Written By Jenny Smith
Responsibility flows two ways in effective reform: teachers are accountable to principals and vice versa.
Accountability is the mantra of education policymakers today, essential to improving
student performance. It filters down from Washington to state education departments
and from state agencies to district superintendents, to school principals and classroom
teachers – each held accountable for their students' results. When students don't
deliver, schools and districts face both the stigma of low performance and sanctions
for failing to meet targets or make AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress – under the
2002 legislation, No Child Left Behind.
“In my estimation, schools do need to be held accountable but they need an
enormous amount of support,” says Warren Simmons, Executive Director of the Annenberg
Institute for School Reform. Simmons goes on to point out that many low performing
schools and districts don't know what to do differently to improve achievement,
and if they are going to be held accountable for higher performance, they need
the state or the district to give them the tools, training and resources to get
Successful districts and comprehensive reform programs have discovered that
accountability doesn't lift performance unless the responsibility for improvement
flows two ways, both downward into the schools, and upward to the district, state
and political leaders.
“This is a much more robust sense of what accountability is,” says Anthony
Alvarado, highly acclaimed as former superintendent of New York‘s District 2. “You
are accountable to me for a result; I am accountable to you for the tools and
the support that you need to achieve that result.” It is a shared responsibility
among teachers, principals, district administrators, schools boards, state education
agencies and political leaders.
“We want to have good instruction used every single day with every single kid,” says
Bob Slavin, co-founder of the reform program Success for All (SFA). “And it's
just not going to happen if you don't provide teachers with the materials and
the professional development and the backup and the assistance to help them use
Success for All, used effectively in many low performing schools, provides
not only extensive training for teachers, scripted lesson plans and tutoring
for struggling students, it also requires that all their schools have a full-time
Success for All facilitator to make sure that teachers get the support and resources
they need to help all of their students.
According to Anthony Alvarado, penalizing people when they don't have the tools
or support to do better will not boost performance.
“Part of the problem in education is everybody wants to achieve results, but,” says
Alvarado, “if you don't focus the organization on learning what to do, just hacking
peoples' heads off because the results don't show, that doesn't improve the quality
of learning and the improvement of performance in the system.”
In District 2, Alvarado advocated and practiced a new form of leadership in
which accountability was a shared responsibility. When he re-oriented the role
of principals from building managers to instructional leaders, holding them accountable
for the quality of instruction in their schools and for improved student performance,
he and his team in the district shared the responsibility for giving principals
support in other areas of management to enable them to be effective in their
“The same thing that we expect principals to do with teachers is what leaders
at the district are to do with principals,” Alvarado explained. “Our job is to
support. Our job is to help them. Our job is to help their job become more effective.”
Alvarado realized that if the district was going to demand higher performance
from schools and expect principals to shift their focus to improving instruction,
then the central office had an obligation to free up the principals from their
usual responsibilities of managing bus schedules, handling lunchroom details
and other administrative tasks.
“The two-way accountability notion or what we call a cyclical accountability
is key,” says Annenberg Institute's Warren Simmons. “If you want principals to
turn their attention away from bus schedules, transportation facilities maintenance,
then those responsibilities which still exist in schools have to be carried out
by someone else. And carried out well. And so what Tony Alvarado designed in
District 2 were systems and people that took those responsibilities off the shoulders
of principals, so that principals could spend the vast majority of their time
walking through classrooms, looking at instruction and supporting the development
or their teachers.”
In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, former superintendent Eric Smith
also ascribed to the two-way accountability concept. Smith put a great deal of
emphasis on providing the poorest performing schools with all the district support
available to lift them up to meet the requirements of the district and state.
“The thing I did not do was ever blame the teacher,” says Smith. “I didn't
see it as a teacher problem. It was an administrative problem from central office
in Charlotte that didn't support that classroom teacher.'
The central office shared accountability by being responsible for developing
a curriculum in line with the state standards, producing pacing guides for teachers
that laid out the agenda and focus of each day's lessons and structuring tests
to determine whether or not students were learning what they were supposed to
learn. And if schools still failed with the additional support, the district
provided even more: they went to these schools with teams of educational experts,
new lesson plans and incentives for teachers.
While this admittedly cost money, according to Smith's estimates it did not
cost as much as what was already being spent at schools in the suburbs.
“When we looked at our total operating costs, even with the supplement, the
additional teachers, the additional materials, the supplies, perhaps the summer
enrichment programs, the Saturday schools, the after school programs – all these
things to bring about equity,” he says, “we still found that we were not running
at a higher rate of cost to the district than the cost factor at the suburban
Smith in Charlotte, Alvarado in District 2 and Slavin with Success
for All recognized that accountability is not about holding one person or school
responsible for success or failure, and it is not simply about more money and
materials. If accountability is to work effectively, the responsibility for improving
student performance flows two ways – both up from the classroom to the principal
and district, and down from the state to the district to the individual school.
Nothing less will truly work.