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Accountability: It's not just for schools

My turn

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2001

When these people who have devoted their lives to educating our children hear public officials telling the world that they are not accountable enough, and therefore even greater accountability needs to be imposed from the outside, they are often deflated.

Accountability is a very important concept in a democratic society. Perhaps the best bottom line definitions are "to be responsible" and "to be answerable."

Whenever educators appeal for support on behalf of children and education, some members of our state legislature automatically respond, "We'll provide the funding when we think the schools are accountable." It's a chicken and egg argument, since it is generally difficult to meet all of the mandates without the resources. Thankfully, growing numbers of leaders in government and business are beginning to see the light. The business representatives along with others on the Governor's Task Force on School Funding gave insight into the relationship between goals, accountability and the level of funding.

Today our public schools are among the most accountable institutions in our state. Most of what I'd call "authentic accountability" is self-imposed, since educators feel a deep sense of responsibility for ensuring that students get an education that will truly prepare them for the future.

However, numerous other accountability measures have been imposed. They are embedded in state statutes and regulations. Educators are not exaggerating when they say, "We're spending so much time complying with accountability requirements that we hardly have time to teach the kids."

I ask you to consider some growing concerns:

First, we have a dedicated core of talented and professional educators who feel a deep sense of responsibility for the education of each and every child, no matter what problems they bring to school with them. As we've said, the most important brand of accountability is self-imposed it's embedded in educators who are dedicated to preparing our children for the future. Unfortunately, when these people who have devoted their lives to educating our children hear public officials telling the world that they are not accountable enough, and therefore even greater accountability needs to be imposed from the outside, they are often deflated.

Second, those who impose accountability requirements often forget that, for the schools to be more effective, they, too, need to be a part of the team. The people who make the rules also need "to be answerable." They need to be accountable. Should elected officials be held accountable when they set standards and then turn away when it's apparent that more resources will be needed to help students reach them? We're talking about more accountability, but not the kind that is simply imposed by a vote in the legislature. When it comes to education, we're all in this together. We should all be held accountable for what we do or choose not to do.

Third, we have local election of school boards, which is the most significant accountability measures we have going for us in our democratic society. Local school board members feel a keen sense of responsibility for ensuring excellent education for the students in their communities. They also know that, if it doesn't happen, they and the educators who live next door will be called on the carpet for an explanation. A less than adequate action can mean the loss of their seat the next time citizens go to vote.

Accountability? Yes! School administrators across Alaska not only understand the importance of being accountable, they steadfastly believe in the importance of shared accountability. It was a sad day indeed last January when Education Week gave out grades for each state regarding funding for public schools. Alaska earned an F for adequacy and a C for equity. Only one other state was given an F for adequacy.

Mutual expectations? Positively! Administrators know schools and school systems are at their best when everyone has high expectations. We need mutual accountability. Everyone involved needs to be accountable. We all need to be a strong link in the chain.

So, the next time someone says, "Schools need to be accountable," you might want to reply, "You're right - and so does everyone else!"

Darroll Hargraves is a former school superintendent in Alaska who serves as executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators. He can be reached at acsa@gci.net.



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