Giving Compass' Take:

• James V. Shuls argues that education accountability has traditionally excluded parents to the detriment of students. 

• How can funders help to build better accountability standards? 

• Learn more about education accountability


In education, we toss around the term “accountability” as if we all know exactly what it means. For many, the term represents the test-based accountability system that has taken root since the 1980s and was thrust into national consciousness with No Child Left Behind. While standardized tests changed the dynamic of accountability, these systems were hardly the first effort to improve the quality of public education. For decades, there has been a march toward greater oversight of public schools.

At each step, the quest to improve public education resulted in greater regulation.

After all this time, we still don’t have an education system that is truly accountable; we have a system that is heavily regulated, and regulation is a cheap substitute for accountability.

Think about this for a minute. From top to bottom, we have put in place standards, rules, practices, and expectations that govern nearly every aspect of how we educate children.

First, state departments of education dictate standards for colleges of education. In some cases, they even specify specific coursework that aspiring teachers must complete. To be traditionally certified, a teacher must complete an education degree from one of these approved universities. Then, when a teacher completes the approved program of study, he or she may be certified to teach. That is, of course, if he or she can pass exams that test content knowledge and understanding of accepted pedagogical strategies.

The states then go through a similar process with K-12 schools. They dictate standards, telling schools exactly what they should teach and, in some cases, which textbooks they can use. They then require public schools to hire certified teachers, from approved programs, to teach the required content. Then, just to make sure those teachers are doing an adequate job, they administer standardized tests to students.

At best, this system is accountable for mediocre test scores. And to whom is it accountable? Certainly not the parents or the community in which the school is located. They have little say in any of this.

Read the full article about education accountability standards by James V. Shuls at The 74.