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Accountability and Public Schools

by Allison Rizzolo

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

A Closer Look at How Parents and Teachers Think

Fifteen years ago, federal, state, and local officials started pursuing a broad range of reforms to ensure more accountability in the nation’s public school system. They hope this can improve and restore trust in our nation's public education system.

Yet the public's confidence in public schools is at a historic low. How can this be?

New research from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation suggests that parents and education leaders may think about and define accountability in critically different ways. "Will It Be on the Test?" raises important questions about the trajectory of education reform and whether the way we think and talk about "education" is too narrow.

Most parents – and most Americans generally – applaud the goals of the accountability movement. They say the movement responds to some of their genuine concerns and welcome some of the changes it has instituted, such as raising academic standards and promoting students only when they have mastered needed skills.

Still, they see it as sorely lacking in fundamental ways. To them, accountability provides too few answers to problems they see as pivotal. These problems include too many irresponsible parents, too many unmotivated students, too little community support, and messages from society that undermine learning and education.

Parents also think the accountability movement places too much weight on standardized tests when there are many other factors to consider when judging the effectiveness of schools. And they fear it overlooks the importance of local schools as a community institution.

These competing definitions sometimes clash, especially when districts—in an effort to be more “accountable”—decide to close under-performing schools.

However, one of the most important messages of the research is one that leaders may find encouraging: parents do not believe schools can do it alone.

The question to ask, then, is how can we do it together? We all share a common goal: to provide the best opportunity for our nation's children to succeed. How can education leaders, reformers, principals, teachers, parents, students and concerned community members build common ground and collaborate on solutions that help us meet this goal?

Recommendations for Engagement and Collaboration

The research suggests three specific areas where dialogue between parents and local educators, as well as among national leaders, the reform community and the broader public, could be especially fruitful:

  1. What should we do when some parents don't take the responsibility for teaching their children to behave and work hard in school?
  2. Do we have to close failing schools? If we don't, what can we really do to turn them around?
  3. How can we help parents raise responsible children in today's society, when there are so many mixed messages in the media and the broader culture?

These are areas where typical parents have an interest and feel like they can have a stake in the solution—compared to, say, issues like Common Core or compensation policies for teachers and principals, from which they are more detached. As such, we suggest that education leaders work to engage parents and other groups of stakeholders to collaboratively explore possible solutions on these areas.

Ultimately, the report suggests that it's time for a frank, serious and much more inclusive dialogue about contending definitions of and feelings toward accountability. To do this, we'll need to open up conversations where leaders, parents, teachers, principals, students and others can exchange ideas on what children and schools need to improve and what each group should be responsible for.


Accountability and public schools

Submitted by: Joseph marcucilli on Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

As a high school teacher for close to 30 years ,I really never had an opportunity to engage in a conversation about accountability or what the true role a teacher must play in this system.I simply am told what to do by those who write public policy but i am never part of the process ?I am told to do and I do it.This creates a level of cynicism since the wave of educational reform keeps changing.I have a few ideas but no individual at my district wants to listen to them.

Include All Stakeholders

Submitted by: Jason A. Engerman on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

As a HS math teacher I can agree with Joseph. Part of the issue is that the policy makers do not allow for stakeholder participation. It's funny that as an educational institution we completely ignore the needs of the community that we serve. This is evident in the policies that are being imiplemented. The backlash of the CCSS are a direct result of this as well. Who signed up for stringent test taking as a response to education demands? Definately not the students or community. Either way the parents and teachers understand that the need for change is through open and inclusive dialogue. Dr. Ali Carr-Chellman from PSU has an interview on the American Journal of Education that speaks to the "Unhead Voices" that I believe complement this piece. She speaks to people that are not normally included in these educational reform dialogues. This is an attempt to include all stakeholders in the discussion of reform as need. Check it out:

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