Accountability and Teachers

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Accountability and teachers


Mark Dynarski writes an article [1]which asks: Why is accountability always about teachers? He starts by saying that the focus of reform has been on teachers; reformers provide professional development, incentives, and probably punishments, all in an effort to improve student performance through teachers.

Some parents, particularly the ones who live in poor communities, often live in circumstances which are not conducive to the best educational habits; in moneyed communities, education might get much greater attention. Some, not many, of the parents who are poor, manage to strive and get an education for their children. Far too many of the poorer mothers may be babies themselves, lacking both the knowledge to properly access public help and certainly the education to push and guide their children. Their communities may also not be supportive of education; if you remember in his book Ben Carson said that other people around them were derisive of his mother and her ambitions for her children. The liaisons of these mothers may themselves contribute pain and distractions to the mother. Additionally the jobs the low income parents have may just barely permit getting by, leaving them with bills which put education on the rear burner and little money for books, even if they had reading tendency.

The people in the super zips or the zips which have some money may give education priority consideration. A look at Chua story, ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,’ allows us to see a mother and father whose consciousness and finances made it possible to keep the children occupied with pursuits which facilitated the development of mind and intellect of their children. Even if their children would have fallen short of their goals they would hit a spot far above that of others from the poor community.

As someone reminded me there are those people in poor communities who do push and succeed to get their children to perform well in school. Too many though, seem to believe they have taken care of their responsibilities by sending the child to school; their attitudes are very many light years away from the dedication of Mrs. Chua who seem to have considered all possible means of attending to her children’s minds. One parent did not know his child was failing until the child was given an ultimatum; bring your parent to school or else.  Had he been up on it he would have known.

For anyone to simply think that beating up teachers will achieve serious improvement in students’ performance is to dodge serious thinking. A document titled ‘Hard Work and High Expectations,’ captures the essence of the problem and offers solutions which are fundamental to the achievement we all wish for. Says this document:

‘One conclusion cannot be overemphasized: unless the untapped power of student effort and engagement is activated and harnessed to learning, we are unlikely to realize the benefits to achievement that the new reforms aim to make possible.’ [2]

Parents of the type of Ms. Chua do their part and put great effort into it, starting when the child is young, building habits which contribute to learning. This illustrates how parent and teacher can produce success.

Mrs. Chua herself admits that at times it is daunting, but she keeps on going; her goals always in front of her. But her book gives us moments of pain, and the magnitude of what is involved in getting children through school.

‘It’s not easy to make your kids work when they don’t want to, to put in grueling hours when your own youth is slipping away, to convince your kids they can do something when they (and maybe even you) are fearful that they can’t.’  [3]


She admits it takes its toll. This is a problem which will confront all parents, in particular single parents. But parenting will ask for sacrifices and there is no avoiding it, or the child will pay. And blaming teachers is a poor attempt to avoid what is difficult; speaking with parents.

Strong parental support plays a huge role in the student’s academic success. In his book ‘Our Kids,’ Putnam speaks of Desmond, a young black young student. From very early his parents were guiding him. According to Putnam Desmond’s mother:

‘Simone also was an active volunteer in her kids’ schools: she started he PTA at Desmond’s kindergarten and became the PTO president of his elementary school.’ [4]

That is the kind of interest which makes the mother a strong influence in her son’s life. Desmond’s school life was successful.

Mrs. Chua, started out from early, building a work ethic by having her daughters carry heavy loads. She did not let it go; making every effort to keep her children’s minds focused on learning. Our opinions on Ms. Chua might vary but we would have to admit that any parent who had made similar efforts would have contributed much to her child’s future.

Hoping that teachers can produce meaningful change with student performance while the parental input is lacking will always fall short, because what teachers can do is limited.

In poor communities there has to be an effort to bring parents into the influence of the school and its goals. There are many ways to do this; class plays, seminars for parenting, offering computer classes for adults in the community; but bring them in with the aim of helping them to keep their child’s education upper most in their minds.  It would have to be an ongoing process. But so much power resides with the parent that to burden teachers with getting students to pass tests seem like moral cowardice if we blatantly disregard the responsibility of the parents and the power of their influence.


Some of these parents have come to accept their state in life as destiny. They have given up hope, although they may not state it like that. Addressing the real problems might not be easy but it has much better chances of helping many poor people to live richer and fuller lives.

If teachers are overworked, and they are, they will have little energy left to visit with parents who desperately need them or to spend time at school activities which involve parents. Teachers’ load need to be lightened and the number of children in their classes lessened.


[2] Hard Work and High Expectations, preface, Ms. Ravitch, Tomlinson et al. 1990

[3] Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua  p 148

[4] Our Kids, Putnam p 88

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