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Government & Politics        < Previous        Next >



What Is Accountability?


Q. You hear a lot about "holding schools accountable." But what does that mean?


According to Laurie H. Rogers, an education reformer and writer in Spokane, Wash., public schools have to answer somewhat conscientiously to higher levels of government in state and federal education agencies. That's because state and federal governments send funding to the districts. But in terms of answering to the public, she contends that public schools are not being open, honest, forthright and accountable at all.


Mrs. Rogers said there are two kinds of accountability:


Small "a" accountability is accountability within the school system: statistics, reports, numbers, facts and figures. They are mostly for internal use within a school district or educational governance agency, and rarely shared with the public. These numbers may or may not be "spun" based on the level of quality in the second measure of accountability, which is:


Capital "A" Accountability is accountability to the public. Mrs. Rogers defines a good system as one in which administrators speak the truth, even if it's negative, and acknowledge their mistakes; employees are encouraged to speak freely and aren't forced into silence nor bullied into compliance; everyone is held responsible for their actions and their performance; records are made public; corruption is exposed and corrected, and pertinent information from diverse sources is welcomed.


Mrs. Rogers says that if the capital "A" style is practiced, then the small "a" style will be evident, too. But if the capital "A" style is distorted into disinformation, stonewalling and "spin," then the quality of the small "a" accountability - the reports that school districts give to their higher-ups in government - will be inaccurate, misleading and incomplete as well.


She writes, "(O)n the whole, bureaucracies tend to be impermeable and self-serving. In public education, the 'public' has been purposefully blocked from the process. The establishment spends billions of dollars each year studying students, teachers, schools and families - dutifully reporting its picked-over version of reality and probably cutting down an entire rain forest of trees to publish the results. All the while, it fails to tell the public it's in a dark place where high-school students drop out or require extensive remedial help before moving forward with their lives."


What should parents and taxpayers do to establish more accountability from school officials? Mrs. Rogers said that if you try to improve the system from within, you are likely to hit a brick wall. That's what happened to her: her school board won't answer questions at board meetings; administrators will schedule a private meeting with a citizen, but deny anything is amiss, and encourage the parent to talk with the child's teacher if there is a concern, and most teachers and principals are afraid to be frank, or are too busy with their day-to-day responsibilities to see the big picture.


What's the answer, then? Do what Mrs. Rogers is doing: write a book (Betrayed: Why Education Is Failing), publish a blog (see below), write letters to the editor and have op-eds published crying out for more accountability (she's a columnist for, and involve other parents - which she's doing right now, since you're reading this!


Homework: Read the full article: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Public accountability missing in education." Retrieved Oct. 24, 2008, from the Betrayed Web site:



By Susan Darst Williams Government & Politics 06 2008

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