When the education reform movement in Indiana first started to pick up steam, everyone involved in it from the field marshals to the foot soldiers used the same buzz word.
The education reform warriors said schools and student performances weren’t going to improve until educators – particularly teachers – took responsibility for outcomes in the classroom. The key, they said, was creating mechanisms that make educators “own” what happens, good, bad or indifferent, in our schools.
And all of this needed to be measured through testing.
When teachers, in particular, argued that education was a complex process that didn’t lend itself to simple solutions, they were told they were making excuses. When educators said many factors outside a teacher’s control – poverty, family dysfunction, other childhood traumas – could affect students’ performances in the classroom, they were told they were justifying failure.
If the students weren’t performing, it was the teacher’s fault.
Educators needed to be held accountable.
Flash forward a few years to now.
Indiana now faces a teacher shortage. Applications for teaching licenses are way down and many school districts now say they’re having trouble finding qualified teachers to fill their classrooms.
Many Indiana teachers say there’s a reason for the shortage. They argue that many of the changes education reformers – and their allies in the Indiana General Assembly and in Gov. Mike Pence’s office – pushed through have chased teachers out of the profession and discouraged many young people from even considering teaching.
In other words, the education reformers are to blame for the teacher shortage.
And the education reformers should be held accountable.
Here’s where things have become interesting.
The members of the education reform crowd – and their amen corner in Indiana media circles – have rejected the charge that they are in any way responsible for the teacher shortage in Indiana. They want to do everything but “own” this problem.
The education reformers say the teacher drought is a complex problem that doesn’t lend itself to simple solutions. They also argue that the number of teachers applying for work in the classroom is subject to many forces – a rising economy, swelling employment numbers, increased demand for educated labor in other fields, etc. – that are beyond the control of any legislator, governor or education reform advocate.
Somehow, though, the members of the education reform crowd don’t see these as rationales as excuses or justifications for failure.
No, they want to exempt themselves from the standards of accountability they want to apply to others.
And they don’t even realize they are mouthing arguments that they have rejected – again and again and again – from others.
That’s a human impulse. Many of us find it less difficult to speak to standards of conduct and responsibility than we find it to live and work in accordance with those standards. It’s just easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk.
Human or otherwise, though, this is a missed opportunity.
Accountability in education is important. And it’s important across the board.
The members of the education reform crowd – from the governor on down to the advocates for charters and vouchers – have a chance to model accountability. They could “own” some of this problem and acknowledge that their efforts produced at least part of this teacher shortage – which is a national problem, but which also is more severe in Indiana than it is in states in which the education reform efforts haven’t been active.
They have the opportunity to show they really are committed to accountability. They can show they’re willing to walk the walk.
Why should they do this?
Well, my grandfather, a teacher and principal for more than 50 years, once told me:
“Whenever you get a chance to practice what you preach, you should take it. It makes the preaching the next time a lot easier and more effective.”
Grandpa was a smart man.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.