Thursday, April 16, 2020

A chance to rethink accountabilty

In this age of the Coronavirus and its overwhelming impact on literally everything, a bright spot in an otherwise ominous cloud is the way we are thinking differently about old problems, rethinking our relationships with each other, and reflecting on what is actually important.

We should do the same with educational accountability. And we have a window in which to do it.

Of all the problems to rethink, educational accountability should be at the top. For the past two decades (longer in some places) educational accountability has followed the "better autopsy" method for improvement, which will always fail. At the end of a school year the state performs an autopsy (and a partial one at that) and then forces schools to ask, "what could we have done last year to have had a better autopsy last year?" and then whatever the response do that this year.

The better autopsy accountability is nonsensical for lots of reasons, but none more so than it will force schools not to change with the times. It presumes that whatever conditions existed last year and the year before will continue (forget that the world is changing faster than we can ever imagine). It makes our our job in education to get kids ready for a world that does not yet exist by getting them ready in a world that hasn't existed for years. In other words, the closer we can align ourselves to a definition of things that was developed years ago but doesn't exist any more (if it ever did), the more likely we are to be declared successful in what is arguably a dumb system. And the more successful we are in that world, the less prepared our students will be for the one that is surely coming.

But it is also nonsensical because it isn't actually accountability. Accountability in effective organization is about the future. It is about ensuring that those in the organization are the right people to take it forward, or that the organization is prepared to do the work we need it to do. Accountability is about what we do in answer to the question, "will my child be safe in school today, and tomorrow, and the next day?" A business that substituted the better autopsy approach instead of actual accountability would, like schools have for years, find it difficult to change, impossible to adjust to new circumstances without tremendous amounts of energy better spent elsewhere, and in the meantime risk stagnating itself into oblivion.

The better autopsy mindset existed in education long before what passes for educational accountability put it on steroids--which helps explain why education looks surprisingly similar to what it looked like when I was in school in the 1970s. And now it's time to knock it off, and we have an opportunity to do just that.

We have some things planned over the next few months, so stay tuned. And if you're interested drop me a note at (new email--new organization will be announced shortly) and we'll get you on the list for announcements.

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