Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In the Name of Accountability

A big word in education these days is accountability. I heard outgoing chancellor of NYC schools Joel Klein use it at least 10 times in a five and a half minute interview tonight. To me, the problem with accountability-- like the statistics that are its handmaidens-- is that more often than not, it is in the eye of the beholder, even while pretending to be otherwise. Ironically, Klein spent the largest part of the interview re-interpreting this summer's negative test numbers in an effort to convince us that he has earned an A during his tenure. Maybe he's right; his boss likes the job he did, even if many parents and teachers do not. Is that accountability?

In my district, our superintendent, now in his sophomore year, has also placed accountability at the forefront, unfortunately without specifically defining it. Along with Excellence, Integrity, Diversity, and Collaboration, Accountability is one of our proposed "Core Values," as in we take responsibility for our progress and are transparent in evaluating student success and our use of the community’s resources. Okay. I can be accountable by that definition. I think.

Not surprisingly, this vague notion of accountability is filtering down and being bandied about in all sorts of settings. For example, today I was in a meeting where another teacher insisted that she wanted the units she was required to submit to come back with comments, even after acknowledging that she wouldn't necessarily find the comments valuable, all in the name of accountability. Where's the accountability? she asked, over and over. She wanted evidence that somebody was doing something even if it wasn't necessarily of value. Hmmm. Accountability for accountability's sake is not a very responsible use of our community's resources.

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