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Accountability, Part II

August 2, 2010
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I’m still looking for satisfying answers regarding accountability at the middle and upper management levels in education.

Two weeks ago, in addition to posting about the issue, I asked some people familiar with the staff evaluation process about what kinds of measures are in place to ensure that principals are behaving responsibly, in light of increasingly disturbing anecdotal evidence that strongly suggests they aren’t. (Again, this isn’t to say that all principals are failing in their duties, but rather that their failure doesn’t seem to trigger any kind of serious response from their superiors.) Denver’s Administrator Evaluation Handbook outlines five different standards, each with several performance indicators, that principals are expected to meet. However, I’m not alone in noting instances where principals have faced no consequences despite falling far short on several of those indicators (“Promotes a climate of trust“? “Manages conflict in a calm and effective manner”?). I’ve yet to receive a good response, as in, evidence–anecdotal or otherwise– that districts intervene to hold them accountable (ETA: when not prompted to act by media exposure, anyway…).

Then again, what else can we expect, when their superiors are held accountable even less frequently? Consider the following examples from here and around the country:

  • Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg received a $50,000 bonus while student achievement flatlined. (Sure, he later decided to donate it to the DPS Foundation, but if he’d been a teacher with a similar performance record, he wouldn’t have had extra money to donate to charity. He might have been fired and become a charity case, but a five-figure bonus? No way.)
  • The achievement gains that NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg have bragged about over the past few years turned out to be the result of lowered standards. I doubt there will be serious consequences for them, because
  • Student achievement scores during Arne Duncan‘s tenure in Chicago were similarly inflated. That last study came to light a few months after Duncan’s confirmation, but as far as I can tell, neither he nor anyone else in the Obama administration have even acknowledged that this is the case. Rather, he is still given credit for “increasing student achievement” (see the ED.gov bio linked in his name) and his still-unproven ideas about school reform have been adopted as the national model.

Apparently, when fraud is committed by teachers and principals, it’s grounds for dismissal, other kinds of punishment or even arrest. But when school chancellors and CEOs do it, it’s grounds for…promotion?

Here’s a thought: If we must have top-down school reform in America, perhaps we can have top-down accountability as well?

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