Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Will Teacher Accountability Initiatives Improve Student Learning?

 Educational practices are now very different compared to a generation ago.  During the last decade of the twentieth century the standards-based movement and education reform efforts utilized the diverse research that followed the publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” (1983) to advance educational reform.  Undoubtedly, accountability now provides the single greatest variable to planning for effective and sustained educational reform efforts.  Depending on its acceptance of the concept of multiple levels of accountability, a struggling school’s staff might willingly utilize data to adjust or remain mired in the inertia of ineffective systemic and personal practices
      Ideally, frequent monitoring, analysis, and adjustment based on results of accountability measures allow data to guide instructional decisions.  However, effective monitoring and analysis of data depends on how well educational leaders are able to guide the process.  The continuous improvement process in education should develop a building-wide culture whereby all systems, processes, strategies, and actions define “how we do things around here”(Lezotte & Snyder, 2011, p. 141).  Without a clear and focused mission of learning being guided by strong instructional leadership, the interdependent implementation of all seven of the correlates of Effective Schools Research, progress is adversely impacted.
  As suggested, frequent monitoring, analysis, and adjustment based on disaggregated accountability data should provide the impetus for discussing improvement of instruction as grounded in the seven correlates of Effective Schools:
·         Safe and Orderly Environment
·         Clear and Focused Mission
·         Climate of High Expectations for Success
·         Opportunity to Learn & Student Time on Task
·         Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress
·         Positive Home-School Relations
·         Strong Instructional Leadership
Based on empirical evidence grounded in research and documented best practices, when seeking school improvement it is prudent to implement the correlates for Effective Schools.  Disaggregated data helps “the district, its schools, and its teachers to evaluate their effectiveness” (Davenport & Anderson, 2002, p. 62).  Given the interdependency of the seven correlates, an effective, strong school leader approaches the correlates with the view of implementing them all at once. 
Accountability requirements within legislation such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002) and IDEA (2004) created the impetus for sustained change efforts of schools.  However, poor communication during the implementation of more stringent accountability requirements often resulted in the fear of failure becoming the single most powerful force of change working within an educational community.  Too often, this fear of failure paralyzed leadership around the trailing indicators for change (assessments) rather than mobilizing them to trust implementation of interdependent leading indicators (correlates of Effective Schools Research).  This situation exacerbates the tail wagging the dog. 
Rather than promoting success of new initiatives through the question, “are we doing the right thing?” fear of failure resulted in ineffective “Learn or Else” approaches that resulted in further implementation of fragmented policies based on the persistent question, “are we doing it right?”  A positive aspect of NCLB and IDEA accountability requirements was the emergence of professional learning communities (PLC), which addressed the need to develop a systemic culture of continuous improvement promoting learning (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008).  Marzano and Waters (2009) believe, a PLC “suggests a group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning oriented, growth-promoting way; operating as a collective enterprise” (p. 56). 
Ineffective school leaders disrupt productive PLC processes by failing to invite teacher leaders to become agents of change.  Instead, these ineffective school leaders dwell in the problems by instilling culture fearful of failure.  Schools that spend a lot of time talking about teaching to the test are examples of systems locked into the inertia of problem-driven cultures. 
Staff perception is a very important variable in the success of any initiative.  Depending upon a leader’s selected approach to implementation of accountability measures, the perceived consequences implied within the approach has the power to create either a positive or a negative reaction.  Therefore, the effective leader needs to provide a clear vision that strikes a positive emotional chord with staff (Reason, 2010). 
Lezotte and Snyder (2011) reinforce the most significant feature common to world-class schools “was their continual effort toward becoming “learning organizations with a commitment to continuous problem-solving and a sense of shared responsibility for improvement” (p. 67).  A consistent exhibition of vision toward a clear mission, commitment to learning for all, and shared responsibility for success certainly appears to be minimal requirements to promote an effective school culture.  Development of an inclusive, inviting culture requires an emotionally intelligent leader willing to embrace collaboration rather than reliance upon fear or intimidation as the impetus to change.  An obvious result of an inclusive, inviting, approach is improved organizational culture resulting from greater consistency and reduced staff turnover (Austin & Harkins, 2008).  
During the twelve years of NCLB implementation, diverse stakeholders have critiqued the role of teachers in educational reform.  Regardless of philosophical debates, it has become clear that to some substantial level, teachers are accountable for student results.  With increased accountability comes various schemes intended to optimize results. 
Boulding (1989) identified three kinds of motivating power: stick power, carrot power, and hug power, which are further described whereby stick power is the power derived from threats, carrot power is the power derived from provision of incentives, and hug power is the result of two or more individuals joining together based on a shared vision and values.  Apparently, the joy of good teaching, the opportunity to shape young minds, or helping to change destinies is not enough incentive to promote great teaching. 
The Brazosport case study (Davenport & Anderson, 2002) exemplified “hug power” as an effective form of motivation.  Brazosport achieved "learning for all" and accomplished reform.  A good set of processes joined with the right motivation to create sustained success.  
As cited by Marzano and Waters (2009), a Borman, Hewes, Overman, and Brown study (2003) regarding the implementation of comprehensive school reform (CSR) models, found “the effect size for comprehensive interventions rose over time and suggest that it might take longer than a decade for the effects of a CSR model to stabilize.  CSR models are focused on individual schools” (p. 114).  Marzano and Waters rationalized a similar timeline could be anticipated for district-wide initiatives, including nonnegotiable goals for achievement and instruction.  Perhaps it is time to evaluate whether teachers believe educating children is a sufficiently cherished aspiration and defined as a non-negotiable goal. 
Effective Schools Research proves the mission of learning for all is possible regardless of misguided initiatives and unintended consequences.  Educational leaders and the community must commit to the mission.  However, as accountability increasingly focuses upon teachers in relation to student results, other motivators will be promoted rather than seeking to do the right thing, for the right reason, and doing it in the right way.   
In a February 11, 2011 article, Bybee paraphrased Diane Ravitch's claim that, "President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have formed an alliance with billionaire 'school reformers' whose agenda is to downgrade U.S. public education and blame its shortcomings on 'bad teachers'" (para 1).  While Ravitch’s description of the pursuit of teacher accountability as an effort to downgrade the US public education system is unsubstantiated, it is true that corporate reformers led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edith Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family foundation, advocate that merit pay is a vital incentive or reward for better-performing teachers.  However, a Vanderbilt University study (2010) clearly demonstrated merit pay failed to produce higher standardized testing results. 
Nevertheless, pay for performance is becoming a popular concept for the teaching profession.  In Florida, all new teachers are annual contract teachers and forty percent of their salary will be based on student gains in learning.  Whether this carrot approach proves effective will be unknown until analysis of initial accountability data after 2014. 
Improving the quality of teachers has become a pressing issue in educational reform efforts.  The focus to improve the quality of teachers is obvious when considering Race to the Top (RTT) initiatives for supporting funded states that successfully identified and implemented plans for “recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most” (USDE, 2010).  
As noted by Crowe (2011), teacher education elements of the RTT funding application were favorable to states adopting accountability measures establishing or expanding teacher preparation programs successfully producing effective teachers.  RTT required the funded states to:
·         “Link student achievement and student growth data to the teachers of these students
·         Tie this information to the in-state programs that prepare teachers
·         Publicly report the data on program effectiveness for each preparation program in the state
·         Expand teacher education programs and teacher credentialing options that are successful at producing graduates who are effective teachers” (para. 6).
Obtaining change in the overall quality of teacher education in the United States is behind RTT efforts to combine a carrot-and-stick approach.  Incentives will continue to be offered to programs that embark on serious reform efforts while stronger accountability measures will push the programs toward the desired direction.  However, is an extrinsically or intrinsically motivated teacher the better educator?  If the former, what values will be instilled as part of that teacher’s presentation of the affective domain of learning

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (June 5, 2013) Will teacher accountability initiatives improve student learning?  [Web log post]
                Retrieved from
Bybee, R. (Feb 11, 2011) Race to the bottom: Ravitch says ‘school reformers’ scapecoat
Crowe, E. (March 1, 2011) Race to the top and teacher preparation: Analyzing state strategies for ensuring real 
                 accountability and fostering program innovation. Center for American  Progress. Retrieved from
Davenport, P., & Anderson, G. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: No excuses. Houston, TX:
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at
                work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
                correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Marzano, R. & Waters, T.(2009).  District leadership that works. Bloomington, IN: Solution
                Tree Press
Reason, C. (2010). Leading a learning organization: The science of working with others.

                Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.