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?

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