The Politics of Accountability and Teacher Preparation

Spring, 2011

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Vol. 33, No. 1, p. 3-23. (Spring, 2011)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the intensification and complexity associated with modern accountability systems in education.

The article then focuses on the politics of accountability embedded within efforts of Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to redesign the accreditation process for teacher education programs in Pennsylvania.


Part I: Accountability Systems in Education

A central consideration shaping administrator and teacher beliefs regarding the meaning of the term accountability is the purpose of the accountability system itself. One can give an account to others for a variety of purposes that range from providing information to parents and schools about individual student progress, to judging overall school or district performance.

Accountability and Teacher Education
The Pennsylvania case illustrates some of the ways in which proponents of accountability-based reform have framed the issues and used formal authority to move their agenda forward, while disregarding a variety of well-known negative consequences faced by Pennsylvania's public schools, as well as the nature of the proposed solutions.


Part II: Teacher Education and Accountability in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

The political struggles in Pennsylvania over the criteria for accrediting preservice teacher education programs illustrate some fundamental aspects of political behavior.

One of the most common strategies used by groups competing for dominance within the public sphere is to frame their positions in a positive light through the creation of causal stories.
Groups and individuals use causal stories to represent problems in ways that assign blame to some actors (villains) and praise to others (heroes).

These political conflicts over competing interpretations of causal stories with respect to issues of authority, responsibility. autonomy, and accountability were strikingly evident in the debates over proposed changes to Pennsylvania's Chapter 49.

PDE's Causal Story
The passage of NCLB in 2001 had emphasized the importance of "highly qualified" teachers in boosting student performance.
The PDE subsequently used NCLB as a mandate for proposing further state-level changes in teacher education.

PDE's causal story further stressed the need to achieve higher teacher quality overall, by developing clearer and more specific guidelines and holding the teacher education programs accountable. 

The policy makers seek to induce change through rules and incentives rather than discourse and persuasion, since they assume that teacher educators simply lack the will to change.

Teacher Education's Causal Story
Many within the teacher education community had a very different understanding of the effort to revise Chapter 49 than that put forward by PDE.

Teacher educators emphasized that though they were also concerned about the need to help preservice teachers learn to work effectively with special education and ELL students, they disagreed with the approach being recommended by PDE and viewed it as micromanaging and hostile to the idea of standards-based reform.

In addition, many believed that broad social forces, including the effects of poverty and lack of community support, were equally as important as teacher quality in the student achievement equation.

Given the many negative consequences associated with trying to improve teacher quality and school performance with strict accountability measures focused on enforcement rather than development, it seems that an alternate view of accountability needs to be constructed.


Part III: An Alternate View of Accountability

This case study points toward the need for greater openness and cooperation in the policy process.
One way to create more openness and cooperation is to acknowledge the political aspects of the debate and develop greater commitment, on the part of all participants, to use causal stories to identify shared goals rather than assign blame.

The author suggests that policy makers should trust teacher educators enough to give them some real influence over policy goals related to the desired knowledge, abilities, and dispositions of new teachers.

The author concludes that developing more intelligent measures of accountability might preserve professional autonomy and judgement.

Updated: Mar. 17, 2013