Engendering trust within school accountability systems

Before policymakers and other key stakeholders can make decisions surrounding educational accountability, they would do well to focus their full attentions on the idea of trust. It’s the characteristic most lacking in every discussion about the word accountability in education, and with good reason. The present economic situation has many afraid that, like most industries, […]

Before policymakers and other key stakeholders can make decisions surrounding educational accountability, they would do well to focus their full attentions on the idea of trust. It’s the characteristic most lacking in every discussion about the word accountability in education, and with good reason. The present economic situation has many afraid that, like most industries, education departments will find ways to cut teaching jobs in the name of efficiency. They become dissonant when leaders will continue to cite faulty research about class size and success. They’re furious that the chairs and employees in the district offices, many of whom have little classroom experience, will solely focus on one aspect of their whole teaching careers (test scores).

Yet, most of this can change, and will, when these very leaders change the paradigm from one where things are done to in-building educators and done by in-building educators.

If we trust teachers enough to create rubrics and measurements for our students, why not let educators have a say in how they should be measured? In our latest book, Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools – Now and in the Future, we get dozens of accounts from some of the best and brightest teachers across the nation making a strong case for including the teacher voice in policy decisions all throughout our education systems. We give windows for how we can innovate in assessing our students and contributing positively to our school communities. From re-imagining teacher preparatory programs to the role of teachers, we demand rigor in ways that many of us believe are true to the professional teacher.

In some circles, policymakers claim they do include all stakeholders, but when we look at their processes, we notice that the teachers aren’t asked about anything until the very end, when the decision is 90% complete. Unlike soldiers who hear commands from generals who’ve been corporals, or even professional athletes who listen to coaches who’ve been around the game for years before taking the helm, educators often get talked down to by people who’ve only seen the classroom as students.

We can change that. Here are five quick ideas I thought of that policymakers can do before they construct their next paper:

  • Do extensive research about the district or body in question.
    If it’s about a school, gather up as much as you can about the school. Get as much information about the school’s environment as its assessment levels. If it’s about a teaching standard or practice, let teachers pilot it without penalty or reproach and ask for feedback about the practice in question.
  • Have a clear and transparent purpose behind your policy.
    Come into meetings with no present ulterior motive. Strip the policy of its educational jargon and see if it still sounds as thorough as when you first wrote it. Read it aloud to theorists and practitioners alike and see if the feedback is what you anticipated. Be genuine about your approach.
  • Invest a part of your time in sitting inside a school.
    This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. See how well your policy matches up with what’s actually happening in classrooms. Pick a random school, not simply the favorites. Would you prescribe your policy to that school? Does it need tweaking? Is it really an effective practice? N.B. – Extra points if you do it without media or other personnel around you.
  • Give the students and parents a voice in that policy, too.
    Often, when people present policy, they do it in isolated corners or dusty long tables wondering why there’s little passion involved. Introduce the very people who might be affected by said policy into the conversation and things get really interesting. Do it early in the process, test it, work out the kinks, and present it again.
  • Ask lots of questions; don’t have all the answers.
    Even after all is said and done, and the policy has been enacted, give it a good amount of time before asking for real reflection about the policy. If it didn’t work, don’t be stubborn about it; remove it and go back to the drawing board.

A part of me wants to say that educators can probably write many of these policies themselves, but they’re often busy teaching classes. Therefore, it’s up to the right allies to make the best possible choices for the future of education. Yet, the voices who they should listen to are eager to contribute.

Do they trust it?

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