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Krash Course #9: Accountability: A Quiz

Professional autonomy is a prerequisite to professional accountability.

Ohanian Comment: Yes!

by P. L. Thomas

Comments posted on my recent piece at The Answer Sheet, What teachers don't need (but are getting anyway), include a typical refrain best challenged by this posting from jdman2:

"Doesn't it seem strange that the issue always degenerates into the question of 'accountability' when those that do the questioning will never be held accountable if their --opinion-- is proved wrong?"

In fact, another posting, from WashingtonDame, directly accused me of calling for no teacher accountability:

"In other words, 'I don't need to be accountable to anybody, including the parents of my children, the principal of my schools, or the taxpayers who fund my salary.'

"Sorry, that's just not acceptable."

So let's apply the system now in favor with the "no excuses" reformers and test our way out of this mess.

Answer the following questions on accountability:

(1) A bridge is constructed on a new interstate by-pass. Two months after the bridge is completed, it collapses. Who should be held accountable for this failure?

(a) engineers and architects who designed the bridge
(b) construction workers who build the bridge
(c) suppliers of the materials for constructing the bridge
(d) motorists for driving on the bridge

(2) A patient visits the doctor with an illness. The doctor examines the patient, reaches a diagnosis, and prescribes the patient medication. The patient does not improve, and dies. Who should be held accountable for this death?

(a) the doctor
(b) the patient
(c) the pharmaceutical company producing the medication
(d) the AMA

How did you do?

What if I told you that in Question 1, the construction workers and materials suppliers fulfilled their roles properly, but the plans for the bridge were terribly flawed? Now, what if the plans were perfect, but the construction workers cut corners and ignored key aspects of the plans? Or what if the suppliers provided faulty materials?

What if I told you in Question 2, that the doctor performed the wrong diagnostic tests, or misread the proper tests? Now, what if I tell you that the doctor diagnosed the condition and prescribed the medicines exactly as needed, but the patient didn't take the medications properly? Or what if the doctor discovered an incurable genetic disease that no diagnosis or medications could have cured? Or what if the makers of the drug misled the doctors and patients, or produced a medicine after being provided faulty ingredients?

Let's consider the complexity of accountability, then, in regards to teachers and their students. Teachers are not asking for no accountability, but are asking not to be held accountable for situations beyond their control.

If you take away my professional autonomy and hold me accountable for doing your bidding, the outcomes are your fault, not mine.

Professional autonomy is a prerequisite to professional accountability.

— P. L. thomas
Schools Matter blog





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