I listened today to some discussions about US education policies. I will admit freely that I have not followed closely the various initiatives, but know some of the buzz words such as ‘no child left behind’, ‘race to the top’, ‘charter schools’, etc.
One phrase that came up repeatedly was ‘teacher accountability’. Accountability often sounds good, yet has no way of being assessed properly or well. I was wracking my brain as I listened about how any one teacher could be held accountable for the education of any group of students, if that one teacher is not the sole educator. I cannot think of one teacher who should get the credit or blame for me or any of my acquaintances’ success. Yes, it’s good to talk about making people earn the salary that they are paid, but linking staff members to test scores seems to lead nowhere, but into an alley of misdirection. I can understand how a school and a school system can somehow be held accountable for the results that students achieve. But, as we all know, education is not neutral: you do not take a standard person as a student and work with that over a decade and produce a finished, educated person. We have what parents do and do not do with children from the earliest years and constantly thereafter. We have some innate characteristics. We have the chemistry of teacher and student that is messed up by the noise and cross currents of mixed ability, etc. It’s not at all like what one can find with athletes, where there is a clear one-to-one relationship that can be tracked.
I’m now fascinated by this assessment aspect of the education policy debate, and wonder whether it will also point to the associated logical fallacies, such as holding individual legislators accountable for the state of government.