Friday, August 19, 2016

Educational Goals: Learning or Accountability?

In my Timehop today was a retweet of something shared this time last year by my Twitterfriend David Hochheiser (who is a wise, funny, generous educator--I've you're a teacher on Twitter, you should be following him.)

Here was the (re)tweet that caught my eye today:

I think he's right.

SO MUCH of contemporary school culture in the United States is aimed at accountability: teachers holding students accountable, administrators holding teachers accountable, parents holding schools and administrators accountable (e.g., parent trigger laws), state departments of education holding schools and districts accountable, and the U.S. Department of Education (trying to) hold everyone accountable (e.g., through finance.)

And it's understandable, to some degree: we want to be sure that people are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

But--and here's where I think David is right on the money--we must ask ourselves this key question:

What is our goal in education?

Are we more intent with ensuring that people are complying with imposed requirements than helping them flourish as learners? The more I talk with teachers, the more concerned I am that we are squashing joyful and creative teaching in the face of compliance and accountability measures. The more I talk with students today, the more concerned I am about how many hate school, or at least feel apathetic, and lack initiative and responsibility. The more I talk with administrators, the more concerned I am that the requirements imposed on schools are swamping them and overwhelming them and frustrating them. The more I talk with parents, the more concerned I am that there is a disconnect between homes and schools, and even a lack of trust. Maybe it isn't surprising that we resort to focusing on accountability instead of learning; in a complex situation that feels like it's out of our control...maybe we are trying to control the small pieces we feel we can by requiring and enforcing compliance, rather than keeping learning at the forefront.

But if our collective goal in education is truly to help people learn...let's keep the focus on helping people learn!

Could we change the script? What if we could collectively care more about learning than about compliance? What would need to change in our culture to make this the case? How would teachers need to change? How would students need to change?  How would administrators need to change? How would parents need to change?

Who has the courage to take this approach? Are you willing to step out in support of learning over just holding people accountable? Who will take the first steps?


  1. Dave, I'm so excited to get this year started. I'm excited, because I feel it's the first year I'm really focusing on the LEARNING, by not giving ANY marks. I'm excited, because I think the students will keep revising their work, due to FEEDBACK, and not marks! Let's keep that learning front and center! Thanks for the post.

    1. Always glad to hear from you, Joy! I will be following your non-grading adventure with interest. :-)

  2. Thanks for this post, Dave. The way we think about accountability irks me in so many ways. It stands for so much that is wrong about how we approach education (and parenting for that matter).

    I just posted my own missive about how we need to flip the accountability paradigm in education that you might find interesting. I'm using the term "Assisted Accountability," wherein we help students be accountable to themselves in meeting their own goals.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Aaron. I think it's important to remember that we *are* accountable, of course...but that should not be the *point.* We have to keep learning at the forefront!