September 10, 2010

Who's Accountable?

I recently finished Diane Ravitch's book.  I have to say it was very compelling; not so much for what it taught me, but for the affirmation it provided.  Her views and research on accountability will give any die-hard modern "reformer" a run for their money... and their test scores.   After I finished her expose, I had the chance to hear her on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC.  Audio is here.  She is quite impressive and I applaud her "Sisyphus-ness".

Since then I have been reeling about accountability - what it means, how it is determined, how the term is thrown around, and how almost no one outside of our profession can tell me what it means.  Quite frankly, they often define accountability as being subject to punishments. After all, don't we all use the term "accountability' with kids when they did something wrong or hurtful?  Accountability has a connotation that was unintended.  So when I am asked what I think accountability is, I reply
I know that our school is on a continual mission to provide students with solid and strong curricula, determined and creative teachers, and oodles of opportunities to be creative, athletic, expand personally gratifying learning experiences, share talent, and contribute to our traditions and legacy (by the way, none of those opportunities are measurable in their success, but they are as important - if not more - than knowing calculus).  And if there are state, federal, or commercial measures of accountability in this mission, then we are liable to keep our students at least on par with the comparisons.  What matters most to me is that our students graduate on time and have the opportunity - if they wish - to attend college or a trade school because we prepared them.

I think that's a pretty fair and direct statement.  And I am dead serious about that last line.  We push our students to take more challenging classes (i.e. CP to Honors or AP), to take the SAT seriously, and to be well prepared for the SATs.  That test, above all others, is the great equalizer for us.  It took me a while to accept this... but it is true.  Our students' college options are dependent upon those scores.  We accept our role in this.

But once our students get to a college, what happens?  Sadly, in New Jersey, it looks like 3 in 10 drop out and only 61% of all New Jersey college students earn a Bachelor's degree in six years.  Take a look at this (source):


















So if we're going to talk about accountability and own it (as I do), then why aren't institutes of higher education accountable for their completion rates?  And don't tell me that it's up to the kids to get it done - I would be crucified if I used that line with my seniors - who will all be college students seven weeks after we graduate them.

I simply want the same level of accountability to apply to colleges (especially public colleges like Rutgers, Montclair, Ramapo, etc. who receive public tax money).  But that might be asking too much.

Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus have published a book Higher Education?  I had the chance to hear them on Talk of the Nation on NPR.  They, like Ravitch does for the reform movement, point out the deficiencies in higher education and the system.   It's worth a listen and a ponder.

It's nice to know that I'm not all alone in my thinking or views.  Collectively, though, we may be all alone on an island.  While we're here, we can at least debate the definition, merits, and measures of accountability.  I don't think many others are.