Teacher Perspectives on Educational Accountability

By Froese-Germain, Bernie | Our Schools, Our Selves, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Teacher Perspectives on Educational Accountability


Froese-Germain, Bernie, Our Schools, Our Selves


Among the major changes we are witnessing in educational policy is the so-called 'accountability revolution,' a trend closely linked with 'school choice' and competition among schools. Such changes in education need to be understood in the context of corporate-driven globalization, which Michel Agna'ieff has described as the "second capitalistic revolution." Globalization according to Agna'ieff has accelerated the "penetration of market values into areas where they do not belong."2 This has resulted in the treatment of education as a commodity and the portrayal of public education as a failure in order to advance an agenda of deregulation and privatization.

Demands for increased accountability, especially shrill in the U.S. and the U.K. and resulting in particularly draconian measures, have been used by decision-makers to justify the development of narrow measurable outcomes of student achievement. This has been accompanied by large-scale standardized testing to verify those outcomes and the subsequent ranking and publishing of average test scores for schools and districts. This market-based approach to accountability, emphasizing competition, is designed to create (a few) winners and (many more) losers, resulting in increased inequities.

Focusing on teachers' professional accountability

It must be emphasized that teachers wholeheartedly support the notion of accountability in education. But instead of the market-based and bureaucratic forms of accountability which predominate in education today, teachers and their organizations argue for the professional accountability of teachers. They maintain that this is crucial for improving student learning.

In the same way that one of the keys to successful learning is creating the conditions for students to take ownership for their learning, successful teaching involves providing the profession with opportunities to take ownership for their teaching, they argue. The British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF, 2002) believes that teachers should be specifically accountable for

the educational program they design, for the instructional strategies and learning resources they choose, and for the assessment strategies they use. Accountability, in this sense, turns on the professional decisions of teachers and the degree to which these decisions meet the individual needs of students, [emphasis added]

The accent here is on professional autonomy, an important means by which teachers and other professionals demonstrate their accountability. Chapman (2003) states that,

teachers have traditionally exercised professional autonomy, and there has been a long-standing societal understanding and expectation that teachers would exercise some degree of professional autonomy .... Sometimes, perhaps because of this long history, we take our professional autonomy for granted. This is unfortunate because professional autonomy is fundamental to both the quality of our working lives as teachers and our ability to be effective teachers, [emphasis added] (p. 4)

As stated, at the heart of professional autonomy is a teacher's right to make decisions that enable them to meet diverse and changing student needs and abilities. Among the most rewarding aspects of teaching according to Chapman (2003) are the things teachers make myriad daily professional choices about - for example, "choices that help a student learn, choices that make a difficult concept attainable, choices that make course work interesting and engaging for students." (p. 4) She also says that most educational innovations such as cooperative learning and portfolio assessment are the result of teachers' professional autonomy. Standardized reform is inconsistent with and actually threatens this autonomy.

Because they know their students and are well placed to make educational decisions in the best interests of those students, teachers must have the freedom to exercise their professional judgment in the classroom and in schools generally. …

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