Accountability: this word gets thrown a lot in the educational narrative. In the name of accountability people make some really bad decisions. Let’s start holding some of those decision makers’ feet to the fire. It is going to take recruiting some new disruptor allies along the way though.
We hear politicians grandstanding on state capitol steps about how classroom teachers must be held accountable just before they enter their legislative chambers and mastermind some new law. Usually accountability winds up being gauged by a one-size-fits-all test given on a single school day. The new mandates often send school administrators into “bunker mode” to insure their students and teachers are held accountable as well. Some district leaders take it in stride while others panic and make more questionable decisions.
I understand the need for accountability. We all have to be accountable. The problem is that too much gets sacrificed in the name of accountability. A standardized test measures such a tiny sliver of what our kids need. When all that shows up in the newspaper is how well kids filled in bubbles, the state sends a strong message that things like creativity, group problem solving, and efficiency with 21st Century tools really aren’t that important.
That message really gets amplified within the walls of too many schools. Take for example a certain elementary school I know of in Arizona where recess was eliminated to create more time for math and reading remediation. Administration then limited any student computer use to test preparation. It was as if the school had hired the Burgermeister from the old claymation Christmas classic “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to run the joint. In the name of accountability, and to frankly cover its own butt, the district decided scores trumped simple joys of childhood. Nice.
So, what are we going do about it? Who is left to hold to hold legislators and administrators accountable? Trying to fight along party lines isn’t working. If we are serious about disrupting this current trend then we need new tactics.
I hear a lot about “telling our story” and I am all for making as much of a positive contribution I can to the conversation, but we need to seize the accountability reins and start holding some feet to the fire. We can’t let the people ruining education so easily off the hook.
A wise old sage once told me, “Nothing gets administration hopping like a tiny slip of the tongue with the right parent within earshot.” Luckily this isn’t a tactic I have had to employ, but it reminds me that nothing scares administrators more than parents. If I had been working at the Arizona school with those poor kids I might not have been able to keep from planting a few seeds. We don’t have to be sneaky about it either. When we see legislation or new school policy posted, encourage parents to read it. I am extremely politically neutral in the classroom. I am not going to tell parents how to think, but making them aware of changes that could potentially impact their kids’ education just might inspire them to get involved. Pound for pound few people bring as much heat as parents.
Something else I have learned is that every dollar in education has a string attached. No matter whether it is from the state, local bond money, PTA money, or from private donations, the people behind the money have specific expectations of how it will be used. Get out in your community with the movers and shakers and especially the businesses in your area. Ask them whether they are going to grow their brand in this new economy based on test scores alone. At least in our community here in West Michigan, business leaders are clamoring for local graduates with creative thoughts, the ability to solve problems on their on their feet, and global savviness. We need them to start holding our lawmakers feet to the fire. These companies have a lot more money in play than we do and a lot more strings to pull with legislators and school districts for that matter as well. It is time they started doing a little disrupting themselves.
Yep, we all need accountability. We have to be cautious though about what we are sacrificing in the name of it. We also need to start exploring more and more ways we can hold those at the top accountable. New paradigms in education take new tactics. Put a little innovation into who you can bring along as a newly minted Disruptor.