Accountability has been a major topic of conversation among Wisconsin's public school community for years. Conservatives promote a simplistic three step approach to public school improvement; demand improvement, endlessly test for signs of excellence and punish schools for the perceived lack of results. Truth be told, I don't think anyone involved in public education would have any problem with being held accountable if certain conditions were met. The following conditions are certainly not all inclusive but they are a good start.
- All students would come to school ready to learn every day. Truancy, student mobility, hunger, neglect, violence and poverty are all issues that affect student learning. Students are not raw materials! A strong social structure with an adequate safety net would be required in order to meet this requirement.
- Each child has a qualified teacher who is compensated fairly. Increasing the qualifications needed to become a teacher or support personnel without a corresponding increase in pay discourages good people from entering or staying in the field.
- School and class sizes are appropriate as defined by educational research. All educational research supports limits on the school and class size. As funding evaporates due to the cost of living, these limits are being exceeded by most school districts. (Yeah, I know conservatives point to the amount of money going to education as ever increasing. Bought gasoline lately?)
- Staff has an adequate training and evaluation program which promotes continuous improvement. The life long learning that educators promote must be emulated by those same professionals. Education research over the past twenty-five years has become information rich. Adequate time needs to be set aside for educators to find and implement the best education practices known.
- All buildings and classrooms are adequate and comfortable so as to be conducive to learning. If one was to determine the value a society places upon the various parts of our culture by its buildings, what would our society seem to value? Banks? Churches?Malls? Resorts? Schools? My school resembles a 1930's paint factory.
- Staff culture is collaborative and collegial in nature. Educators, who legally function in the place of the parent, need to work in an atmosphere that is non competitive. The role of the parent is difficult, imagine being responsible for 150 students per day in an isolated classroom. Educators need to work together in order to provide for the various needs of students. To do otherwise, is to not have a chance at success. Merit pay schemes reduce the possibility that a collaborative one may exist.
- The community and private sector are held accountable for assuring that financial support is adequate. The businesses and the community benefit greatly from a great school system. There is a shared responsibility of all community members, as well as business to adequately fund the education system.
- Every school receiving public funds is held accountable is exactly the same way. Presently private schools do not have to follow the same rules as public and are able to choose the method of evaluation. All public schools, if the ESEA (NCLB) is not changed, will be judged failing by the mid 2010's because the goals are impossible to fufill.
To hold educators accountable for the results in the classroom without at least minimum requirements as outlined above is similar to going to war without a plan, the needed equipment, the manpower to win that war, or a post war plan. Oh, that's right. We've already done that, haven't we?