What I REALLY reject is. . .

In response to my recent thoughts on why hard targets are appropriate for schools but not for businesses that pollute, Bob—a regular reader—left the following comments:

It’s interesting that so many vocal teachers seem to reject external validity assessments of only some classroom instructional procedures and reject procedures that appear to result in learning that exceeds Federal requests.

Without being blunt (would saying ‘no offense’ here make this better?), I’m guessing that Bob—and dozens of others working beyond classrooms—hasn’t spent all that much time really listening to teacher viewpoints on accountability.

You see, the most accomplished—and frequently the most vocal—educators generally don’t reject the notion of being held accountable for our work.  We recognize that any society that is investing millions in a public organization like a school system has the right to hold that organization accountable for results.

What we reject (assuming that I’m one of the vocal teachers Bob’s referring to) are external accountability models that lack sophistication and—by doing so—-prevent meaningful instruction from happening in today’s classrooms.  This isn’t an issue of rejecting accountability.  It’s an issue of rejecting an accountability model that has changed the nature of teaching and learning in America for the worse.

I’m going to preach from the soapbox for a minute here:  I’ve spent the past six months drilling and killing my students in preparation for multiple choice reading exams that we take every three weeks.  Each day, we work on sample problems.  I show students the rationale behind correct and incorrect answer choices.  We copy down testing vocabulary and practice using that vocabulary in other situations in class.  Every lesson that I write includes questions that mirror those found on the upcoming “formative assessment” that I’m required to give.

Is that what you really want to hold me accountable for?

Are we convinced as a nation that students well prepared for multiple choice reading assessments are well prepared for life?  Is that what we imagined for our children when we boldly declared that no child would be left behind?

I didn’t think so—-but until I’m “held accountable” for something other than multiple choice reading tests, my instruction won’t change.


Because in the end, my administrators call me on the carpet when our test scores are down.  The work that I’ve done to introduce my students to critical thinking skills through Padiea seminars matters not if my growth rates don’t measure up.  The digital opportunities that I’ve given my students to create and collaborate electronically are essentially useless.  The work I invest developing relationships with students is irrelevant in the end—–All that anyone asks about my year’s worth of work is, “How’d the kids do on the test.”

If anything, I rail (and I sure feel like I’m railing here!) against accountability simply because I’ve worked with real kids in real classrooms every day for fifteen years.  That first-hand experience has taught me time and again that our measure of “success” today is insufficient at best.

You want to hold me accountable for something that might actually improve education in America?

Consider these options:

1.  Hold me accountable for documenting the impact of the instructional practices that I’ve chosen to use in my classroom—-rather than defining the instructional practices that you expect me to use.  Why?  Because by doing so, you’ll promote reflection in educators….and reflection is good.  Teachers engaged in constant study about teaching and learning quickly begin to identify strategies that work—and to eliminate strategies that don’t.

Not only will you end up with more effective practices—you’ll end up with more effective practitioners who are inspired by the mental synergy of a creative endeavor.  In the test-prep, worksheet driven reality that schooling has become, teaching often bores me.

2.  Hold me—and the group of teachers that I work with—accountable for the results of a team of students.  By doing so, perhaps we can truly put some meat into the tired cliche that schools are TEAMS where “Together, Everyone Achieves More.”  A group of collaborating professionals is powerful stuff.  Why don’t we work harder to incentivize those behaviors?

3.  Hold me accountable for spreading what I know beyond my classroom.  Perhaps the greatest shame in education today is that there are successful teachers (and thereby students) in every building who teach down the hall from teachers (and thereby students) who are failing.  Year after year, ineffective teaching is allowed to continue.

Hard liners might argue that we should simply can the ineffective teachers, right?  Sure—then we can replace them with still more poorly prepared teachers who will need to be canned a few years down the line.  Instead, let’s expect accomplished teachers to share what they know and amplify their excellence.

Can you tell I’m a bit jazzed by this topic?

I’m tired of being told that educators reject accountability.  That hasn’t been the message that I’ve heard from the majority of my peers.  When you take the time to listen, what you really find is that we reject a model of accountability that is failing teachers and failing students all in one.

The problem is that no one ever takes the time to listen.