non-directive) national curriculum. Its teachers are drawn from the top 10 percent of university graduates. They are highly educated and well prepared. Students never take a high-stakes test; their teachers make their own tests. The only test they take that counts is the one required to enter university.

Last week, I went to a luncheon with Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish education expert. I asked him the question that every politician asks today: “If students don’t take tests, how do you hold teachers and schools accountable?” He said that there is no word in the Finnish language for “accountability.” He said, “We put well-prepared teachers in the classroom, give them maximum autonomy, and we trust them to be responsible.”

I asked him if teachers are paid more for experience. He said, “Of course.” And what about graduate degrees? He said, “Every teacher in Finland has a master’s degree.” He added: “We don’t believe in competition among students, teachers, or schools. We believe in collaboration, trust, responsibility, and autonomy.”

As I finished reading that passage, a feeling of calm came over me. Sanity. Coherence. Simplicity. Things make sense.

Folks, we continue heading down the wrong path. As Will Rogers said (per Kevin Welner at the National Educational Policy Center): “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Tell your Congressmen and Senators, do not reauthorize  ESEA unless you leave  NCLB/Blueprint out.

*Oh, I know. Let the teachers keep track of their own students’ academic progress for the new evaluation instrument. They have plenty of time. Let’s see, how would that work? — but won’t dishonest teachers corrupt our system?   I know. We’ll have teachers give informal assessments every three weeks throughout the year and keep track of their own students’ scores from the beginning of year to the end. Of course,  teachers will first have to create the assessments for each subject. Oh, that won’t work. The teachers might make the assessments too easy. And they might be dishonest when scoring them. Let’s hire an outside firm to create these tests and pay the company to score them. Who will coordinate this? How much paper will this take? How much time will it take for teachers to run the tests off? Oh, we’ll have to buy additional copy machines. Well, the company prefers that we administer the tests on computers. But we don’t have enough computer labs. That’s okay. We’ll buy more computers — after we build another building to house all of the new computer labs we’ll need. More money for accountability. None for instruction.

Wake up, Congress! Wake up, Arizona. Wake up, administrators. We’re already at the bottom of the Rabbit Hole.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jody Morrison
December 17, 2010 at 2:29 am

Astounding stuff, accountability. When I started teaching, I was expected to be a professional: I had a general curriculum, I developed pedagogy that fit for my students, I created fun and exciting lessons in which students were actively engaged. And I developed authentic and alternative evaluations to measure student (and my) success. I was evaluated on how engaged my students were. When I retired, I was teaching a pre-determined, regimented curriculum. I lost approximately 3 weeks of instructional time for actual testing. I was not “allowed” to teach using creative and innovative units; I had to teach directly to the test. 2 times 2 is how much? NOT if I give you two cents, two times, could you buy an apple costing 6 cents. This whole thing is ridiculous. Train teachers well, pay them well, give them curricula guidelines, and then…let them do what they’ve been trained to do educate students by engaging them in exciting and interactive curricula. What a novel idea!!!


2 theschoolprincipal
December 27, 2010 at 9:34 pm

You are so right, Jody. That Finnish fellow that Diane spoke to? — how refreshing!


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