Dr. Michael R. Ford, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, has a posted new article looking at how school board members in Wisconsin view accountability. He outlines the results of a survey of board members being asked how they define accountability. How the question was answered did not mean as much as members of the same school board showing agreement in their answers:
This is where things got interesting. We looked deeper at our data to determine whether a majority of board members serving together defined accountability in the same way. After controlling for student and district characteristics we found a statistically significant relationship between board member agreement on accountability definitions and district performance. In other words, when board members have a common approach to accountability, regardless of the approach, outcomes improve. How much? Districts whose boards agreed on a definition have accountability scores that are 2.5 points higher than those that did not. While not a massive difference, it demonstrates that something as simple as working towards a common understanding of accountability can enable boards to have a real positive impact on student achievement.
The lesson for policymakers is that accountability, despite the reality of competing approaches and preferences, can be an actionable concept that positively impacts academic achievement. However, the answer is not finding the perfect universally agreed upon approach. Both history and our research indicate that such an approach does not exist. The answer is school boards. They are the local officials who can find, and hopefully coalesce around, an impactful approach to accountability that works for their district.