Shared Accountability and Teacher Retention

Over the past several decades, educational accountability in the United States has been based on a test-and-punish approach where teachers and schools are valued, in large part, on student standardized assessment performance. The OECD refers to this practice as “vertical accountability,” where student performance each group is only accountable to those above them, and teachers, schools, and districts are rewarded or punished based on test scores. The OECD, however, suggests that to attract and retain high performers into teaching, the U.S. needs to shift to a system of more horizontal (or professional) accountability, where teachers are held accountable to their fellow teachers and principals as well as to parents. This type of system allows teachers to feel more ownership of their jobs and to be treated as professionals, which is critical to their (and their students’) success. Top-performing countries such as Japan and Finland place a great emphasis on this professional accountability, and teachers have time to collaborate, observe each other, and work together to improve their practice.¹

In its review of schools across the world, the OECD also suggests that schools and districts are increasingly more effective when leadership is distributed among various individuals or groups rather than when it comes from the top down. School leadership teams can play a vital role in school development, and having a more dispersed or shared leadership system can help to improve overall instructional practice. Research supports the idea that distributed leadership can improve school outcomes. This will look different based on the circumstances of each school or district, but can mean reexamining roles for teachers, leadership teams, principals, and school boards and cover responsibilities such as human resources, curriculum, and student policies.²

Top-down accountability comes from a business approach to running schools, with quick results that give schools data of how students are performing. Hargreaves and Fullan suggest that focusing more on professional capital will provide a greater influence on school improvement and student outcomes. Professional capital assumes that teaching is difficult and requires technical knowledge, practice, and continuous improvement. A focus on social capital can look different in different places, but all show a shift in accountability. For instance, in Finland, curriculum is developed locally to allow the teachers and leaders in schools to determine the needs for their students. In Singapore and Japan, teachers have the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with each other on an ongoing basis.³