Education Opinion

Double Standards for Accountability?

By Anthony Cody — October 15, 2009 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The latest report from EdWeek tells us that school districts are struggling to report how every dollar of stimulus funding has been spent. Much of the money went to states to prevent the layoffs of thousands of teachers.

Edweek reports:

The reporting requirements are so huge and so vast; they're really quite onerous," said John Musso, the executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International, based in Reston, Va. For example, officials from across the spectrum of the federal government have issued hundreds of pages of guidance and regulations, much of it highly technical, that govern how stimulus spending is to be tracked and reported.

There is no doubt that tracking this spending will consume thousands of hours of time by District-level administrators. And this is at a time when everyone’s top priority should be getting resources to our classrooms.

There should be accountability for taxpayer funds. However I have to wonder how come schools are held to these stringent standards, while other institutions who have received bail-out funds have had no accountability whatsoever. Today comes the news that in spite of the banks having received more than $800 billion last year, foreclosures are higher than ever and few homeowners have benefited from loan modifications that could save their homes.

Teachers are among the most responsible members of our society. We have the most powerful form of accountability greeting us every morning - those students who show up in our classrooms. We know we need to challenge them, communicate with parents, plan engaging lessons, and monitor their progress towards meeting our goals. The best schools are ones in which peers are accountable to one another for meeting high professional standards. We agree to collaborate together to set common goals, to share curricular resources, and figure out how to build a framework for success for our students.

We are told by Secretary Duncan and others that one key to improving student achievement is to tie teacher pay to test scores. However, teachers are only one of many factors that affect student performance, and the small number of students in a given class means that one or two very high or low students could completely skew results.

Meanwhile, performance bonuses go out to bank executives who have gambled and lost with company funds, their bets (and bonuses) covered by the taxpayers. It is thought that these perverse incentive structures that rewarded risk led to the financial collapse. Providing incentives for high test scores is also likely to have perverse effects -- increasing the tendency to narrow the curriculum to focus on tested subjects and test-like lessons. Meanwhile teacher pay is the first casualty of state budget shortfalls, and we are unlikely to make up the current cuts for years.

The Green Financial Advisor reports

1. The compensation of 29 CEOs increased in 2008 by more than 1,000%.
2. Nearly three-quarters of CEOs had increases in base salary, and only 3% saw a decrease. Incredibly, in a year in which so many companies had dismal performance, only 3% of CEOs saw a decrease in pay, which is supposed to be linked to performance

While President Obama has called these bonuses “shameful,” he has declined to advocate firm limits on executive compensation. Teacher ARE taxpayers. We have our taxes withheld, and we have no opportunities to hide our income through offshore accounts or other loopholes. President Obama has slammed Americans who dodge an estimated $210 billion each year in income by using offshore accounts. However, The Hill, an inside news source in Washington, DC, reports that the Obama administration has “temporarily put aside” proposals to outlaw the practice.

Teachers have been unfairly painted as being afraid of accountability. We do need to improve our evaluation processes, and get teachers more involved in looking at one another’s practice. There are robust models, such as the one developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, that actually look at teaching practice deeply. Seventy-four thousand teachers across the country have voluntarily submitted their work to this examination and met their rigorous standards. This is the sort of model our schools should be emulating. We need to shift our evaluation practices to involve teachers more directly, and to focus on deep reflection on evidence of the effectiveness of our teaching.

However, there is such a glaring double standard at work here, I believe it is time teachers begin to take our dismay beyond the teacher lunchroom. The next time our representatives show up at a town hall, I say we let them know where we stand!

What do you think? Is there a double standard at work regarding accountability? How should teachers get our voices heard?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.