Over 30 years ago my article on school accountability was published in a journal — The Canadian School Executive. It no longer publishes. Below is part I of my article:
I know it’s wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what schools are doing? And how well they are doing? Wouldn’t parents feel much more confident as they send their children to school? Wouldn’t taxpayers feel they are supporting a worthwhile cause?
In an era of cutbacks wouldn’t we all feel better if we knew that essential tasks were being carried out and that priorities in education were still being met?
Most parents admit they are poorly informed and easily bamboozled concerning the educational enterprise. Taxpayers usually get sensationalist impressions from the media, but even those who dare to question directly are equally befuddled and given the run-around. This is not to say that school people necessarily conceal information, or that they are nasty to customers. They are generally nice. “But, it’s like dealing with a marshmallow,” some say, “soft and sweet and bouncy. And, nothing to bite on.”
The amount of defensiveness by school people seems to be increasing. In the face of lack of accurate information about schools, it is not beyond one’s imagination to suspect a cover-up for covert and shady happenings, for damage to children, or for mismanagement. Whatever, there seems to be little pride or interest in sharing school information.
But, however frustrated consumers become, they at least expect that the policy-makers are equipped with facts and figures. But are they? Are the policy-makers–the school board members and legislators–adquately informed for their role in guiding schools? Do they have the tools to deal intelligently with questions of accountability and responsiveness? Probably not.
It should be a scandal, but it’s not, that the school system has run for 200 years largely on blind faith and trust. The accountability efforts of the Seventies were meant to go beyond simple trust and tried to elicit hard data about standards, performances, cost-effectiveness, and goal attainment. But they were generally thwarted by the educational establishment.
While some plans were ill-designed and deserved to die, others failed for lack of internal enforcement, resistance, and indifference. As long as the public school system operated as a near monopoly, it had its captive audience and took its cutomers for granted. As long as administration was composed of educators who survived and worked their way up the ladder, the mind-set was generally “teacher knows best”, be it in the classroom, the office, or the board room. Consultation and accounting the customer was foreign and unthinkable.
Today parents in particular are resentful that cuts are made in total absence of any consultation with the public. Not only that, but the cuts are made without reference to any visible goals, plans, criteria, or standards. Political expediency, the retention of jobs, and maintenance of administrative levels seem to take precedence over student and parent priorities. This happened a few years back when declining enrolments took educators by surprise. And it’s happening again. How long will parents and the public continue to tolerate self-serving, irrational decision making in education?