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Accountability for Professional Practice

by Linda Darling-Hammond - 1989

This article explores the contributions of professionalism to school accountability in the context of a new phenomenon in American education: the professional development school. (Source: ERIC)

The issue of educational accountability is probably the most pressing and most problematic of any facing the public schools today. Gone are the days when a local town council hired the village schoolmaster and fired him at will for any cause. Gone, too, are the days when schoolteachers were so respected in their office that anything within the schoolroom walls was accepted as the rightful and unquestioned prerogative of school officials. A more highly educated populace has greater expectations of schools, and a more knowledge-oriented economy raises both the costs and benefits of school success or failure. Today, schools are being held to account by politicians, the general public, and parents for results they should be expected to produce and, often, for results over which they have little or no control.

In recent debates about improving American schools and increasing accountability, the professionalization of teaching has surfaced as a prominent strategy, now being pursued in a variety of ways by policymakers and practitioners across the country. Though many changes in the areas of teacher preparation, certification, and compensation have accompanied the reform discussion, many questions remain regarding how schools should operate to sustain and nourish effective teaching based on professional norms and understandings.

At the same time, concerns for school accountability are as pronounced as they have ever been in our nation’s history. Policymakers want to find ways to ensure that students learn, and they struggle to find a lever that will penetrate a giant, fragmented system engaged in a difficult and complex undertaking. If the promises of professionalism are to bear fruit, the contributions of professional accountability to improved education must be activated in concrete ways in schools.

In this article, I explore the contributions of professionalism to school accountability in the context of a new phenomenon in American education: the professional development school. Such schools, in their infancy in more than a dozen cities around the country, are intended—like teaching hospitals—to model state-of-the-art practice while simultaneously refining and spreading it. They are to be places where experts train and socialize novices, where research and theory are translated into practice, and where practical knowledge is translated in turn into research and theory. Such schools are, in short, the harbingers of an accountable profession, as they assume the mission of testing, transmitting, and further advancing the ethical norms and knowledge-based standards of professional practice. As models of professional practice, these schools should become models of professional accountability as well.


In the current debates about accountability, cacophony rules. There is little agreement, and perhaps even less clear thinking, about what accountability means, to whom it is owed, and how it can be operationalized. Many policymakers seem to equate accountability with something like the monitoring of student test scores, averaged for classrooms, schools, or school districts. Some believe that accountability can be enacted by statutes prescribing management procedures, tests, or curricula. Unfortunately, these approaches to accountability leave the student, the parent, the teacher, and the educational process entirely out of the equation. The production of a test score or a management scheme does not touch the issue of whether a student’s educational interests are being well served.

We need to begin to articulate what we mean by accountability, and in particular, what we mean by professional accountability. I suggest here that a meaningful system of accountability for public education should do three things: it should (1) set educationally meaningful and defensible standards for what parents and members of the general public can rightfully expect of a school system, school, or teacher; (2) establish reasonable and feasible means by which these standards can be implemented and upheld; and (3) provide avenues for redress or corrections in practice when these standards are not met, so that ultimately students are well served.

Within this framework, I will explore how current systems of accountability are structured and-how they would need to be changed to provide honest and useful vehicles for accountability in the context of schools intended to promote professional practice in teaching.


Social transactions in our society are managed in a variety of ways, ultimately subject to democratic control. Through legislative bodies, the populacecan decide whether an activity should be a subject of government regulation and where that regulation should begin and end. When legislative government involvement has been eschewed or limited, control of an activity may revert, in whole or in part, to professional bodies, courts, or private individuals in their roles as clients, consumers, or citizens:

In any of these instances, accountability mechanisms are chosen to safeguard the public interest. These include at least the following:

political accountability—elected officials must stand for reelection at regular intervals so that citizens can judge the representativeness of their views and the responsiveness of their decisions

legal accountability—courts must entertain complaints about violations of laws enacted by representatives of the public and of citizens’ constitutionally granted rights, which may be threatened either by private action or by legislative action

bureaucratic accountability—agencies of government promulgate rules and regulations intended to assure citizens that public functions will be carried out in pursuit of public goals voiced through democratic or legal processes

professional accountability—governments may create professional bodies and structures to ensure competence and appropriate practice in occupations that serve the public and may delegate certain decisions about occupational membership, standards, and practices to these bodies

market accountability—governments may choose to allow clients or consumers to choose what services best meet their needs; to preserve the utility of this form of accountability, monopolies are prevented, freedom of choice is protected, and truthful information is required of service providers

All of these accountability mechanisms have their strengths and weaknesses, and each is more or less appropriate to certain types of activities. Political mechanisms can support the public establishment of general policy directions in areas subject to direct government control. Legal mechanisms are most useful when rights or proscriptions are clearly definable and when establishing the facts is all that is needed to trigger a remedy. Bureaucratic mechanisms are most appropriate when a standard set of practices or procedures can be easily linked to behavioral rules that will produce the desired outcomes. Market mechanisms are helpful when consumer preferences vary widely, when the state does not have a direct interest in controlling choice, and when government control would be counterproductive to innovation. Professional mechanisms are most important when safeguards for consumer choice are necessary to serve the public interest, but the technology of the work is uniquely determined by individual client needs and a complex and changing base of knowledge.

There are, of course, incentives in any of these systems for individuals to shirk their missions or for functional inadequacies to impair performance. (Public servants may use their positions for private gain; courts may become overloaded; bureaucrats may fail to follow regulations; professionals may overlook incompetence; markets may break down due to regulatory or economic failures.) These problems can, presumably, be addressed by efforts to make the systems work more perfectly, often by overlaying another accountability mechanism against the first as a check and balance, for example, enacting an ethics in government law that adds legal accountability vehicles to the electoral process for governing the actions of public officials.

However, even when such mechanisms function perfectly, any given mode of accountability has intrinsic limits that must be weighed in the choice of which to use under varying circumstances. Electoral accountability does not allow citizens to judge each specific action of officials; nor does it necessarily secure the constitutional rights or preferences of citizens whose views and interests are in the minority. Legal accountability cannot be used in all cases: The reach of courts is limited to that which can be legislated; not all citizens have access to courts, and they are buffered from public opinion. Bureaucratic accountability does not guarantee results, it concerns itself with procedures; it is effective only when procedures are known to produce the desired outcomes, and when compliance is easily measured and secured. Professional accountability does not take public preferences into account; it responds to an authority outside the direct reach of citizens and may satisfy its purposes while ignoring competing public goals. Market accountability does not ensure citizens’ access to services and relies on the spontaneous emergence of a variety of services to allow choice to operate as a safety valve for poor service provision.

Because of these intrinsic limits, no single form of accountability operates alone in any major area of public life. Hybrid forms are developed to provide checks and balances and to more carefully target vehicles for safeguarding the public interest toward the particular matters they can best address. The choices of accountability tools—and the balance among different forms of accountability—are constantly shifting as problems emerge, as social goals change, and as new circumstances arise.


In education, it is easy to see that legal and bureaucratic forms of accountability have expanded their reach over the past twenty years, while electoral accountability has waxed and waned (with local and state school boards operating with reduced authority in some instances, and the purviews of elected and appointed officials shifting in many states). Market accountability is more often discussed as a possibly useful vehicle, but still rarely used, except in a few districts that offer magnet schools or other schools of choice. Professional accountability is gaining in prominence as an idea for strengthening teaching quality, but it is yet poorly defined and partially at odds with other forms of accountability currently in use.


Bureaucratic organization and management of schools has increased since the early part of this century, when “scientific management” principles were first introduced into urban schools in an effort to standardize and rationalize the process of schooling. The view underlying this approach to managing schools is as follows: Schools are agents of government that can be administered by hierarchical decision making and controls. Policies are made at the top of the system and handed down to administrators, who translate them into rules and procedures. Teachers follow the rules and procedures (class schedules, curricula, textbooks, rules for promotion and assignment of students, etc.), and students are processed according to them.

This approach is intended to foster equal and uniform treatment of clients and standardization of products or services, and to prevent arbitrary or capricious decision making. It works reasonably well, when goals are agreed on and clearly definable, when procedures for meeting the goals can be specified, when the procedures are straightforward and feasible to implement, and when following these procedures is known to produce the desired outcomes in all cases. Bureaucratic accountability ensures that rules will be promulgated and compliance with these rules will be monitored. The promise that bureaucratic accountability mechanisms make is that violators of the rules will be apprehended, and consequences will be administered for noncompliance.

When bureaucratic forms are applied to the management of teaching, they rely on a number of assumptions:

that students are sufficiently standardized that they will respond in identical and predictable ways to the “treatments” devised by policymakers and their principal agents

that sufficient knowledge of which treatments should be prescribed is both available and generalizable to all educational circumstances

that this knowledge can be translated into standardized rules for practice, which can be operationalized through regulations and reporting and inspection systems

that administrators and teachers can and will faithfully implement the prescriptions for practice thus devised and transmitted to schools

The circular bottom-line assumption is that this process, if efficiently administered, will produce the outcomes the system desires. If the outcomes are not satisfactory, the final assumption is that the prescriptions are not yet sufficiently detailed or the process of implementation is not sufficiently exact. Thus, the solutions to educational problems always lie in more precise specification of educational or management processes.

In the bureaucratic model, teachers are viewed as functionaries rather than as well-trained and highly skilled professionals. Little investment is made in teacher preparation, induction, or professional development. Little credence is given to licensing or knowledge acquisition. Little time is afforded for joint planning or collegial consultation about problems of practice. Because practices are prescribed outside the school setting, there is no need and little use for professional knowledge and judgment. Thus, novice teachers assume the same responsibilities as thirty-year veterans. Separated into egg-crate classrooms and isolated by packed teaching schedules, teachers rarely work or talk together about teaching practices. A rationale for these activities is absent from the bureaucratic perspective on teaching work.

In the bureaucratic conception of teaching, teachers do not need to be highly knowledgeable about learning theory and pedagogy, cognitive science and child development, curriculum and assessment; they do not need to be highly skilled, because they do not, presumably, make the major decisions about these matters. Curriculum planning is done by administrators and specialists; teachers are to implement a curriculum planned for them. Inspection of teachers’ work is conducted by hierarchical superiors, whose job it is to make sure that the teacher is implementing the curriculum and procedures of the district. Teachers do not plan or evaluate their own work; they merely perform it.

Accountability is achieved by inspections and reporting systems intended to ensure that the rules and procedures are being followed. Teachers are held accountable for implementing curricular and testing policies, grading policies, assignment and promotion rules, and myriad other educational prescriptions, whether or not these treatments are appropriate in particular instances for particular students. As a consequence, teachers cannot be held accountable for meeting the needs of their students; they can only be held accountable for following standard operating procedures. The standard for accountability is compliance rather than effectiveness.

The problem with the bureaucratic solution to the accountability dilemma in education is that effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive, and questions of practice are not simple, predictable, or standardized. By its very nature, bureaucratic management is incapable of providing appropriate education for students who do not fit the mold on which all of the prescriptions for practice are based.


At present, I think it is fair to say that the use of legal and bureaucratic accountability mechanisms in education far outweighs the use of other forms, and that these mechanisms have overextended their reach for actually promoting positive practices and responsiveness to public and client needs. This statement should not be glossed over too lightly, though, for public and client needs are not identical, and positive practices are defined in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, there is a special tension in public education between the goals held by governments for public schools and the goals held by the clients of schools, for which different forms of accountability are needed. Because the needs, interests, and preferences of individual students and parents do not always converge with the needs, interests, and preferences of state or local governments, the question of accountability in education must always be prefaced by the questions “to whom?” and “for what?”

Public schools have been created primarily to meet the state’s need for an educated citizenry. Indeed, public education is not so much a right accorded to students as an obligation to which they are compelled by law. State goals include (1) socialization to a common culture (education to meet social needs); (2) inculcation of basic democratic values and preparation of students to responsibly exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities (education to meet political needs); and (3) preparation of students for further education, training, and occupational life (education to meet economic needs). To meet these goals, the state further defines what type of socialization is desired, what manner of democratic preparation is to be given, and what forms of preparation—forms useful to the state’s economic goals—are to be offered.1

Furthermore, the state has an interest in providing educational services both equitably (sometimes, this state interest has had to be enforced by courts when it is ignored by legislators) and efficiently, so that taxpayers’ burdens are not excessive or their tax monies wasted. Since equity and efficiency are difficult concepts to operationalize, they cause special accountability problems for bureaucrats and professionals to resolve. They also frequently stand in conflict with the needs and interests of individual students, as for example when “same” treatment does not produce appropriate treatment, or when “efficient” education does not produce quality education.

Individual consumers (parents and students) often hold social, economic, and political goals different from those of the state government, and they very often disagree about how to pursue even the commonly held goals. Furthermore, child-oriented definitions of student “needs” rarely match state definitions, since the former are unique to the individual child, and the latter are promulgated for all children in a state, or for specified groups of children.

These definitions continually confront a tension that Thomas Green refers to as the dialectic between the “best” principle and the “equal” principle.2 The best principle is the proposition that each student is entitled to receive the education that is best for him or her; the equal principle is the proposition that each is entitled to receive an education at least as good as (equal to) that provided for others. In translation through legal or bureaucratic vehicles, “equal to” means “the same as,” since these vehicles must operate by uniform standards. Efforts to individualize instruction through these vehicles invariably must create groups of children, all of whom are then to be treated alike (hence, the tendency to create identifiable subsets of children, by age, grade level, measured ability, curriculum track, and so on). This may solve the state’s problem of specifying inputs and desired outcomes, but it does not solve the student’s or teacher’s problem that children will still, come what may, fit untidily into the containers designed for them.

Thus, accountability for accomplishing state goals is a very different concept from accountability for accomplishing clients’ goals. Indeed, accountability for meeting the needs of individual students is often in conflict—or at least in tension—with accountability for securing the public’s preferences for education. Teachers and public school officials are the arbiters of these tensions. They strive to achieve a balance between meeting the state’s goals and the needs of individual students. This requires a great deal of skill, sensitivity, and judgment, since the dilemmas posed by these two sets of goals are complex, idiosyncratic, and ever-changing.

Increasingly, though, attempts to provide public accountability have sought to standardize school and classroom procedures in the hopes of finding “one best system" by which all students may be educated. Codified by law, and specified more completely by regulation, these attempts have both “teacher-proofed” and “student-proofed” schooling, leaving little room for innovation or improvement of education. Indeed, this approach is criticized in recent reports as having created a situation in which “everyone has the brakes but no one has the motors” to make schools run well.3

Ironically, prescriptive policies created in the name of public accountability have begun to reduce schools’ responsiveness to the needs of students and the desires of parents. In the cause of uniform treatment and in the absence of schooling alternatives, large numbers of students “fall through the cracks” when rules, routines, and standardized procedures prevent teachers from meeting individual needs. Those who can afford to do so leave for private schools. Those who cannot are frequently alienated and ill served.

The theory underlying the press for teacher professionalism is that strengthening the structures and vehicles for creating and transmitting professional knowledge will prove a more effective means for meeting students’ needs and improving the overall quality of education than trying to prescribe. educational practices from afar. This theory is based on a conception of teaching as complex, knowledge-based work requiring judgment in nonroutine situations and on a conception of learning as an interactive and individually determined process. These conceptions limit the applicability of legal and bureaucratic remedies for ensuring learning, by asserting the differential nature of effective interactions between teachers and learners that is beyond the capacity of laws and regulations to predict or prescribe.


Professionalism depends on the affirmation of three principles in the conduct and governance of an occupation:

1. Knowledge is the basis for permission to practice and for decisions that are made with respect to the unique needs of clients.

2. The practitioner pledges his first concern to the welfare of the client.

3. The profession assumes collective responsibility for the definition, transmittal, and enforcement of professional standards of practice and ethics.

Professionals are obligated to do whatever is best for the client, not what is easiest, most expedient, or even what the client himself or herself might want. They are also obligated to base a decision about what is best for the client on available knowledge—not just that knowledge acquired from personal experience, but also that clinical and research knowledge acquired by the occupation as a whole and represented in professional journals, certification standards, and specialty training. Finally, professionals are required to take into account the unique needs of individual clients in fashioning their judgments about what strategies or treatments are appropriate.

These are fine goals, but how are they operationalized to result in something that might be called professional accountability? In policy terms, these requirements suggest greater regulation of teachers—ensuring their competence through more rigorous preparation, certification, selection, and evaluation—in exchange for the deregulation of teaching—fewer rules prescribing what is to be taught, when, and how. This is, in essence, the bargain that all professions make with society: For occupations that require discretion and judgment in meeting the unique needs of clients, the profession guarantees the competence of members in exchange for the privilege of professional control over work structure and standards of practice.

The theory behind this equation is that professional control improves both the quality of individual services and the level of knowledge in the profession as a whole. This occurs because decision making by well-trained professionals allows individual clients’ needs to be met more precisely, and it promotes continual refinement and improvement in overall practice as effectiveness, rather than compliance, becomes the standard for judging competence.

It is important to note, too, that professional authority does not mean legitimizing the idiosyncratic or whimsical preferences of individual classroom teachers. Indeed, in other public-service occupations, autonomy is the problem that professionalism is meant to address. It is precisely because practitioners operate autonomously that safeguards to protect the public interest are necessary. In occupations that have become professionalized, these safeguards have taken the form of screens to membership in the profession and ongoing peer review of practice. Collective autonomy from external regulation is achieved by the assumption of collective responsibility. Responsible self-governance- requires, in turn, structures and vehicles by which the profession can define and transmit its knowledge base, control membership in the occupation, evaluate and refine its practices, and enforce norms of ethical practice.

In theory, then, teacher professionalism promises a more potent form of accountability for meeting students’ needs than that which courts and bureaucracies can concoct. It promises competence, an expanding knowledge base, concern for client welfare, and vehicles for enforcing these claims. In many respects, such accountability also serves the needs of the state by promoting better practice; but, because professional accountability is explicitly client-oriented, it will not fully represent the preferences of the general public. Hence, in working through a concept of professional accountability, we must keep in mind its limits for achieving public accountability as well as its promise.


Professional practice schools have three missions with respect to accountability. First, they should model a professional form of accountability as it might ultimately be seen in all schools. Second, as induction centers, they implement a key accountability function for the profession as a whole. Third, as knowledge-producing institutions, they support and help to build the foundation on which professional accountability ultimately rests. These missions, as suggested by the earlier-stated criteria for accountability mechanisms, require that professional development schools devote considerable attention to defining educationally meaningful standards of practice, creating reasonable means for upholding these standards, and establishing vehicles for redress or corrections of problems that arise.

The goals of professional accountability are to protect the public by ensuring that (1) all individuals permitted to practice in certain capacities are adequately prepared to do so responsibly; (2) where knowledge about practice exists, it will be used, and where certainty does not exist, practitioners will individually and collectively continually seek to discover the most responsible course of action; and (3) practitioners will pledge their first and primary commitment to the welfare of the client.


The first of the goals listed above—that all individuals permitted to practice are adequately prepared—is crucial to attaining the conditions for and benefits of professionalism. So long as anyone who is not fully prepared is admitted to an occupation where autonomous practice can jeopardize the safety of clients, the public’s trust is violated. So long as no floor is enforced on the level of knowledge needed to teach, a professional culture in schools cannot long be maintained, for some practitioners will be granted control and autonomy who are not prepared to exercise it responsibly.

Professional practice schools serve a crucial function in the preparation of professional teachers. They are charged with completing the initial education of prospective teachers, by ensuring that they have the tools to apply theory in practice and by socializing them to professional norms and ethics. This mission requires (1) a conception of the understanding and capabilities to be acquired by novice teachers before they are allowed to practice autonomously; (2) means by which these understandings, including ethical and normative commitments, can be acquired with a high probability of success; and (3) safeguards to ensure that those sent forth from such schools are adequately prepared. In addition, as models of responsible professionalism, these schools must offer assurances to parents who send their children to such schools that they will not be harmed by the (literal) practice of novices.

A Conception of Teaching

In highly developed professions, the knowledge expected to be acquired in an apprenticeship or internship is decided by the profession through accrediting bodies that sanction such programs and through certification examinations that are taken after the induction experience is completed. Until such time as these professional structures are available in education, though, professional practice schools will be at the forefront of defining what it is that a teacher needs to know to safely practice without intensive supervision.

In pragmatic terms, this is where the first knotty challenge facing such schools will arise. Although professionalism starts from the proposition that knowledge must inform practice, teacher education is often denounced and frequently avoided on the grounds that either it does not convey the knowledge necessary for real teaching (alternative certification plans argue that this can be acquired on the job), or that there is no knowledge base for teaching anyway. Even trained and licensed teachers will come to their first teaching experiences with variable levels and types of knowledge, given the diversity of preparation experiences and the disparate standards for licensure both within and across states.

In wrestling with a conception of teaching knowledge, then, professional practice schools will form an implicit conception of their “curriculum” that must be based on assumptions—sure to be violated—about what novice teachers might already be expected to know. Even before they have begun, such schools will have to decide whether they will assume the mission of preparing, sometimes from “scratch,” the unprepared, or whether they will develop some type of admissions standard that approximates a level of knowledge upon which they feel they can successfully build. A possible middle ground is that the school will diagnose novices’ knowledge at entry, requiring supplemental coursework in specific areas where a minimal understanding of rudiments of content or pedagogy has not yet been acquired.

This is more than an academic question, particularly for large city school systems, which have many new entrants admitted on emergency or alternative certificates with-out prior teacher education, and others who are hired to teach in fields for which they have not had complete subject matter preparation. The choices made in this regard will determine in many respects what methods of preparation and levels of responsibility will be suitable for novice teachers.

There are many statements possible about what kinds of understandings and capabilities professional development schools should seek to exemplify and impart. Shulman, for example, classifies the elements of teaching knowledge as follows:

—content knowledge;

—general pedagogical knowledge, with special reference to those broad principles and strategies of classroom management and organization that appear to transcend subject matter;

—curriculum knowledge, with particular grasp of the materials and programs that serve as “tools of the trade” for teachers;

—pedagogical content knowledge, that special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding;

—knowledge of learners and their characteristics;

—knowledge of educational contexts, ranging from the workings of the group or classroom, the governance and financing of school districts, to the character of communities and cultures; and

—knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values, and their philosophical and historical grounds.4

To this list, I would add a grounding in professional ethics, so that teachers can responsibly resolve dilemmas of teaching practice. The goal, as Shulman puts it, “is not to indoctrinate or train teachers to behave in prescribed ways, but to educate teachers to reason soundly about their teaching as well as to perform skillfully.”5

Whatever the precise definition of knowledge that is arrived at, the professional development school must have in mind what its expectations are for the understandings that undergird professional practice. It is on this basis that the school selects its staff, develops its program for induction, and assesses whether novices have been adequately prepared to practice autonomously.

Structuring Professional Practice

The basic task here is constructing an organization that will-seek, transmit, and use knowledge as a basis for teaching decisions; that will support inquiry and consultation and maintain a primary concern for student welfare. Because knowledge is constantly expanding, problems of practice are complex, and ethical dilemmas result from conflict between legitimate goals, the establishment of professional norms cannot be satisfied by prescriptions for practice or unchanging rules of conduct. Instead, the transmission of these norms must be accomplished by socialization to a professional standard that incorporates continual learning, reflection, and concern with the multiple effects of one’s actions on others as fundamental aspects of the professional role.

For a professional development school, the accountability dilemmas associated with structuring practice are at least twofold:

1. How can the school guarantee that novices are given adequate preparation?

2. How can the school encourage the use of appropriate practices for all children it serves?

The induction mission of the school ought to warrant that those working with new teachers are themselves exemplars of good teaching; that the experiences of the new teachers will be structured to explicitly address the understandings they are expected to acquire; and that some means for assessing the progress of new teachers are used.

Faculty who are engaged in the induction of new teachers may or may not be all of the faculty employed in a professional development school. If the school is to be an exemplar of good practice, certainly all of the staff must be committed to the tenets of professionalism and the goals of the school. Those who are specifically charged with the preparation of new teachers must themselves meet the standards of teaching knowledge and disposition toward which new teachers strive. This suggests that these faculty will be carefully selected for their capacities to teach adults as well as children. Selection should be conducted by other teaching professionals according to the standards earlier defined. If the school is to model professional accountability, selection by peers according to professional standards is a fundamental feature of the professionalization process.

What distinguishes the form of professional preparation envisioned here from the usual approaches to teacher induction is that, because a standard of practice is envisioned and articulated, haphazard or idiosyncratic training and experiences will be insufficient to guarantee that the standard has been met. Consequently, pairing of a beginning teacher with a mentor in a single class setting is not adequate to the task. The school must structure the experiences of beginning teachers so that they encounter a range of teaching situations and acquire a set of teaching and decision-making abilities. This suggests that the school has an explicit curriculum for beginning teachers composed of (1) formal instructional experiences, such as seminars, clinical conferences, readings, and observations of other teachers; and (2) clinical experiences in which the beginning teacher, under supervision, systematically encounters and examines the major domains of teaching knowledge.

In order to safeguard the welfare of students and facilitate the learning of novice teachers, beginning teachers should not have sole responsibility for a standard teaching load; they need to be given an appropriate and graduated degree of responsibility for teaching students and the opportunity to review major teaching decisions with expert faculty. Indeed, important decisions about students should not be made in isolation. The requirement for consultation is both a protection for students and a means of transmitting knowledge; it is also a means for socializing new teachers to norms of inquiry and collaboration.

In addition, beginning teachers should acquire experience with a variety of students and types of classes. To develop generalizable teaching skills and the ability to exercise judgment in diverse teaching situations, new teachers should learn to work with students at different cognitive stages and performance levels, from differing family backgrounds, and in different subject areas within the disciplinary or grade-level domain.

Finally, accountability for performing the training mission must be, secured by assessing new teachers’ progress toward the acquisition of professional knowledge and norms of conduct. Such assessment should be the basis for decisions about according additional responsibility for students to developing teachers and about “certifying” that novices are sufficiently prepared at the close of their experience to practice autonomously. At minimum, this process should include frequent feedback to new teachers, establishment of opportunities to acquire those skills not yet adequately mastered, and consultation at regular intervals.

The conditions for responsible practice in a professional development school obviously must include structures that promote inquiry and consultation among the faculty as a whole, not just those immediately engaged in supervising novices. Teacher isolation promotes idiosyncratic practice and works against the development and transmission of shared knowledge. Changing the egg-crate classroom structure and the groupings of students and teachers that maintain isolation will require major changes in teaching arrangements to promote team efforts and legitimize shared time. Many possibilities for reorganizing instruction, such as those pursued in the Coalition of Essential Schools6 and other similar initiatives, can be considered. With respect to the accountability question, several features of school structure are particularly important:

the extent to which the organization of instruction fosters responsibility for individual students, that is, client-oriented accountability

the extent to which the school structure fosters the use of professional knowledge beyond-that represented in the experiences of individual teachers

the extent to which the school structure supports continual self-evaluation and review of practice

Client-oriented accountability requires that teachers primarily teach students rather than teaching courses, that they attend more to learning than to covering a curriculum. If teachers are to be responsible for students and for learning, they must have sufficient opportunities to come to know students’ minds, learning styles, and psychological dispositions, and they must be able to focus on student needs and progress as the benchmark for their activities. This seems obvious, but it is improbable, if not impossible, as schools are now structured. The current structure assures that specific courses and curricula will be offered and students will pass through them, usually encountering different teachers from grade to grade and course to course, succeeding or failing as they may. This system does not offer accountability for student learning, only for the processing of students.

Client accountability entails at least two implications for the organization of schooling: that teachers will stay with students for longer periods of time (hours in the day and even years in the course of a school career) so that they may come to know what students’ needs are, and that school problem solving will be organized around the individual and collective needs of students rather than around program definitions, grades, tracks, and labels.

Use of professional knowledge poses other requirements: that decision making be conducted on the basis of available professionwide knowledge, not on the basis of individual proclivity or opinion, even collective opinion. When most schools do not even stock professional journals in their libraries, the challenge implied by this requirement is profound. In addition to shared time and expectations of consultation and collective decision making, vehicles must be found for teachers in professional development schools to have access to the knowledge bases relevant to their work and to particular, immediate problems of teaching practice. Linkages to universities and access to professional development opportunities go part way toward solving this problem, but more is needed. Professional practice schools may need to create their own research teams to examine and augment available knowledge if practice is to be thus grounded.

Research in the professional development school setting serves an important function for the development of knowledge, but it poses dangers as well. Experimentation can harm students, if it is conducted without care and appropriate safeguards. Too much innovation for its own sake can result in faddism and lack of a coherent philosophy over time and across classrooms in a school. Thus, research in the professional development school must also be subject to careful faculty deliberation as to its necessity, desirability, and probable effects on children; to monitoring while in progress; and to the informed consent of parents.

Finally, ongoing review of practice is central to the operation of professional Organizations. This evaluative function serves the joint purposes of monitoring organizational activities and establishing a continuous dialogue about problems of practice among the practitioners themselves. The very distant analogue in school systems is program evaluation, an activity generally conducted by central office researchers who report findings to government sponsors and school board members. Teachers are neither the major producers nor consumers of such information. Hence, neither they nor their students are the major beneficiaries of such evaluation results.

Teachers must wrestle with and take responsibility for resolving immediate, concrete problems of teaching practice if teaching lore is ever to be transformed into meaningful professional standards. One could envision many methods for achieving this. Standing committees such as those used in hospitals could meet regularly to review practices in various subject areas or grade levels, or to examine other functional areas: academic progress; grading policies; student and teacher assignments to particular courses, programs, or teams; development of student responsibility; organization of instruction; and so on. Or more flexible approaches might be tried. Ad hoc research committees might be formed to examine particular problems, both as they manifest in the school and as they have been addressed by research. Faculty meetings could be used to investigate curricular strategies and other matters within and across departments or grade levels. What is critical is that teachers have both time to pursue these evaluations as part of their role (rather than as “released” or extracurricular time) and authority to make changes based on their collective discoveries.

One other point is worth making here: These evaluative and decision-making functions should be engaged in by all of the teachers within the school, including the novices in training. Some proposals for “teacher leadership” envision a small cadre of lead teachers or master teachers who partake of administrative decision-making authority, while everyone else goes on about their work. The trickle-down theory of expertise does not presume a professional standard for all teachers; professional accountability does. Teachers will learn to weigh and balance considerations, to inquire, consult, and make collaborative decisions, to use and develop teaching knowledge to the extent that they are expected to do so. Socialization into these norms of inquiry and collaboration must be part of the preparation of beginning teachers and part of the daily life of all teachers if they are to begin to permeate the profession.

Safeguards for Professional Practice

Even with all of the professional accountability mechanisms described above, there are dangers that the needs of some students will not be diagnosed or fully met, that the concerns or preferences of parents will be inadequately attended to, that through the continual juggling of multiple and competing goals some will be lost in the effort to secure others. Members of a profession, while setting their own standards, cannot seal themselves off too tightly from public scrutiny or from their clientele. When they do, they endanger their rights to self-governance, as other professions have discovered in recent years.

A number of means for providing safeguards and voice for clients and the public will have to be considered and shaped to tit the requirements for a professional development school:

hierarchical regulation, which expresses the contract made between a state or district and its populace

personnel evaluation, which establishes avenues for ensuring faculty competence

participation and review procedures for parents, which create clear and meaningful avenues for expression of parent views and concerns

reporting vehicles, which transmit the accomplishments of students in the school to parents and the general public

Standard practices in each of these areas are inadequate to provide genuine accountability. In many cases, standard practice also undermines professional practice. New contracts must be forged with states, districts, teacher associations, parents, and the public. A full exploration of the content of these new contracts is beyond the scope of this article, but the nature of the terrain is sketched briefly in what follows.

The problems associated with hierarchical regulation of teaching have been articulated earlier. In school bureaucracies, authority for decisions and responsibility for practice are widely separated, usually by many layers of hierarchy. Boards and central administrators make decisions while teachers, principals, and students are responsible for carrying them out. It is for this reason that accountability for results is hard to achieve. ‘When the desired outcomes of hierarchically imposed policies are not realized, policymakers blame the school people responsible for implementation; practitioners blame their inability to devise or pursue better solutions on the constraints of policy. No one can be fully accountable for the results of practice when authority and responsibility are dispersed.

Yet policymakers have a responsibility to ensure fairness in the delivery of educational services, and district officials are liable for the actions of schools residing within their jurisdictions. Not all regulations can be dispensed with in the cause of professional practice. A heuristic is needed for sorting those regulations that must be observed from those that must be renegotiated or waived. As a first step, it is useful to divide responsibilities into those that must be centrally administered and those that, by their nature, cannot be effectively administered in a hierarchical fashion.

Wise offers a useful distinction between equity and productivity concerns. The former generally must be resolved by higher units of governance, since they “arise out of the conflicting interests of majorities and minorities and of the powerful and powerless. Because local institutions are apparently the captives of majoritarian politics, they intentionally and unintentionally discriminate. Consequently, we must rely upon the policymaking system to solve problems of inequity in the operating education system.”7 On the other hand, productivity questions cannot be solved by regulation, since the appropriate use of teaching knowledge is highly individualized, while policies are necessarily uniform and standardized. Thus, policy decisions about methods of teaching and schooling processes cannot ever meet the demands of varying school and student circumstances. These require renegotiation for the accommodation of professional practice.

Personnel evaluation, by this rubric, falls in the domain of professional determination. This could lead to its substantial improvement or to its avoidance and demise. This is a critical function of a profession, as the first promise a profession makes is oversight of competence to practice. The shortcomings of traditional evaluation practices and the outlines of more productive professional practices are described in detail elsewhere.8 In brief, these entail increased peer involvement in design and implementation of evaluation, and separation of the processes for encouraging professional learning from those for making personnel decisions (by committee and with attention to objectivity and due process safeguards). All of this is more easily said than done, however, and the resolution of issues regarding collective bargaining relationships, appropriate roles for administrators and teachers, and political turf battles will require courage and leadership from teachers.

Parent voice is particularly important and problematic for a professional development school. In the first place, the unique qualities of the school will be uncomfortable for some parents. In addition, professional practice must be guided, to the extent possible, by knowledge, even where that conflicts with client preferences. On the other hand, best practice is never absolute or fully informed by research; it is a matter of judgment and frequently unique to the individual child, about whom the parent has substantial knowledge. The multiple goals of schooling will often stand in tension with one another. Parents must have a voice in determining the balance among goals as they are compelled by the state to entrust their children to schools. Thus, parent voice must be secured in a fashion that few schools have yet managed.

The first requirement, I believe, is that professional development schools must, for their clientele as well as their faculties, be schools of choice. No child should be compelled by neighborhood residence or other criterion to attend the school, although attendance should be open for those in the community who desire it. This both safeguards the rights of parents and students to voice their preferences for a form of education with which they feel comfortable and protects the school from the task of satisfying a clientele that might otherwise have widely differing and even opposing points of view. It also provides the school with information, legitimacy, and a form of external review. If schools of choice are chosen, they are legitimized; if they are not, self-examination is required.

Beyond choice, which is the easy part of the answer, parent voice can be fostered by (1) school structures for shared governance, (2) accessible review and appeals processes, and (3) parent involvement in decision making about individual children. Structures for shared governance, such as school-community councils, can provide a vehicle for the shared interests of the parent community to find legitimized and regular expression in the school context. Perhaps the most proactive form of shared governance among parents, teachers, and administrators is seen in Salt Lake City, where decision-making turf that is the joint domain of parents and faculty (e.g., the school schedule, discipline policies, and curricular emphases) is delegated to councils for determination by consensus and parity vote.9

Mechanisms for review and appeal of specific concerns and complaints by a neutral third party supplement the shared governance mechanism, by providing a clear avenue for the resolution of individual problems. These mechanisms also provide information and external review for the school as a whole. Finally, the expectation that parents will be included in discussions of important decisions concerning their children prevents the insulation of the professional decision-making process from exposure to the real-world circumstances and concerns of families and communities.

The issue that most tie knots in discussions of accountability is the question of how individual and school expectations and accomplishments can be transmitted in an educationally productive manner to parents, students, and the public at large. Because school goals are numerous, diffuse, and difficult to quantify, simple statements of objectives and results can never completely capture what schools do or what their students accomplish. The counterproductive outcomes for instruction of mindlessly adopting simple performance measures, such as averages of student achievement test scores, have been well documented.10 Though less discussed, even student grading mechanisms can work against student success. The assumption behind grading schemes that students are to be ranked against each other and that their accomplishments can be captured in a single letter or number can trivialize the educational strivings of individual students and undermine their motivation and self-esteem, activating the Pygmalion principle rather than supporting learning.

Yet reporting vehicles serve an important accountability function by giving information to parents and policymakers about school practices and student progress. The press for such information is increasing and cannot be avoided. Professional practice schools must be at the forefront of efforts to devise educationally productive means for reporting what they and their students do. Untangling this knotty problem is well beyond the scope of this article, but I can point to a few promising directions.

Recent emphasis in a few school restructuring efforts on “high-fidelity” representations of student accomplishments—demonstrations, exhibitions, and projects, for example—seeks more valid and less artificial tools for educational assessment. Narrative reports of student progress accompanied by cumulative portfolios can better represent what a student has learned than a letter grade. Such forms also better represent what the teacher and school have sought to accomplish by depicting the form of instruction as well. Much can be learned from the assessment systems of other countries, which stress these kinds of representations of learning as a means for both reporting outcomes and supporting meaningful and useful education.11

Ultimately, though, to satisfy the press for public accountability, entirely new means of reporting the aggregate accomplishments of students in a school will need to be developed. This puzzle is one that professional development schools will undoubtedly encounter before they, or the profession, have developed a complete answer to it.


Professional accountability seeks to support practices that are client-oriented and knowledge-based. It starts from the premise that parents, when they are compelled to send their children to a public school, have a right to expect that they will be under the care of competent people who are committed to using the best knowledge available to meet the individual needs of those children. This is a different form of accountability than that promised by legal and bureaucratic mechanisms, which assure that when goals have been established, rules will be promulgated and enforced.

Professional accountability assumes that, since teaching work is too complex to be hierarchically prescribed and controlled, it must be structured so that practitioners can-make responsible decisions, both individually and collectively. Accountability is provided by rigorous training and careful selection, serious and sustained internships for beginners, meaningful evaluation, opportunities for professional learning, and ongoing review of practice. By such means, professionals learn from each other, norms are established and transmitted, problems are exposed and tackled, parents’ concerns are heard, and students’ needs are better met.

In such a system, parents can expect that no teacher will be hired who has not had adequate training in how to teach, no teacher will be permitted to practice without supervision until he or she has mastered the professional knowledge base and its application, no teacher will be granted tenure who has not fully demonstrated his or her competence, and no decision about students will be made without adequate knowledge of good practice in light of students needs. Establishing professional norms of operation, by the vehicles outlined above, creates as well a basis for parent input and standards and methods for redress of unsuitable practice that do not exist in a bureaucratic system of school administration.

This work is not easy, and will not be accomplished quickly. As Clark and Meloy have noted:

We counsel patience in the development of and experimentation with new organizational forms. We have been patient and forgiving of our extant form. Remember that new forms will also be ideal forms. Do not press them immediately to their point of absurdity. Bureaucracy as an ideal form became tempered by adjectival distinctions—bounded, contingent, situational. New forms need to be granted the same exceptions as they are proposed and tested. No one seriously imagines a utopian alternative to bureaucracy. But realistic alternatives can be formed that consistently trade off control for freedom, the organization for the individual. And they can be built upon the principle of the consent of the governed.12

This, in sum, is the challenge that faces professional development schools.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 91 Number 1, 1989, p. 59-80
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 414, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 1:56:17 AM

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