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Published: February 21, 2011

Accountability



The obligation to provide proof of having fulfilled one’s responsibility. In education, teachers and school administrators have traditionally made students accountable for their whereabouts, for completion of homework assignments and for their work and behavior in class and school. More recently, however, students, parents and state authorities have started holding teachers and school officials responsible for their effectiveness as teachers and administrators.
At the student level, accountability is usually taught through “cooperative learning,” in which students are divided into several groups. Each group is then responsible for one element of a large project that can only be completed if each fulfills its responsibility. Thus, students are not only accountable to their teacher, they are accountable to their peers, who can often exert far more influence than teachers.
Teacher and school accountability is a relatively new concept that developed in the 1960s, as basic skills test scores of public school students began declining across the United States. The decline coincided with a deterioration of the American balance of international trade. As a torrent of lower priced, better quality products from Japan and West Germany displaced American products from the market, American industry blamed American public schools and their teachers for failing to teach future workers adequate skills to compete with foreign workers. To try to make teachers and schools more accountable, some states introduced periodic retesting of teachers to measure their skills and knowledge.
Teachers unions have bitterly fought the accountability movement, saying public school teachers should not be held accountable for student competence until they, the teachers, have full control over the teaching curriculum and program. Teachers unions say that the failures of public schools reflect the failures of politicians, school boards and parents, who control what is taught and how it is taught in most public schools and have stripped teachers of much of their traditional authority.
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