There has been considerable conversation about the topic of accountability in education. Often pundits stand on either side of the debate without addressing the real issues or worse, without any semblance of common sense! Our division, although relatively small compared to our metro counterparts, still has a budget of approximately 53 million. The vast majority of this funding is provided by the provincial government in order to support instruction, board governance and system administration, plant operations and maintenance and transportation. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that with a budget of 53 million and a staff of over 500 that this is a business! And furthermore, this business is financed by public funding! Common sense would suggest that accountability to the “funder”, our provincial government must be a requirement. School divisions receive this funding, school boards act as stewards and the public deserves knowledge of revenues and expenses in a transparent means.
The previous component of accountability (financial) should be easily recognized as necessary. However, the issue of accountability usually focuses on the measures. What measures will define the success of a school division compared to other school divisions since all students deserve a high quality education? The comparison factor is thorny but if all students deserve high quality education then there must be some standard! Unfortunately, standardized tests used for accountability purposes cause an issue while also trying to ensure high standards between teachers and schools. It should be remembered that this was one of the reasons for the return of diploma exams. The problem with a standardized testing accountability model which results in the ranking between countries, provinces or schools is that the students writing are not standardized. Public education opens its doors to all, the rich and the poor, the academic and non-academic. Learning must be recognized as a continuum and any one shot high stakes test will never be able to provide the whole story.
Which leads me to the importance of assurance. Inspiring Education has given us freedom, not individual but collective freedom to change our practice. It is allowing us to “do” school differently in order to meet the changing needs of our students and society. Everything is changing! But since all of us have grown up with our current system, it requires considerable communication with our public to demonstrate that “doing” school differently results in higher levels of learning for all. If we cannot demonstrate that then the default will be to our current accountability system. Until we can assure our communities that what we are doing is better and meeting the needs of all students we will be stuck in our current system of accountability.
There is no doubt that extensive funding from government requires accountability. However, if we do not take more responsibility on measuring and communicating learning then we will continue to be stuck. Assurance demands us to take on increased responsibility. The more that our public are convinced that high quality learning is occurring in our schools the less need for a narrow accountability system. That convincing must come from the professionals in the classrooms and further communicated by system leaders and government officials.
Accountability, in its present form has led educators to promote a victim mentality. We often act helpless to change because accountability frustrates our creative and innovated practices. Now, we have the ability to showcase our professional competence and illustrate high quality learning in our classrooms, our schools and our systems. This assurance to our public will place accountability in the right light and should enhance our professional status. Inspiring Education has left the door open to endless possibilities where accountability and assurance work in tandem instead being counter productive. Education requires both accountability and assurance, we just need to know which to provide more focus upon?