Is Accountability Compatible With Well-Rounded Learning?

By Erik W. Robelen — December 15, 2011 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently explored the tension between “real” accountability and a “well-rounded” education in a speech to social studies educators. Given that this seems to be an issue a lot of readers are concerned about, I figured I’d share a little of what he had to say.

Here’s the question the secretary used to frame his speech: “How can we promote both a well-rounded education with rich offerings across all subjects—civics, geography, economics, and history, the arts, foreign languages, physical education, the sciences, etc—and simultaneously create a system of real and meaningful accountability that doesn’t lead to narrowing of the curriculum?”

Just last week, we highlighted the results of a new survey suggesting that many teachers believe these very subjects are getting pushed out of the curriculum because of the strong pressure to produce improved state test scores in reading and mathematics under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In his Dec. 2 speech, Duncan insisted that even as he sees plenty of flaws with No Child Left Behind, a “useful, fair, and rigorous system of accountability remains as urgent today as it ever was.”

He then offered up some of the core ideas the Obama administration supports to improve testing and accountability, such as handing states more flexibility to differentiate between schools at the top, at the bottom, and in the middle academically; measuring student growth across multiple areas of performance; and encouraging states to decide on their own if they want to include other subjects, such as social studies, in their accountability systems.

He also suggested AP participation and passing rates in social studies (and presumably other subjects) could be factored into a state’s accountability system. And he reiterated the administration’s call for states to develop principal- and teacher-evaluation systems based on multiple measures, including student growth on test scores.

(Duncan mentioned these ideas, and a few others, in the context of the administration’s recent plans for allowing states to seek waivers of core elements of the No Child Left Behind law. Here’s an EdWeek overview of that announcement.)

“Over and over again, I hear people saying that a well-rounded education and a good system of accountability are mutually exclusive,” Duncan told the social studies teachers in his Dec. 2 address. But he urged the educators to “resist [the] call to retreat from accountability.”

So, what say you, Dear Reader? Are the two ideas mutually exclusive? Or is there a way to bring accountability and a well-rounded education into harmony?

Click the “post a comment” button below to share your views.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.