Thursday, September 13, 2012

Teachers Arraigned Before the Accountability Gods

An utterly tiresome nostrum being circulated by education pundits, particularly those in the current mainstream reform camp, emphasizes the need for accountability. We might well ask, accountability for what, of whom, and to whom?

The putative virtues of accountability have been rehearsed so often, by minds that appear to be set on autopilot, that I will reprise them only briefly here. We are reminded, again and again, as if the repetition made the claims true, that virtually every business and profession entails accountability; that taxpayers advance funds for the education of our children, and have a right to see some results; that accountability is a normal part of adult responsibility; and so on. All true; I have no objections to any of these claims.

But why is it that everyone suddenly feels it necessary to sit in the Judgment Seat, as if their main contribution to children's educations, for which we should be eternally thankful, consisted in setting up accountability systems, banging on the table, and demanding results? Great, you want high test scores . . . so do we, and so have we, for many years. But what exactly is the contribution you accountability hawks are making, or have made, that gives you the right to bang the table and make demands? Is it that you cut a bunch of clever deals for yourselves, made buddies of the right people at the right cocktail parties and in the right backroom offices, snookered the voters with enough unfulfilled promises often enough to advance in your political careers and then sneaked away, on to another inside job, before the voters ever had the chance to catch up with you? Just who are you people, and what have you ever done for students who really needed help? Oh, perhaps you attended fundraisers, shook your heads in synchrony with other supposedly knowing one-percenters -- those you had met in the Ivy League colleges your fathers paid for, and that you now feel guilty about, realizing that your careers were made by the unequal access to resources that you now decry -- about those terrible, failing public schools; perhaps you even did some charity work, devoting one or two Saturdays to playground construction or some other unpaid manual labour at a school in a tough neighbourhood, and then felt good about yourselves as you drove back to your own far more comfortable neighbourhoods. Perhaps you even taught for two years, or even a little more, and then gathered your wisdom and set yourself up in some advocacy job, so that your main contributions to children's educations then consisted in "standing up for the poor", and telling everyone else what to do, without actually having the courage to stick around long enough to try implementing your own advice yourselves.

What gives you the right to sit in the Judgment Seat and try teachers?

And why are you so hyper-confident that your teacher appraisal formulas are just what our educational systems need, among the numerous other proposals, some of them based on the actual research that you don't have time to read, for school improvement that you could be supporting? And why are you threatening teachers' livelihoods, their careers, on the basis of statistical arguments that are in dispute, including by the expert who formerly ran statistical evaluation for the Educational Testing Service that writes our nation's most important tests?

Are you familiar with the sin of hubris, as you direct this ongoing tragedy?

It's time to back off, stop pushing educators into corners, and reconsider so that together we can move forward in a direction offering more hope.    

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