Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Accountability/Students
The sight is a common one in classrooms around the country and the world: Students lolling about while their classmates work to complete an assignment given to them by their teachers. They sit on the periphery, in the corners, heads down, hesitant to participate in discussions or classwork. When class ends, they file out into the hallway and onto buses or into friends’ cars. They arrive home to find themselves, at best, alone; at worst, their parents beat them mercilessly and repeatedly until they bleed uncontrollably. Their nights are spent in front of the TV, channeling the satellite dish or Xbox, or masturbating to internet pornography. The students begin to miss work because they are able to and soon they find themselves falling behind the rest of the class. Teachers call their houses and find parents not home, numbers not in service, no forwarding addresses. Through this series of events, neither the parents nor the child are accountable for the child’s academic progress.
So how, then, can the school or the educational system at large expect them to be?
In Loco Parentis
Indeed, there seems to be no end in sight for the doctrine of in loco parentis, “in the place of the parent,” a concept borrowed from 18th-Century England to describe the responsibility of teachers and schools to act in children’s best interests when children are in class. Through the doctrine was first applied domestically to American teachers who advocated corporal punishment for students, the doctrine has gradually expanded to a significantly more challenging context Now, schools act in ways once reserved for the home and the community “because other elements of society…seem to be unable or unwilling to continue their historic roles”(Conte, 2000, p. 195).
Teachers and administrators are just as often the caretakers of students’ psyches as educators of their minds at large. And according to Conte, this does not make teachers entirely uneasy. They see it as a necessary extension of their duties that help promote student trust and accountability.
How Far Are Teachers Willing to Go?
A sample of in-service teachers in New Jersey were asked about activities that may occur in a school setting that they believe require responding as would a parent to:
- Stealing (81.7%)
- Cheating (90%)
- Bullying (88.3%)
- Profanity (90%)
Another question probed whether they would feel comfortable responding as would a parent by utilizing:
- Corporal punishment: 73.3%
- Detention: 70%
- Removal of privileges: 88.3%
Eighty-three percent of teachers said they would be willing to talk to students about relationships; 36.7% said they could discuss sexual behavior; and 83% said they would talk to students about problems at home (Conte, 2000, p. 195).
Raising Academic Rigor
Kathie F. Nunley, an educational psychologist, author, researcher and speaker living in southern New Hampshire, suggests that raising academic rigor in regard to actual learning is the key to making students accountable by ensuring they learn. Teachers could always have students complete yet another worksheet, which they could easily do with the right people at lunch, or by filling out paperwork while watching television at home.
“Daily quizzes, either oral or written, are easily administered,” Nunley (2004) writes. “Choose one question at random from the assignment and give a grade based on that assessment. Choose two of their ten vocabulary words and award points on the two words. Write sample math problems on index cards, have the students draw a card, complete the problem and award homework points based on that sample of work.
“In the beginning, students may be shocked, even angry at the change in strategy. But stick to your policy, explain the reason, and eventually your students will actually come to appreciate the fact that you care enough about them to value the time they've spent on learning” (Nunley, 2004).
The Five Components of an Effective Accountability System
Likewise, researchers Carolyn Evertson and Inge Poole of Vanderbilt University’s IRIS Center for Faculty Enhancement point to several paths teachers can take to keep their students’ attention and keep students actively involved in their education. Those teachers must develop and implement strategies that help students complete classwork.
They identified five components of an effective accountability system:
Providing content instruction: Assuring that all students understand and can apply the content associated with classwork means students make helpful connections between their previous learning experiences, the content, and the assigned classwork.
Creating supportive settings: Establishing a classroom environment that supports students’ academic efforts requires building a positive and productive tone that is structured to encourage student effort and is inclusive of each student’s cultural traditions and understandings.
Modeling desired outcomes: Providing a model of both the process and the completed classwork sought from students means that the students have access to tangible examples of the teacher’s expectations.
Assigning appropriate tasks: Assuring that tasks are appropriately matched to students’ skills and abilities means carefully assessing students’ understandings to have a clear idea of students’ strengths and weaknesses.
Offering timely feedback: Knowledge of the results is a powerful motivator for students. To keep students engaged and focused on their classwork they should receive feedback both in progress and at completion (Evertson & Poole, 2007).
Attending to Attendance
Making students accountable for school success also means making sure they are in school. Officials in Thomasville, Ga., found a way to increase student attendance by giving them the responsibility of keeping attendance records. When the task of keeping attendance records at Thomasville’s Central High School became too much for administration and teachers, a teacher-student panel recommended the measure, which was approved by district leaders. Five absences mean the failure in a course for a quarter and students can appeal to a panel of teachers, administrators and students if there are extenuating circumstances for the absences. The school also notifies students as they approach their fifth absence. The result: the average daily attendance during the program’s first year has increased six percent (Childs, 1979).
Parents who are disconnected from their students’ success because of work have turned to the internet as one of the best ways to engage in their child's educational progress. Many schools today offer online gradebooks as a way for parents to obtain a virtual seat in their child’s classroom. These books also have proven popular with teachers because they can be easily backed up and because they offer computerized formulae for calculating grades precisely.
Sites like Esembler and mygradebook.com give parents and students the ability to login to a teacher's gradebook to check performance, attendance, upcoming assignments, as well as communicate with teachers. ThinkWave.com offers teachers a customized handout to send along to parents with password information, which allows them access to the teacher's gradebook from home or the office (Nixon, 2002, p. 58).
All this involvement sits surprisingly well with students. Seventy-five percent of middle school students say they would like their parents to be more involved in school activities. In the age of tech-savvy kids, encouraging them to get their parents online can be a major source of motivation. They may be excited to teach their parents how to navigate the sites and parents will be encouraged by their child's interest in school (Nixon, 2002, p. 58).
These are only a few of the methods schools are using to enhance student accountability for their educations. As long as students continue to fall through the cracks – or find ways to crawl through them – in modern schools, officials will continue to seek new ways of helping them be responsible.
Multiple Choice Questions
Click to reveal the answer.
Click to reveal a sample response.
- Childs, M.L. (1979). Making Students Accountable for Absences. NASSP Bulletin, 63, 119.
- Conte, A. E. (2000). In Loco Parentis: Alive and Well. Education, 121, 195-200.
- Evertson, C. & Poole, I. Accountability for Classroom Work. Vanderbilt University IRIS Center for Faculty Enhancement.
- Nunley, K.F. (2004) Accountability: Required. Help4teachers.com. Retrieved 21 September 2007 from http://help4teachers.com/accountability.htm.
- Nixon, M. (2002). How the Web keeps parents 'in the know'.” T.H.E. Journal, 9, 9, 58-60.