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Jan 13

Chris Smeaton

Accountability in Education

Earlier this year, the Minister of Education, Thomas Lukaszuk, communicated that the provincial government spends 33 million dollars daily to fund education in Alberta. For the average Albertan, that number is staggering and in all likelihood elicits questions like, “Where are they spending that type of money?” or “Why are they spending that amount of money?” These questions are certainly understandable given an aging population that has little direct connection to schools today. Furthermore, to this aging population, health care is of highest priority. It would therefore be easy to rationalize that there needs to be accountability in education. The amount of the provincial budget spent on education requires accountability…period! 

There are those that suggest that education should not have any type of accountability. Quite honestly, I have a really difficult time understanding that position. Our entire society is built on accountability. The issue, I firmly believe, is, ‘What are we accountable for?’ We cannot simply say no to accountability or we are viewed as shirking our responsibility. However, we do need to fight for an accountability that enhances our systems, our schools, the professionalism of our educators and most importantly our students’ success.  In other words, “Accountability makes no sense when it undermines the larger goals of education.”- Diane Ravitch

Organizations that rank schools based on test data have done a great disservice to students and have further engrained the word “accountability” as a swear word. The larger goals of education have little to do with high stakes testing. They have their place, but they cannot be viewed as the only way to make a system or school accountable. In a recent interview, Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Ministry of Education in Helsinki, Finland stated, “America is a good example of how data from standardized tests is used to judge individual schools or teachers. But the tests were not designed to judge teachers or schools. They were designed to judge student progress.” Statistics research would suggest that a representative sample would accomplish the ability to gage student progress more effectively, as illustrated by the current practice in Finland.

Part of our issue regarding accountability is the disconnect between what the general public believes education should teach and what research is overwhelmingly supporting. Literacy and numeracy will always need to be staples in education, but not from a “back to the basics” premise. We require students who have the ability to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Solely covering the content of a curriculum must be replaced by the development of  problem solving, creativity, analytical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills within an inclusive, ethical, and action orientated system. And those skills are far more difficult to measure, especially within the current accountability system.  What we need are bold schools as suggested by Will Richardson.

Often accountability systems are built based on what is easiest to measure. Test data and survey results are relatively easy to collect. However, the larger goals of education are not that simple and therefore not easily measured.  “What’s really important in education?” needs to be debated by all of us in and out of education. As educators we cannot simply ignore the need for accountability. Instead we must fight for what really counts and then measure that!

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