Friday, January 29, 2010

Accountability and George W. Bush

"Accountability is an exercise in hope. When we raise academic standards children raise their academic sights. When children are regularly tested, teachers know where and how to improve. When scores are known to parents, parents are empowered to push for change. When accountability for our schools is real, the results for our children are real."

-George W. Bush U.S. Department of Education, 2002.

I was watching Charlie Roy's slidecast for Yong Zhao's book Catching Up or Leading the Way when I came across these words that belong to George W. Bush.

On the surface, his statement might sound like it makes a heck of a lot of sense, but if you are involved in the education system, you can start to scratch the surface of his words to find very little real substance.

Here is a break down of the fallacies found in George W. Bush's words:


Accountability is an exercise in hope.


Not necessarily. If accountability means high-stakes testing that brings along top-down rewards and punishments that is more about doing things to teachers than working with them, then accountability is less about hope and more about manipulation.

Until accountability regimes focus around trusting teachers to know their students progress best, accountability will continue to do more harm than good.


When we raise academic standards children raise their
academic sights.


Now this is a dangerous assumption. Simply raising the bar to a challenging height does not do anything to guarantee anyone will be able to jump over the bar. A study conducted by Harvard Business School called Goals Gone Wild: The Systemic Side Effects of Over Prescribing Goal Setting debunks some serious misconceptions we have when it comes to goal-setting. One of its strongest messages revolves around the problems that arise when goals are prescribed in a forceful top-down manner, such as does No Child Left Behind and the accountability pillars in Alberta, Canada.

When children are regularly tested, teachers know where and how to improve.

Today, more than ever, assessment has morphed into standardized tests. The problem arises when you use standardized test scores to hold teachers and schools accountable for low scores when there is research stating that "noninstructional factors explain most of the variance among test scores when schools or districts are compared." (Alfie Kohn)

Because we mistakenly believe that standardized test scores tell us about learning in the classroom, we focus our attention on holding the teacher and school accountable. We would become far less distracted if more people understood that the test scores really tell us about the socio-economics of our society and that we need to focus our attention more on holding our society accountable for what is truly the number one opponent of education: poverty.

Until we refuse to be distracted by things like merit pay and school closures based on test scores, our efforts will result in little educational progress for all students.

When scores are known to parents, parents are empowered to push for change.

Another assumption here is that we think we know what those scores mean. James Popham put it best when he said, "employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is."

Instead of pushing for change that addresses the real problem -poverty - we are distracted by pushing for change at ONLY the school level.

When accountability for our schools is real, the results for our children are real.

Unfortunately, George W. Bush was right, but not in the way he would have liked to have been. The insurmountable damage high-stakes testing has inflicted on our children's education is very very real. I am convinced we will look back on the accountabilty programs like No Child Left Behind and we will hang our heads in shame as we ask ourselves "how the hell did we become so distracted by test scores."

1 comment:

  1. You tell 'em, Joe. Well crafted and right on point. I hope to pick up some similar themes in my blog soon.

    ReplyDelete

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