Reframing Accountability as a Strategy to Save Public Education

At the Schlechty Center we share a vision of a totally new and different kind of accountability system for our nation’s public schools, one that is based on transforming public education rather than reforming it, based on saving public education rather than destroying it.

Our vision

  • encourages a focus on engagement rather than compliance and a focus on being accountable for progress as opposed to simply accounting to government groups.
  • strives to improve performance instead of punishing students, staff, and schools.
  • fosters trust rather than blame, collaboration rather than competition, and flexibility rather than rigidity.
  • encourages and promotes students’ learning at profound levels as opposed to their simply learning what is needed to pass standardized tests.
  • fosters recognizing and rewarding creativity and innovation rather than limiting and regulating them.

The current national accountability system, while well-intended, does not support our vision. At the Schlechty Center we are opposed to accountability strategies that serve to discredit and undermine public education and those who teach our children and run our schools. But it is not enough to simply be against something without offering an alternative. We need a solution we can champion. It is for this reason that the Schlechty Center is developing a prototype to serve as a comprehensive systemic tool that can be used by advocates of public education to reframe accountability.

We don’t claim to have all of the answers but we do have a point of view and we are pretty good at asking the right questions. We will use this blog to share pieces of our work as we go. We will solicit suggestions and examples of artifacts that are being used to account for progress as opposed to simply account to state and federal agencies.

Our vision, and the strategy and frameworks that will follow, are based on some basic beliefs we share and invite others to consider:

  • People perform better in organizations that build the capacity to perform.
  • The primary purpose of evaluation is improvement, not punishment.
  • Strategic thinking and design precede strategic planning.
  • Customization is a more important value than standardization.
  • A focus on engagement is more desirable than a focus on compliance.
  • Public education needs to be redesigned and saved, not dismantled.

This first piece is titled “Are You Ready?” We invite you to use it with others to see if there are common beliefs and commitments.  We invite your reactions and suggestions concerning how you might use this work.

One Response to “Reframing Accountability as a Strategy to Save Public Education”

  1. Ken Odom says:

    Like most who will join this discussion, I am inclined to agree with the sentiment that our current accountability system (which is really a hodgepodge of accountability systems) does not do justice to the educational endeavor. So, I applaud the attempt to think differently about how we measure progress in education.

    I am drawn tho the basic beliefs in this post. In particular, a couple of them catch my eye because they challenge some deeply held beliefs - whether voiced or not - that characterize public education. The first one that provoked a response is “Customization is a more important value than standardization.” There is truth in this statement. Each student engages differently and achieves differently. The great challenge of education is being able to identify what works for a particular student within the framework of the larger classroom setting. However, it seems to me that the value of customization may extend only to how a student learns and engages. Indeed, the desired outcomes are very much standardized, albeit we have a great deal of difficulty identifying what that standard is (a topic for another time, perhaps). The principle, then, is one of “mass customization.” In other words, our goal is to produce a large volume of similarly educated students who achieve that education is a customized manner. It should be noted that the trend towards mass customization is ubiquitous in our current culture, having been driven most recently by technology. For example, the iPhone is a mass produced tool that allows for a great deal of customization based upon the particular desires of the end user. The paradigm shift, of course, is that for much of its history education was viewed as the primary vehicle for driving a greater degree of standarization. Education has been as much about assimilation to our culture as it has been about anything else. We must be clear about which elements we intend to customize and which we wish to adhere to a defined standard. That is extremely difficult and, I think, requires significant leadership from our locally elected school boards.

    The second item that catches my eye is that that focus on engagement is preferable to compliance. Putting aside for a moment that an engaged student is likely a compliant student, it strikes me that this item dovetails very nicely with the desire to enhance customization - and I think we have the tools to do it. When I was a child, choose your own adventure books were quite the rage. In these books, the reader was presented with a choice about how to continue the story. Thus, each person who read the book may have read a slightly different book. But, they all reached the same ending and they all stayed engaged because each read a story of his or her own choosing. Imagine a world in which education functioned like this. What if teachers served as facilitators, presenting the choices and allowing each student to craft his or her own pathway to knowledge. Assessment in this model is simple - it is mastery of the content. Only when the content is mastered would a student be able to move to the next topic. It’s the ultimate in choose your own adventure education!

    I agree that public education should be re-designed. The stark truth is that dismantling public education would be a gargantuan task that, in the end, would likely leave the most vulnerable further behind. But, I don’t think we re-design public education without strong leadership at the local level. Local boards must be motivated to take up this cause and increase their participation in the process of vetting the big ideas.

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