The Accountability Hoax

July 18, 2011  



One of the biggest lies ever told in the world of U.S. public education is that an important shortcoming of our schools is the absence of rigorous teacher accountability systems.  The dominant narrative has it that up until recent times teachers essentially did whatever they damn well pleased with no check on them and no way to eliminate the throngs of ineffective teachers just collecting substantial paychecks for doing who knows what – as Bush the younger was fond of saying, “teachers who refuse to teach.”  A subtext of this narrative is that this army of unaccountable teachers has been created by the teacher unions who have through collective bargaining and intimidation brought about the condition where it is almost impossible to fire incompetents.   

While I have met teachers who couldn’t teach well, I never met one who refused to.  I have also never met one who didn’t want to teach better but just didn’t know how.  While the art of teaching is admittedly difficult to evaluate, I have never been in a school where it was not known who the good, the bad and the satisfactory teachers were.  While there may have been some disagreement about the outstanding and the satisfactory, the truly bad are in my experience always known, with union leaders and teachers wondering why these people were even hired in the first place.  

These thoughts have been with me almost constantly over the last year as our union, like others throughout the state, has worked with management to bargain a mandated new annual professional performance review procedure (APPR).  Enacted into law to qualify the state for the Obama administration’s hair-brained Race to the Top reform scheme, no one I have spoken to who actually works in public schools thinks for a minute that the time, money and effort that is going into these new so-called accountability schemes is going to improve public education one iota.  In fact, with a significant portion of a teachers’ and principals’ evaluations to be tied to standardized test scores, the odds are overwhelming that test prep will increasingly replace education as teachers and principals work to defeat a system that robs them of their craft and cruelly cheats the students it purports to serve.   

What do you suppose would happen if superintendents, principals and teachers throughout New York who understand the absurdity of the current accountability hoax being perpetrated on the public just decided to refused to play the game? That’s right, just forget about it and instead spend their time thinking and working on things that might actually improve public education in our state.  What would the state do?  Call out the APPR police?  Imagine too if we made a significant effort to inform the parents of our state about the danger to their children of the public schools being driven by test scores and test prep – if we focused a spotlight on the testocracy that is poised to make millions from testing our children into ignorance.  If they can pretend that these accountability schemes improve education, we can pretend we’re following them. If we did that, we would be entitled to call ourselves public servants.

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