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The Ethos of Accountability--A Critique

by Robert J. Nash & Russell M. Agne - 1972

Instead of acquiring basic skills, an appreciation of learning, and developing citizens who can evaluate and communicate with their environment, the author feels accountability is promoting the technocratic value system. (Source: ERIC)

The accountability movement is generating an ethos among educators that must not go unchallenged. This ethos—whose governing principles are based on a technological-economic world-view—is distinguished by its frenzied insistence on the large-scale transportation of attitudes and practices from the world of business, engineering, and science to the world of education. One result of this slavish dependence on the beliefs and procedures of other fields has been to re­duce the total educational endeavor to a tired litany of achievement, perform­ance, and production characterized by the blank torpor of systems analysis, technological engineering, quality control, and replicability. The creeping ex­trusion into education of an ethos which defines the successful educational ex­perience primarily in terms of systems engineering and measurable outputs sig­nifies a tragic loss of larger vision and purpose among educators. The un­settling implication is that the nearer we come to the realization of accountability in our educational institutions—as accountability is presently being defined and huckstered—the greater will be the cleavage between our educational ideals and our actual practices; and the greater will be the consequent clamor for sweep­ing educational reform.

The Case for Accountability     

 Leon Lessinger has argued eloquently for accountability in education.1 He has asserted that each child has an inalienable right to be taught what he needs to know in order to be a productive, contributing citizen. Furthermore, each citizen has a right to know what educational results are being produced by specific expenditures. Finally, the schools have a right to draw upon talent, enterprise, and technology from all sectors of society, instead of relying exclusively on the "overbur­dened" resources of professional educators.2 From these basic premises Lessinger has concluded that educators must guarantee the acquisition of basic skills to all children, regardless of their background. He has compared the educational system to a malfunctioning machine and has emphasized the necessity of preparing "educational engineers" who can look for the precise causes of the mal­function, test the variables and the performance of each part of the machine to determine what has gone wrong, and then carefully define the performances which educators ought to isolate, and the changes which need to be made in order to bring about the desired learning of basic skills.3 Lessinger believes that this type of accountability can lead to "a symbiosis of technology and human­ism, wedding the skill of the one to the values of the other."4

Myron Lieberman has advanced another type of rationale for educational accountability.5 His premise is that accountability ought to prevail in the schools. He warns that if public schools fail to develop acceptable criteria and procedures for accountability, they will provoke the emergence of accountabil­ity through alternative school systems. Lieberman contends that unless school systems do a better job of relating school costs to educational outcomes, they will continue to be battered by the persistent demands of disgruntled parents, critics, and youth for alternative schools. Both Lessinger and Lieberman rea­son that the most convincing kind of accountability to patrons which educators can produce is to deliver in tangible, demonstrable ways on the promises they have made to teach all children the basic reading, writing, communicative, and computational skills they will need to live in a demanding technological so­ciety. Kenneth B. Clark, in a similar vein, has gone even further than Lieber­man and Lessinger to propose that teachers in the inner city be held account­able to the extent that they be paid solely on the basis of their abilities to teach children the fundamental reading and computational skills.6

And, finally, Fred M. Hechinger, the education editor for the New York Times, has summarized the negative rationale for accountability. He maintains that if we hold educators accountable in objective ways, we can effectively counter three impending educational trends: a widespread dissatisfaction with the public schools; an alarming frequency of performance contracting with the educational establishment and its attendant ethically questionable practices of "teaching to the test"; and the introduction of voucher plans which might result in the demise of public education in this country.7

Historical Background      

As a guiding ideal for professional behavior, accountability is imbedded deeply in the American tra­dition. An anthropologist, Francis L.K. Hsu, has observed that for three hun­dred years Americans have remained suspicious of most overt forms of authority. In order to prevent their institutions (such as the government) from becom­ing unresponsive to the individual citizen, Americans have watched their "government and check [ed] it when it misbehaves or fails to deliver the goods."8

Historically, white middle-class Americans have demanded that schools be held accountable to the extent that they enable students to master the basic skills which will allow them to share in the rising standard of living. Richard Hofstadter documented the American tendency toward anti-intellectualism due to the traditional expectancy that schools "be practical and pay dividends." He observed that progressive education always has capitulated to the demands of its clientele for accountability in those areas of learning which are exclusively utilitarian, rather than in those areas which stress knowledge for its own sake.9 Merle Curti, in tracing the response of the American educational establishment to the demands of its constituency to be accountable in life-adjustment pro­grams, homemaking, vocational preparation, intergroup relations, and technical training, has shown, by inference, that accountability has existed, at least as an implicit educational principle, in this country for three hundred years.10

In spite of the historical warrant for accountability, we believe that the new accountability cult in public school education must be challenged. Amidst the paroxysms of testimony from performance contractors and educational tech­nologists that accountability will be the soothing alembic which will purify our beliefs and procedures, there persists the unmistakable reality that we are triv­ializing the aims of education at a time when we ought to be examining our basic purposes and expanding our vision. In our reluctance to challenge the necessity of being held accountable for failing to teach our clients to read, write, and compute, we have failed to understand that the ethos which pro­fessional educators are generating is itself a numbing critique of the limited ends we are striving to realize.

In the sections that follow, we will be examining three tendencies in Amer­ican education which have been generated by the ethos of accountability. First, we will examine what is happening as a result of the technological im­perative to adopt the procedures of educational engineering, performance cri­teria, behavioral objectives, and assessment techniques, at a time when we ought to be raising questions about the proximate, intermediate, and long-range ends of our educational procedures. Second, we will show how we are reinforcing a technocratic value system, based on a pseudoscientific Weltanschauung, at a time when educators ought to be challenging the very validity of the contem­porary technocratic-scientific ethos which controls so much of our lives. And third, we will demonstrate that we are perpetuating an economic and political status quo, at a time when we ought to be probing to the roots the valuational and ideological base upon which the whole system rests.

Means and Ends

The myopic fixation on the means of accountability, to the systematic exclusion of any serious concern with ends, is amply demonstrated by recent writing on the subject. Leon Les-singer, in his pioneering work on accountability, has stipulatively defined educa­tion as the mastery of a set of skills.11 From this definition, he constructs a model of the teacher as an "educational engineer" who must help schools to obtain a "workable technology of instruction." According to Lessinger, the edu­cational engineer must be able to convince school officials to adopt "certain managerial procedures that both stimulate the demand for performance and help [officials] to provide it."12 Also the educational engineer must be able to report with "tables and text" how much it will cost a community to frame per­formance criteria for a program, obtain an independent educational audit to measure the actual performance against these criteria, and provide for an auditor to report publicly his findings.13 Nowhere in Lessinger's analysis of accountability, vis a vis the new educational engineering, is there even the slight­est concern with any purpose of the educational process beyond the teacher's transmission of a basic set of skills to students.

In another context, Leo Tolstoy once observed that the fundamental and in­escapable preoccupation of any human being is "What should I do?" and "How should I live?" Tolstoy concluded that since these are questions of ultimate ends, and not means, and since science cannot answer them, it follows that sci­ence is useless.14 Lessinger and many other spokesmen for accountability15 are guilty of a reverse kind of syllogistic overstatement. They are saying that the fundamental concern of any educator ought to be "What can I accomplish that I can measure?" "How can I translate these objectives into performance criteria?" and "How can I effectively assess what I have tried to accomplish?" Since these are questions of means, and not purpose, it follows that other kinds of educational concerns are useless (or, if not useless, of no value since they cannot be objectively assessed).

There can be no denial of the need to identify the means by which educators strive to realize their ends. There is also an equally compelling need for edu­cators to state more sharply and carefully the kinds of learning outcomes they hope to induce in their students. However, the danger in specifying an educa­tional end in the language and belief system of educational engineering is that the desirable end will be subordinated to, and distorted by, that language and those beliefs. Charles Silberman, writing about the failure of educational re­forms in this country, criticizes the tendency of educational engineers to model their curricula on production and computer processes.16 Silberman warns that no engineering model is value-free. The technology we use to frame and specify a curriculum dictates its own values, and in many cases transforms desired ends. According to Silberman, The Individually Prescribed Instruction Program, based on a programmed sequence of instruction, requires such a high degree of precision and specificity of goals that students are often forced into passive learning roles. Students have no voice in specifying their own goals and they are limited to the preordained answers of the program. The weakness of the I.P.I. Program, and other programs which have been contrived by the new educa­tional engineers, is to make their users so dependent on the technological sys­tem which specifies and dispenses what must be learned that there is very little opportunity for an individual to realize intermediate educational ends. Silber­man has shown that those educational ends which are most significant (auton­omous choice-making; independent, critical judgment; the specification of one's own goals) simply cannot be—nor should they be—defined in precise behavioral terms.17

Proponents of accountability fail to realize that every educational program has at least three kinds of ends or purposes. The proximate ends include the learning of basic skills, and Lessinger deals with accountability preponder­antly on this level. But there are two other kinds of purposes which are the sine qua non of the educational endeavor, and they obdurately resist being specified in the rigorous language of educational engineering. The intermediate ends include those educational objectives toward which the basic skills ought to be directed, and for which the basic skills should be applied. These are the ends which initially may have attracted people into teaching and they are best expressed in the emotive language of "appreciation," "understanding," "en­thusiasm," "discrimination," "judgment," and "enjoyment." These ends continue to thwart precise behavioral classification, but they are no less important be­cause they do so. And, finally, there are long-range ends which galvanize the first two levels and bestow ultimate meaning on the total educational experi­ence. These are the sociopolitical ends which guide all educational activity serving as a constant reminder that the ultimate objective of any learning ex­perience is to help the private person communicate with, evaluate, and reform the public world.18

When the procedures of accountability result in educational programs which fixate on proximate ends, or which reduce the other two kinds of ends to the proximate, there then occurs a deadly distortion of educational purpose. The New York City examination for teachers of high school English is a wrenchingly lucid example of distorted, short-range ends. The Board of Examiners, in an effort to be accountable to the New York taxpayers, have devised an objective, mechanical, machine-marked test that purports to measure the competency of prospective English teachers. The questions on the most recent test were based exclusively on the candidate's ability to recall instantly a fact such as the month in which Chaucer's pilgrims started for Canterbury, or to remember an obscure line or word in a poem. There were no questions which required any demonstration that the teacher understood or appreciated literature, or was able to relate a poem or short story to contemporary events. Because such goals were too subjective, and resistant to rigorous test specification, the examiners were content to measure only those dimensions of the English teacher's per­formance which they considered testable. Unfortunately, according to a teacher who took the test, the unintended testable outcomes became skill in instant fac­tual recall, guessing ability, and test-taking endurance.19

We close this section on means and ends with a passage by Ann Cook and Herbert Mack, two former public school teachers who have raised radical ques­tions concerning the aims of education. They maintain:

It isn't because children can't read that our country is torn by internal con­flict. It isn't because our children can't add that we elect politicians who campaign on personality, not program, that the country is embroiled in a divisive war, that consumers purchase defective merchandise, that television is a wasteland and our environment polluted. These conditions are not due to deficiencies in reading and math. It is rather that our population is not being educated in critical areas: how to judge, to ask questions, to seek informa­tion, to analyze, and to evaluate.

It is not sufficient to concentrate on reading and math skills. We must look beyond the "decoding" procedures that most programs are designed to teach. What is the purpose of learning such skills? Does teaching a child to discern between the a in cat and the a in fate mean automatically that the child will want to read, make meaningful sense of his knowledge, broaden his vision or satisfy his curiosity? Learning to read is really a lifetime activity based funda­mentally on one's attitudes about books and is generated by curiosity and by an eagerness to explore and find enjoyment. It is critically important that chil­dren learn to question their world, to deal with the ambiguity in their environ­ment, and to realize that not every issue has a "correct" answer.20

Technocracy and Science

According to Theo­dore Roszak, a technocracy is a social form in which an industrial society reaches the peak of its organizational integration.21 The technocratic ethos can be identi­fied as follows: a relentless pursuit of efficiency and productivity; an extensive rational control over every human endeavor; an organizational logic which stresses integration, modernization, and extreme systemization; an emphasis on technique, omnicompetency, and expertise; a passionate concern with ob­jective data and predictability; and a conscious effort to transmute the beliefs and procedures of all fields to the scientific world-view.

Roszak has fulminated against the technocratic ethos on the grounds that it has become a "mechanistic imperative" which exerts an all-consuming pressure on people to conform to the prevailing value orientation of bureaucrats, man­agers, operation analysts, and social engineers. He maintains that modern man is becoming indistinguishable from the cybernated systems he is assisting. Mod­ern man is cold, precise, logical, indifferent, efficient, dispassionate, and objec­tive. He is every inch a "professional" who spends his time observing, classifying, measuring, and quantifying, and he communicates these findings through the mediation of bloodless models, mechanical gadgets, abstract schemas, and chilly jargons. The stark outcome of technocratic professionalism is the creation of a hollow, contemporary expert who has relinquished forever any kind of awe­some, tender, and spontaneous engagement with the world.22

In spite of Roszak's caricature of the modern technocrat, one only has to look at the field of education to see how the exaggeration has become reality. The cult of accountability has given birth to a new category of educational tech­nocrat, the systems engineer. What follows is a systems description of the school as an educational technocrat sees it:

Any given school, or school district, can readily be seen as a system for several reasons. It has incoming energies (inputs), is organized into a struc­ture of processes and controls (functioning subsystems), and yields energies to the larger, or, suprasystem (outputs). Further, it is bounded spatially by other institutions which are non-schools, or, not primarily educational in nature. And, it is encased in the limitation of time. For, all systems have a tendency towards entropy. Such entropy may be described generally as the result of minimizing the energy exchange with the environment, or with other systems, thus "closing" the system. A long-term resistance toward the system results in a "death-state."23

When the systems engineer describes the school in the nomenclature of "inputs," "outputs," "entropy," "suprasystem," "subsystem," and "death-state," (the imagery of organizational management and physics) he illustrates an all-encompassing faith in the basic tenets of the technocratic ethos. In his con­trolled euphoria over predictability, accuracy, reliability, integration, and organizational tautness, he expresses a commitment to the ideals of efficiency engineering for the effective organization of men and machines.

The fallacy of the systems model resides in the assumption that a physics-management prototype can be used to explain adequately the polymorphous intricacy of an institution like the school. A corollary fallacy is that people can be considered as simple, mechanomorphic units within a structure of inter­actions as unique and as diverse as the educational experience. W. Ross Ashby, a cyberneticist, has pointed out the central illusion in systems engineering—the myth of ceteribus paribus (other things being equal).24 Complex systems resist the wholesale application of simpler systems models. Organizations such as the school are so unique, dynamic, and unpredictable, that crude analogies to busi­ness or engineering models must ignore the special complexity of an institution whose overarching function is to facilitate purposeful, educational transactions among developing human beings. And, finally, the danger of a facile systems application to the field of education is that often a so-called "subsystem" can be successful in one context, but when it is absorbed by a larger system, its success is mitigated. The educational reformer, the experimental school district, the innovative teacher, and the administrative dissident all have in common the possible enervation and dissolution of their programs once they are coopted into a larger system whose objective may be more survival than reformation.25

Perhaps the major misuse of the systems model is the implicit faith that a systems approach will guarantee predictability, objectivity, and efficiency in the educational enterprise.26 Lessinger has written that the new educational engineer will be a "manager" who will function to construct a management system and support group. Together, they will develop programs, design re­quests for proposals based on objective and predictable performance specifica­tions, assist in evaluating proposals, and provide efficient management services to performance contractors.27 Herein lies the ultimate reductio ad absurdum. Simply stated, educators have failed to understand that in an enterprise like education, where human beings are always ontologically prior to the system they constitute, the technocratic values of predictability, objectivity, and efficiency are either undesirable or unattainable.

Many scientists have realized this, and have become properly chary of trans­gressing the natural limits of science. They avoid casting their discipline in the mold of "scientism" (the belief that the techniques of science can be applied in all areas of human investigation).28 Human behavior is subject to so many varia­bles that many scientists are skeptical of the accuracy of measurement. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle has led scientists to the conclusion that they can never accurately predict or measure the velocity of subatomic particles let alone the behavior of human beings. When any kind of data are collected in a dynamic system, the data can never represent the current situation. Hence predictability is almost impossible with human beings.29

So too, while scientists stress the methodology of objectivity in their labo­ratory, the wiser of them willingly suspend the methodology when they enter the world of values. The scientist is unable to deal directly with human values, and consequently he can never prove objectively what ought to be good or desirable. He refuses to extend predictability and objectivity to the world of human feeling because he cannot claim certainty here. While the scientist is aware of his investigative limits, the educational engineer has yet to define his own boundaries.30

Efficiency is a value which has not been of much concern to the natural scientist. And yet the educational engineer has reasoned that if educators are "scientifically" efficient, then they will be accountable. Raymond E. Callahan has traced the history of "the cult of efficiency" and the tragic misapplication of business and industrial values to education during the last fifty years.31 He concludes his study with the admonition that in the future the quest for efficiency in education must always be secondary to the pursuit of quality learn­ing experiences—even if these are inefficiently administered and costly. The scientist has learned what the educational engineer has not—that a concern with efficiency (maximizing output while minimizing input) is a technocratic value which has produced effective guillotines, bombs, and assembly lines, but has never created an audacious experimental insight, or major scientific break­through. Efficiency is a normative term which tends to impede rather than facilitate the creative endeavor.

Much of the current literature on accountability is filled with the metaphor of the school as a malfunctioning machine that systems engineers can repair with massive infusions of predictability, objectivity, and efficiency.32 What is so often ignored in these proposals is the root question which must guide the total educational experience: what kind of human beings do we want our students to become? If we reconstruct the profession of education in the image of tech­nocracy, then we are going to produce a society of technocrats. If we convert the school to a systems model, then we run the risk of unconsciously establish­ing as our primary educational objective the maintenance of an inert, airtight system, devoid of the unpredictable sparkle which dynamic human beings must provide if an organization is to be self-renewing.

We close this section with a warning and a question. George W. Morgan, a philosopher, has identified the pathetic—but inevitable—human outcome of an ethos which compares human beings to machines, and apotheosizes the quantitative properties of timing, dimension, speed, output, and efficiency. He calls this creation, "the prosaic mentality," and he describes it as follows:

. . . the prosaic man is forever incapable of considering issues in depth. He stays at the surface; he remains with things that permit readily specifiable action. He entertains no questions with respect to life, man, or society that do not obviously lead to specific things to do. Everything else, it seems to him, is mere words—idealistic, not realistic; sentimental, not practical. Confronted with a difficulty, the prosaic man gets busy: he works at one thing and works at another; he changes, modifies, and manipulates; he institutes projects and programs; . . . holds meetings, collects data . . . develops techniques. And he does all this without ever asking a single fundamental question, without ever attending to such basic things as the aims, underlying assumptions, values, or justification of what he is dealing with and what he is doing. Therefore, all his busyness—restless, nerve-racking, and exhausting—is at bottom only tinkering with and an accelerating of what already exists.33

We ask to what extent will the emphasis on accountability in education prevent the "prosaic man" from becoming a flesh-and-blood reality in the world of the future? Ultimately, this will be the most crucial test, regarding the contribution of accountability to the plight of modern man.

Maintenance of the Status Quo      

The   currentemphasis in accountability is on micro-concerns. There is no attention being given to the sociocultural norms which govern these preoccupations. Instead, as one spokesman for accountability has stated: "There is no escaping the fact that accountability is not a neutral device—it encapsulates a view of the edu­cational function in which basic cognitive and mathematical skills are primary."

He goes on to argue that "cultural, artistic, or political" learnings might still receive attention "but they would not be dominant."34

Throughout the literature on accountability there is a gaping absence of any recognition of the educational experience as encompassing such concerns as political reform or social reconstruction. Leon Lessinger continues to stress the necessity of educators being responsible to the "legitimate demands" of their constituents. However, there is never any doubt that for Lessinger these "legitimate demands" must always be for the "special skills" which will enable citizens to become literate, insatiable consumers.35 Lessinger and other spokes­men36 limit their rationale for accountability to such educational factors as cost analysis, system governance, educational management, instructional feedback, performance incentive, and data assessment. Rarely do these writers consider the possibility of expanding the parameters of accountability to include the political dimensions of the educational undertaking. At times it would seem that the reason why these writers have not speculated on the "outer limits" of accountability is that they are too busy using the school to maintain and strengthen the status quo.

But what if the existing system is in need of sweeping reform? What if ac­countability is stretched to include the educator's responsibility to analyze, dis­credit, disassemble, and reconstruct his profession so that it is more directly responsive to the cries of human beings who suffer from the iniquitous defects of the social order? Where in the present efflux of literature exhorting us to adopt accountability techniques is there a voice, like Paulo Freire's, which goads educators to be accountable to the oppressed peoples of the world? Where are we being urged to apply Freire's concept of "praxis," which directs us to help our students to reflect upon the social, political, and economic contradictions in the culture and to take systematic political action against the oppressive power blocs?37 Who among the spokesmen for accountability would ask us to be accountable for helping students to come to the deepest possible under­standing of themselves and their relationship to society? Where is the ac­countability advocate who speaks out against a concept of education which has been dessicated into programmatic forms and paralyzed by a dead-end preoccupation with careerism?

What is evident in much of the apologia for educational accountability is a shocking blindness to the political structure upon which the tneory and practice of American education are based. The school and the society cohere in a socio-political unity. Whether educators know it or not, education is a ruthlessly political process. Frequently when educators are cautioned to act as "pro­fessionals," they are being reminded that their principal and exclusive function must continue to be to integrate the younger generation into the unquestioned logic of the present sociopolitical system. The more effortlessly this can be ac­complished, the better. But to restrict the function of education to the mechanical fitting of young people to the economic demands of a social system is to use the schools to maintain social realities as they are.

For example, the Dorsett Educational Systems, Inc., (the performance con­tractor for the Texarkana schools) is basing its entire program on motivational techniques which are insidiously competitive.38 In using token rewards such as transistor radios to motivate students toward achievement, the Texarkana schools are transmitting a value constellation necessary for the survival of the socioeconomic system. The sociologist, Philip Slater, has shown that competi­tion for marketable skills in the schools is based on a false assumption of scarcity. We have grounded our motivational practices in the larger cultural belief that the society does not contain the resources to satisfy the needs of all its inhabitants. We insist that students compete with each other to develop the skills which will enable them to win scarce resources. Those who learn the most skills are told that they will grab the largest share of the resources, and con­sequently the economic system manages to perpetuate itself through the schools. Slater goes on to demonstrate that the key flaw in the scarcity assumption is that the important human needs can be easily satisfied and the resources for doing so are plentiful. Competition is unnecessary and the primary danger to human beings is not the mythical scarcity of resources, but the aggression which is unleashed when human beings are forced to compete with themselves and each other for spurious, system-serving skills and goods.39

Ten years ago Jules Henry, an anthropologist, charged the schools with fueling the free enterprise drives of achievement, competition, profit, mobility, performance, skills competency, and expansiveness. He warned that unless the schools stopped serving the narrow interests of the economic system, and began to stress the values of love, kindness, quietness, honesty, simplicity, compassion, cooperation, critical judgment, and autonomy, then the United States would become a "culture of death."40 Today Bertram M. Gross, an expert on urban affairs, has described the American society in terms which make Henry's "culture of death" a prophetic reality. Gross claims that the United States can best be epitomized as follows:

A managed society ruled by a faceless and widely dispersed complex of war-fare-welfare-industrial-communications-police bureaucracies caughi up in devoting a new style empire based on a technocratic ideology, a culture of alienation, multiple scapegoats and competing control networks.41

What is so often ignored in the literature on accountability is the realization that educators are as responsible for learning outcomes which are moral and political as they are for outcomes which are skills-centered. It makes little sense to speak of accountability to our students solely because we are teaching them to read, write, and compute, if, as an unintended outcome, we are also preparing them to fit—painlessly and interchangeably—into Gross' nightmarish vision of American society. To the extent that we produce citizens who are one-dimension­al in their thinking, compulsively rigid in their value orientations, and exces­sively competitive in their interpersonal relationships, we have produced human selves who are fractured, and for this we are accountable.

Whenever we root our philosophy of education in a belief in "stable democ­racy," excluding from the learning experience the possibilities of "participatory politics," we are responsible in an indirect way for maintaining a political sys­tem which is hierarchical and self-serving. Until we begin to perceive our tech­nological society as emergent and capable of resolving its deepest dilemmas only through an alliance of all races and social classes, then we are merely per­petuating an inequitable social order which cries out for root reform. And finally, until we realize that education has been used to strengthen a class system in the Western world, and to prop up military-industrial bureaucracies which desperately need dismantling, we will continue to be responsible for adventurist wars which our government may choose to wage in the future.

Accountability in education will have meaning only when we begin to hold ourselves responsible for causing students to accept the myths of scarcity, competitiveness, American supremacy, productivity, and acquisitiveness. We must examine carefully the possibility that the technology of accountability is much more than a set of techniques and machines to attain certain objective learning outcomes. We must consider the possibility that accountability is fundamentally an ideological appeal to the means of power that enables one group to dominate another group.42 How this power is used will determine the future direction of education in this country.

In order to make the ideal of educational accountability itself a more respon­sible one, we suggest that educators begin to raise certain questions. The first step in legitimizing any ideal is to ask political and moral questions about its underlying assumptions and its desired ends. We propose to take this first step by framing a set of questions which are meant to provoke controversy.

Who are the people most forcefully imploring educators to be accountable? Who has the most to gain, politically and economically, from a large-scale adoption of accountability in public education? Who is making the decisions regarding the ends toward which accountability will be applied? How will we insure that teachers, parents, and administrators will be heard and treated fairly? At this point, why have the students been silent? Will they really have the most to gain when educators are held accountable? What procedures will allow all the participants in the educational experience to be heard? And finally, who will be making the final decisions concerning accountability?

Unless educators and their clientele can challenge and reform the current ethos which is being generated by the case for accountability, the disparity which exists between our most visionary educational and social ideals and the actuality we are now living will become even more striking.


1    Leon Lessinger. Every Kid a Winner: Accountability in Education. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.

2   Ibid., pp. 4-5.

3   Ibid., p. 33.

4   Ibid., p. 37.

5   Myron Lieberman, "An Overview of Accountability," Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 52, No. 4, December, 1970, pp. 194-195.

6   Fred M. Hechinger, "A Program to Upgrade Schools for the Deprived," New York Times, July 26,1970, p. 56.

7   Fred M. Hechinger, "Accountability: A Way to Measure the Job Done by Schools," New York Times, February 14,1971. d. 7.

8   Francis L.K. Hsu. The Study of Literate Civilizations. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, p. 82.

9   Richard Hofstadter. Anti-intellectualism in American Life. New York: Vintage, 1963.

10   Merle Curti. The Social Ideas of American Educators. New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams and Company, 1965.

11    Lessinger, op. cit., p. 133.

12   Ibid., p. 32.

13   Ibid.

14   See F. William Howton. Functionaries. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969, p. 39.

15   See theme issue, "Accountability in Education," Educational Technology, Vol. 11, No. 1, Jan­uary, 1971.

16   Charles Silberman. Crisis in the Classroom: The Remaking of American Education. New York: Random House, 1970, p. 201.

17   Ibid.

18   See the latest writing of the social reconstructionist, Theodore Brameld. Patterns of Educa­tional Philosophy: Divergence and Convergence in Culturological Perspective. New York: Holt, Rinehartand Winston, 1971.

19   See Flasterstein, "A Test for Teachers?" Boston Sunday Globe, April 4,1971, p. B-43.

20   Ann Cook and Herbert Mack, "Business in Education: The Discovery Center Hustle," Social Policy, Vol. 1, No. 3, September-October, 1970, p. 10.

21    Theodore Roszak. The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. New York: Anchor Books, 1969, p. 5.

22   Ibid., pp. 1-41.

23   Francis J. Pilecfci, "The Systems Perspective and Leadership in the Educational Organization," Journal of Education. Vol. 153, No. 1, October, 1970, p. 50.

24   W. Ross Ashby. An Introduction to Cybernetics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1956, p. 5.

25   See P. Michael Timpane, "Educational Experimentation in National Social Policy," Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 40, No. 4, November, 1970. pp. 547-566.

26   See Frederick D. Erickson and Eliezer Krumbein, "A Systems Approach to Reforming Schools," in James W. Outhrie and Edward Wynne, eds. New Models for American Education. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1971, pp. 116-132.

27   Lessinger, op. cit., p. 65.

28   Garvin McCain and Erwin M. Segal. The Game of Science. Belmont, California: Brooks-Cole Publishing Company, 1969, pp. 164-171.

29   Ibid., pp. 151-163.

30   See a typical overstatement, Felix M. Lopez, "Accountability in Education," Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 52, No. 4, December, 1970, pp. 231-235.

31    Raymond E. Callahan. Education and the Cult of Efficiency. Chicago: The University of Chi­cago Press, 1962.

32   Lessinger, op. cit., pp. 3-19. See also William A. Deterline, "Applied Accountability," Edu­cational Technology, Vol. 11, No. 1, January, 1971, pp. 15-20.

33   George W. Morgan. The Human Predicament: Dissolution and Wholeness. New York: Delta, 1970. pp. 89-90.

34   Aaron Wildavsky, "A Program of Accountability for Elementary Schools," Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 52, No. 4, December, 1970, p. 216.

35   Lessinger, op. cit., pp. 123-137.

36   See Roger A. Kaufman, "Accountability, A System Approach and the Quantitative Improve­ment of Education—An Attempted Integration," Educational Technology, Vol. 11, No. 1, January, 1971, pp. 21-26.

37   Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, 1970.

38   Lessinger, op. cit., "Excerpts from Texarkana's Formal Project Application to the U.S. Office of Education," pp. 155-171.

39   Philip Slater. The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970, pp. 96-118.

40   Jules Henry. Culture Against Man. New York: Vintage Books, 1965, pp. 13-15.

41    Bertram M. Gross, "Can It Happen Herer New York Times, January 4,1971, p. 31.

42   William M. Birenbaum has advanced a similar argument in relation to the American uni­versity. See Overlive: Power, Poverty, and the University. New York: Dell Publishing Com­pany, 1969.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 73 Number 3, 1972, p. 357-370
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1565, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 10:40:59 PM

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  • Robert Nash
    University of Vermont
    Robert J. Nash is assistant professor of educational anthropology and philosophy at the University of Vermont.
  • Russell Agne
    University of Vermont
    and Russell M. Agne is assistant professor of science education at the University of Vermont.
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