Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Price of Educational Accountability

In a recent dialogue a colleague asked to share my perspective of how academic success can be measured other than through a lens of economic success. I had referenced Arne Duncan’s November 1st “Ed.gov” post reacting to the recent NAEP reading and mathematics “National Report Card” results in which he stated that “enhancing education for all is the key to our nation’s economic prosperity” (http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/statement-us-secretary-education-arne-duncan-naep-reading-and-math-2011-results). At first I had a knee-jerk reaction as academic success was perceived as contributing to the “nation’s economic prosperity.” What happened to the importance of self? When did success change from individual to national need?
After I graduated from college, I decided to pursue a law degree. My heart wasn’t in this aspiration. I was an actress and loved to entertain. The legal thing was something I was supposed to do so that I could establish accountability that would translate to economic success. To support my thespian habit, I worked as a waitress. A University of Chicago chemistry doctoral student, who was a regular at the establishment in which I worked, volunteered to help me study for the LSAT. He was from India and was funded by his government to complete his education and return to his country. One night I asked him what he wanted to do with his education. He replied that he wanted to stay in America and own a liquor store. I never took the LSAT. At that moment I realized that becoming a lawyer was not me. The “American dream” was not a part of what defined my success because self-satisfaction and individual happiness was nonexistent.
Educational accountability has somehow become directly equated with not only educational success but also with national economic success. There is no longer anything that resembles the educational pursuit of a personal dream in the concept of the American dream and students have no understanding of why they are deemed successes or failures. Education is a competition of test scores with bubbled answers devoid of inspiration. Students are marked as failures for burst bubbles of empty learning.
Assessments that measure personal understanding must be part of the educational process. Assessments must include achievement that is meaningful to the individual. When students and parents can take pride in achievement, success has been measured, not by statistically processed data, but by individual accomplishment.

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