Policy Slogan Analysis: Accountability
©1999 Jana S. Eaton


edited 4/2/12

Slogan: "Teachers should be accountable for their performances. We need teacher accountability!"

The key terms in the above slogans are "accountable" and "accountability." Few in the school community would disagree with this statement. Most teachers would agree with the first but not the second statement. Teachers are leery of the second one only because they have concerns about the statement when it is operationalized and translated into specifics and implemented. As teachers, we know that accountability, when operationalized, can produce an immense variety of programs and proposals. We have seen merit systems, related to accountability but not synonymous with, fail or produce dissension within the faculty. The general public, however, has a general idea as to what accountability might mean but would not agree on the specifics or the implementation. In fact, most members of the general public would probably be perplexed if asked to define "accountability."

For conservative taxpayers' groups, "teacher accountability" has become a battle cry. Dissensus is obscured, as it is popular today to assume that schools are failing because teachers aren't "accountable." As such, "accountability" is a very vague term.

There are several major problems with this slogan. First, the premise is probably false, depending on the criteria used to define "accountability." If it means doing all that is contractually required, most teachers would certainly be "accountable.' If it means going above and beyond and doing an "excellent" job, what are the criteria? One parent might suggest that teachers who call home frequently are being accountable, while another might contend that teachers who give lots of A's are doing a good job and are, therefore, accountable. At any rate, the assumption underlying the slogan is that teachers are not accountable. Until the term is defined and some consensus reached on the definition, the premise contained in the slogan is not necessarily true, so reasoning from the premise does not produce a true conclusion.

Inherent in the slogan is circular reasoning. Why should teachers be more accountable? Because they aren't accountable? Lack of accountability causes them to be unaccountable? There seems to be rather widespread support nationwide for the accountability slogan, much to the despair of most educators. Then to tie in the slogan with "failing" schools presents another host of problems. Failing by which criteria? What is the causal connection between accountability and failing schools? What other variables might there be?

What the public also fails to realize is that most states actually require a great deal of accountability in the form of highly specific professional development programs for continual teacher training and evaluation. Thus, teachers, administrators and Boards have hammered out specific definitions, programs and procedures to define "accountability" and ensure that teachers are "accountable." The public is generally unaware of these efforts and might not agree that they go far enough. If this is the case, there would probably be considerable dissensus over what constitutes "accountability," what specific criteria should be used, what measurements would be developed and how programs would be implemented.

Ours was developed by our District Staff Development Committee, consisting of representatives from the Board, faculty, union and administration, with feedback and approval by the general faculty; it went to the Board for final approval. "The purpose of the Evaluation and Professional Development System is to ensure the competence and enable the continuous professional growth of staff to meet the ever-changing needs of the Unionville-Chadds Ford student. " It does so through a system that includes what we call Core Standards of Professional Practice: "Planning, Instruction, Knowledge of the Environment and Professional Practice." It emphasizes best educational practice, on-going staff development, effective communication, lifelong learning, self-reflection, high expectations for performance and continuous evaluation. Within each of the Core areas are lists of standards upon which staff members are continually evaluated. The document acknowledges that not every item is applicable to every teacher, so it is not exactly a check list. For example, under "Planning" is "Selects a variety of strategies and methods to meet the needs of a variety of learners." Within this subsection are lecture, mnemonics, group work, cooperative learning, etc.--the list is extensive. While all teachers are expected to use a variety of strategies, they are not expected to employ every one of those specific types listed.

There are three tracks in our District that differentiate among the inductees, tenured professionals, and those in need of intensive assistance. Track 1 consists of a rigorous training/induction program for new professional employees. Track 2 provides for continuous professional growth and development for tenured teachers. Intensive assistance for professional employees who are experiencing difficulty with meeting the Core Standards comprises Track 3. The emphasis throughout is on professional development "in an atmosphere of collegial support, and ensures fair and consistent treatment for all." The goal of the Intensive Support track is to "provide a good faith effort to support and guide the employee to return to a level of competence set forth in the Core Standards." Failure to return to an expected level of competence can result in an unsatisfactory evaluation and a recommendation for dismissal.

The point of detailing our own District's accountability plan is to demonstrate that moving from slogan to plan and implementation can require considerable effort and many compromises. Even then, our plan would not be agreeable to some members of our community, especially those with a right-wing agenda, different authorities or an "ax to grind." These people are still resorting to their undefined slogans for broad consensus of opinion. As the slogan gains depth, less consensus is to be expected. To be sure, a detailed "accountability" plan developed by the anti-public school anti-teacher group would not be at all acceptable to the professionals in education. While we agree that teachers should be "accountable," we would lose the broad consensus in moving from the abstract to the criteria and plan of action.