American educational blogger Tom Whitby, initiator of #EdChat, recently posted a thought-provoking commentary (August 17-18, 2011) on the intriguing topic of “Leadership Accountability” in public education. In the immediate aftermath of the Save Our Schools Rally in Washington, D.C., Tom began asking why so many were inclined to blame the perceived “failure” of the whole education system on regular teachers. Without the media attention garnered by “Super Matt” Damon, he suspected the entire event might have gone unnoticed. “Teachers,” he wrote,” are in a no-win situation with targets painted on their backs.” Most significantly, the only recognizable national educational leader visible at the SOS Rally was Diane Ravitch, a recent convert to the cause. http://edupln.ning.com/profiles/blogs/leadership-accountability
Educational progressives like Tom Whitby are beginning to ask the right questions. If the North American educational systems are faltering, the responsibility should not be borne solely by the teachers. Just because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is now fixated on “Teacher Quality” reform doesn’t mean that improving teacher effectiveness is some kind of silver bullet for what ails the system. Surely the current and past educational leadership had some role in aiding or possibly abetting the slide of public education. http://www.sunypress.edu/p-3730-educational-leadership-in-an-ag.aspx
Who’s raising the critical issue of educational leadership at a time when public education is under fire? American and Canadian teacher union bosses seem to be the only ones defending teachers and their legitimacy. It’s been left to Tom Whitby to ask the critical questions: “Where are our local educational leaders in this? What responsibility are the superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, principals, and assistant principals taking for the ‘demise’ of our education system?”
Educational leadership has become a perilous venture, but much of the research is self-serving, futuristic in orientation, and reflecting short-term memory. Since the early 2000s, the American education bible Education Week and the ADCD’s magazine Educational Leadership have both reflected the reigning confusion over how to respond to ever-increasing demands for public accountability in education. Craig Jerald’s “Beyond the Rock and a Hard Place” (Educational Leadership, November 2003) recognized the problem and urged aspiring leaders to “stop lamenting the challenges of accountability and start making improvements.” Most educational administrators, on career tracks, safely ignored his early warnings about the dangers inherent in “an unveven hodgepodge of instructional aims,” “a scattershot curriculum,” and “unequal expectations.”
One of the first to clean-up his act was Michael Fullan, the school change theorist, then Dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Education. The renowned School Change wizard and one of his OISE allies, Ken Leithwood, responded to the rising tensions with an ingenious but ultimately diversionary strategy.
A Toronto protege of the Fullanites, former Superintendent Bev Freedman, summarized the essential conundrum in December 2004: “The stakes are high, as schools and school systems are increasingly held responsible for increasing student achievement. Educators face competing interests and competing agendas: accountability, standards, teacher testing, high-stakes assessments as well as decentralization: distributed leadership, relational trust, and the development of learning teams.” http://www.aare.edu.au/04pap/fre041066.pdf
Forward-thinking Canadian educational experts, like Fullan and Freedman, attempted to turn the educational ship around by catching the “accountability wave” and turning it to new purposes. New research from the International Academy of Education confirmed their analysis that “Accountability in Education” would not blow over. Indeed, the whole concept of accountability based upon “compliance with regulations” and “adherence to professional norms” was being challenged by “results-driven” initiatives. Some accountability for “student learning” could no longer be ignored and may have some residual benefits. http://www.iaoed.org/files/Edpol1.pdf
Central to the Fullanite strategy was the friendly takeover of the Ontario student assessment agency, the Education Quality and Accountability Office, (EQAO) created in 1994, originally to restore standardized testing. From 2002 onward, Fullan started preaching a born-again message that “school improvement” now required “accountability and capacity building” and Fullanites sought to “reframe the principal’s role” as an “instructional leader” rather than a “neo-manager.” Millions of public dollars were generated in 2002 and 2003 for comprehensive training and “resource packages” to assist principals in “instructional leadership” focused on preparing students in Ontario K to 3 for the reading, writing, and mathematics tests. http://www.aare.edu.au/04pap/fre041066.pdf
The Ontario Instructional Leadership initiative was, at best, a mixed success, but it did stave-off further calls for genuine public accountability and immunized principals against the appeals of the Society for Quality Education and other smaller school reform groups. In the United States, the initial response was more feeble even though the system was demonstrably in crisis. Much of the school reform drive was focused on introducing charter schools, so public school accountability efforts essentially mimicked the No Child Left Behind agenda. Margaret Grogan and Daniel L. Duke’s 2003 book Educational Leadership in an Age of Accountability focused on the Virginia experience and documented its purported successes and pitfalls.
Public education is still, by and large, not a field that welcomes either public scrutiny or accountability for results. School reformers calling for “Teacher Quality” assessments or an end to LIFO tenure rules are routinely dismissed as “teacher bashers” and anyone like Tom Whitby calling school administrators to account does run the risk of being labelled an “Admin. basher.” That’s a shame because Tom is actually a genuine “reflective practitioner” and an experienced educator well attuned to the major trends in American school reform. Like Roland Barth before him, he recognizes that geniune, meaningful educational change “comes from within.” http://edupln.ning.com/profiles/blogs/leadership-accountability
Most of Canada’s teacher unions remain on a completely different wavelength. While claiming to be educational progressives, they continue to be the spear-carriers for the status quo. Some of the most politically active unionists, based in the BC Teachers Federation, are even attempting to blunt school accountability by totally redefining it. They are promoting an “opportunities to learn” model of accountability focusing instead on the same old message – “maximizing students’ opportunities to learn.” http://bctf.ca/IssuesInEducation.aspx?id=5724 That’s the same song sung by Canada’s official voice for administrative leaders, the Canadian Education Association.
Few of today’s leaders in the public or the private sector are prepared to accept responsibility for the impact of their decisions and actions. What does true leadership accountability look like? American leadership guru, Michael Hyatt, puts it bluntly: ” First and foremost, it means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you—both good and bad. You don’t blame others. And you don’t blame the external environment. There are always things you could have done—or still can do—to change the outcome. Until you take responsibility, you are a victim….Leaders are active. They take initiative to influence the outcome.” http://michaelhyatt.com/leadership-and-accountability.html
Does today’s public education system face an underlying problem of leadership accountability? When the Canadian and American systems of education are under fire, why does it fall to the most outspoken teacher unionists to defend teachers and fend -off the legion of critics? Where are the school administrators when it comes to accountability? To what extent are the leading administrators playing both sides of the fence? Does careerism and respecting the pecking order still rule in the so-called “age of accountability”?