Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Accountability/Students

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How should students be held accountable?

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[edit]

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?[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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).

Grades Online[edit]

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 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. 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[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

The phrase “in loco parentis” means:
A. The parent is always right.
B. In the place of the parent.
C. In the place of a crazy parent.
D. The parent has rights.

B. In the place of the parent.

Conte would say that schools take the place of the parent because communities and society:
A. Are inept.
B. Are corrupt.
C. Are unconstitutional.
D. Can’t or won’t.

D. Can’t or won’t.

Conte would say that teachers who would respond as a parent believe that:
A. Cheating is their only main concern.
B. Stealing is the least of these evils.
C. Using profanity is worse than cheating.
D. Bullying is not dangerous.

B. Stealing is the least of these evils.

In her class, Nunley is LEAST likely to:
A. Choose a selection of vocabulary words.
B. Award homework points based on a sample of work.
C. Give copious handouts.
D. Let students decide what will be their quiz questions.

C. Give copious handouts.

Middle school students surveyed by Nixon would conclude:
A. They don’t like parents getting involved in their education.
B. They like being checked up on by their parents.
C. They like helping their parents.
D. Their parents are lame.

C. They like helping their parents.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

You have been assigned as project leader in an urban school district with high numbers of disenfranchised and disaffected students. Your team’s job is to increase the retention rate of those students. How would you go about holding those students accountable for their academic success?

If I was given such a task, the first think I would do would be to gather around me a highly qualified and passionate team of teachers, parents and students from a wide range of SES households. .They would be able to provide a perspective on the problems that certain students face that I alone would not.

One of the areas we would pursue would be academic rigor. My team would work together to make students stakeholders in making our programs tougher and oriented toward knowledge as well as skill acquisition. We would get students involved in determining what they would learn, then with the teaching of this material, and then again draw them into grading their peers’ work. This would serve to enhance their ownership of their own educations by giving them a say on how it is given to them.

Our teachers would be given extra time to teach the units they must cover in their grade level to make sure students understand the information before they are tested on it. Teachers will also work with students to make sure they understand the high expectations that are placed on them. Teachers will work across their disciplines to help students make connections between their previous learning experiences, the content, and the assigned classwork.

Our classrooms will be collaborative spaces that are the foundations of a positive relationship between the all students, teachers and learning. We will focus on differentiation to make sure that tasks are appropriately matched to students’ skills and abilities. This means carefully assessing students’ understandings to have a clear idea of students’ strengths and weaknesses. Teachers will also provide timely feedback on student progress.


  • 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. Retrieved 21 September 2007 from
  • Nixon, M. (2002). How the Web keeps parents 'in the know'.” T.H.E. Journal, 9, 9, 58-60.