The BBC published an article (yesterday, I think) suggesting that some people think the British school system may have gone overboard on external tests and assessments and that it’s time to back off. Though the article doesn’t go so far as to suggest that focusing on “accountability” at all is a bad thing (and I’m not sure it is), it’s a nice change to see a journalist ask questions about the system instead of just getting upset at the latest number that looks like it could possibly be misinterpreted to suggest that someone’s kids aren’t doing quite as well as they should be.
I have to admit, I have extremely mixed feelings about the larger issue of whether schools should be held “accountable” and to whom. Of course, school should be accountable to the students they serve and to their parents, but when people talk about “accountability” for public schools, what they usually mean is some vague sense of “accountability to taxpayers.” On the one hand, since public schools are publicly funded, taxpayers — meaning essentially everyone except the students themselves — do have a right to know how their money is being used and demand that it be used efficiently and effectively (not that we get to know how, say, the military is using our money, so there’s something a little disingenuous about this argument).
The trouble is “the taxpayers” (whatever that means) don’t seem to have a very clear idea of exactly what schools are supposed to accomplish and how exactly they should best accomplish it, so all the pressure for accountability seems mainly to focus energy on whatever happens to be easy to measure. Since standardized tests are easy to measure and compare, and tedious facts and details are easy to put into standardized tests, “accountability” puts pressure on schools to make sure their students are good at trivia and to de-emphasize things like personal growth, maturity, complex thinking skills, and interest in learning. It’s hard to set up a system that holds schools accountable for the creativity and passion of their students. If only.