When accountability in school doesn’t work

Improving School Leadership
Does accountability always spur better school performance? Not necessarily as people think, as this extract from Improving School Leadership explains:
“An even more costly misconception of the main effects view is that schools will do better if they are given clear information about their performance. In this view, delivering clear information to schools and their communities about their performance will have a galvanising effect on the people who work in them, and will cause them to do something they would not otherwise have done to improve teaching and student performance. When I talk to my students and to groups of practitioners about this view of accountability, I ask them to imagine schools, on a grand scale, in which teachers have systematically squirreled away in their classroom closets all their best and most powerful instructional ideas and practices, saving them for the day when the accountability system smacks them on the head. Then, magically, the good ideas come out of the closet and school performance, just as magically, increases.In fact, people in schools are working pretty reliably at the limit of their existing knowledge and skill. Giving them information about the effects of their practice, other things being equal, does not improve their practice. Giving them information in the presence of new knowledge and skill, under the right conditions, might result in the improvement of their practice, which might, in turn, result in increased student performance. In the 1970s, Thomas Schelling, the Nobel laureate economist, called this distinction, “doing the right thing versus knowing the right thing to do”. Accountability policy, as it’s presently constituted, makes no such distinction. As I work with schools and school systems around issues of accountability and school improvement, I am constantly amazed at how little they seem to know about things that I consider to be central to the process of school improvement. I want to stress that these are schools that have been operating in a performance-based accountability system for at least a decade.”By Richard F Elmore, Volume 2, page 41, Paris 2008.ISBN 978-92-64-03308-5 ©OECD Observer No 270/271 December 2008-January 2009

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