An old Neapolitan saying might encapsulate the issue of accountability, il pesce puzza dalla testa.
As classroom teachers we are accountable for the progress of the students we teach. As a union rep and consultant I’ve visited, hundreds, thousands, let’s say many classrooms. In my union rep capacity; I met with teachers who are being held accountable for the lack of progress of the students in their class.
“I’m a good teacher, check my lesson plans, the kids just don’t pay attention, don’t do their homework and misbehave, it’s not my fault.”
Maybe it’s not your fault, we need systems to define and assess accountability.
In New York City teachers are held accountable, in other words assessed/rated by a combination of supervisory observations and student results as measured by tests. (See a detailed description here)
Up the ladder assistant principals and principals are held accountable by assessing a range of metrics, from standardized test score growth, student attendance, teacher absenteeism and parent, teacher and in secondary schools student surveys. See survey info here and a wealth of school performance data at the infohub here.
We grade students, we are graded, our graders are graded, and we are all accountable, well, almost all, are those at the top of the pyramid accountable? and, if so, to whom?
I’ve written about teacher accountability many times, in 2010, in 2013 in 2021,
Charlotte Danielson, the doyen of the Frameworks, has also written a guide for school leaders, “Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations ,” a thoughtful guide about the role of the “rater” combined with the role of the colleague and mentor, a complex combination of roles.
Lo those many years ago, in a school with a strong, collegial union chapter, we availed ourselves of a section of the union contract, in lieu of supervisory observations: three teachers teaching the same subject observed each other teaching the same topic (A observed B who observed C who observed A), followed by a facilitated “conversation,” the notes, agreed upon by the teachers in lieu of an observation, It was voluntary, teachers found it useful, A small step towards peer evaluation, a very small step. UFT President Mulgrew asked how many teachers, at a Delegate Assembly, were interested, very few hands.
In a few schools teachers take ownership, the school collaborates and celebrates their accountability. In most schools teachers close their doors, do their “thing” and supervisors follow suit.
At the top of ladder the school district leader, hopefully, sets the tone, too frequently more by circulars and press releases than actual actions. I worked with one superintendent who actually ran a staff meeting in each school engaging the faculty, to use modern imagery, he was a unicorn. Bloomberg hired three chancellors none of whom were educators, de Blasio two, a retiree and another from across the county and Adams a New Yorker with limited management experience. The mayor is at the apex of the pyramid, mayoral control, and the chancellor must fend for himself and deflect the poisoned arrows.
Mayors can always dismiss a chancellor and “schools” can become an issue at the next election. Ironically de Blasio, who left office with low public ratings poured tons of money into valuable school programs, pre-K and 3 for all, respected teachers and negotiated two fair contracts. The current administration is just beginning the next round of contract negotiations for in-service teachers and health plans for retirees.
Interest in teaching as a profession is waning (See NYT article here), college teacher preparation programs are shrinking, interest in vouchers increasing (give a parent a voucher redeemable in public, private or parochial schools), lower or abolish teacher certification requirements, arguing “we’re not accountable” only encourages assaults on the profession. The education community, parents, school boards, teachers, teacher unions and students must take ownership; finger pointing is a fatal plague.
“Give us the tools and hold us accountable, we’re skilled craftsman and know how to run highly effective schools.”
Samuel Adams, the intellectual sword who lit the flames of revolution across the colonies was a steadfast supporter of public education; just as we depended on an educated populace in 1775 we require public schools to produce inquiring minds today
. Our Ancestors in the most early Times laid an excellent Foundation for the security of Liberty by setting up in a few years after their Arrival a publick Seminary of Learning; and by their Laws they obligd every Town consisting of a certain Number of Families to keep and maintain a Grammar School. I shall be very sorry, if it be true as I have been informd, that some of our Towns have dismissd their Schoolmasters, alledging that the extraordinary Expence of defending the Country renders them unable to support them. I hope this Inattention to the Principles of our Forefathers does not prevail. If there should be any Danger of it, would not the leading Gentlemen do eminent Service to the Publick, by impressing upon the Minds of the People, the Necessity & Importance of encouraging that System of Education, which in my opinion is so well calculated to diffuse among the Individuals of the Community the Principles of Morality, so essentially necessary to the Preservation of publick Liberty.