Thursday, September 6, 2007

Taking Responsibility (Don't do as I do)

Accountability is the linchpin of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. This is as it should be. Teachers are professionals and they must be accountable for student learning. There has, however, been considerable debate over the meaning of accountability in the context of NCLB including what teachers should be accountable for and how they should be held accountable. As a keen observer of American politics I think that teachers can learn a lot by observing how members of the Bush administration take responsibility for their actions.

When, for example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report that gave the Iraqi government failing grades for not meeting a series of political benchmarks, the White House complained that the GAO’s standards were “too high.” Following this example, I suggest that teachers whose students do poorly on state achievement tests utilize the same tactic. Claim that the test makers’ standards were just too high.

Alberto Gonzalez, Scooter Libby, and even the President have attempted to deflect criticism of failed policies and inept performance by occasionally asserting, “I don’t recall….” When teachers are chastised for their students’ failures, I suggest they consider a similar defense: “I don’t remember that student.”

Accountability in Washington often involves blaming failure on somebody else. The failure to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina? The fault of state and local officials. Recommending Harriet Myers for the Supreme Court? It was John Roberts’ idea. When students fail, I suggest that teachers consider blaming parents, administrators, students, or even custodians (“my classroom was too dirty for learning to occur”).

But sometimes teachers need to be prepared for the ultimate gesture of accountability. Teachers must be ready to tell parents, administrators, and students that they take full responsibility for low test scores. There is no better way to show that they are doing a “heck of a job.”

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