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Educating for Democracy: Is 'Accountability' Only for Teachers?

The latest NYC school scandal doesn't involve test scores or arbitrary school closings, but something more relevant to the way in which schools are being run: the bottom line. In this case the bottom line was allegedly fudged by a technology official -- Willard Lanham -- who is accused of defrauding the Department of Education of $3.6 million with fraudulent billing of services. This happened over a period of six years and, according to a New York Times report , with the collusion of such "reputable" firms as Verizon and IBM.

According to the Times:

"The investigation revealed another embarrassing lack of supervision in one of the city's technology projects just four months after federal authorities charged seven people in what they called an $80 million scheme to steal from CityTime, an automated payroll system that ballooned to cost more that $700 million, nearly ten times over budget."

At a time in which teachers often have to buy their own school supplies out of pocket and principals who are now operating as business managers are tempted to find veteran teachers with higher salaries as "unsatisfactory" in order to balance their own budgets by hiring inexperienced teachers at lower salaries, it's disheartening to realize that millions of dollars that could have been spent on schools have been "unaccountably" lost or stolen by the very people entrusted to save the city money.

While in the name of "accountability" standardized tests have been used to determine which teachers are supposedly not doing their jobs effectively, high-paid officials on the Mayor's watch seem to have been "unaccountable" for years. But if accountability is to have any meaning in the educational system, it should be applied to all employees, not just teachers. Without strict oversight, it seems, the temptation to engage in criminal behavior is too great for some of those hired by the mayor to act in the public interest.

On the other hand, teachers, who rarely if ever succumb to the same temptation by allowing students to "buy" good grades are being increasingly micro-managed to "produce education" as if it could be literally measured in economic terms. As long as the "business model" mentality of running the educational system is permitted to dominate school governance, and "profit" in the form of charter school entrepreneurs and shady contractual agreements become the norm, the value of learning for its own sake will become an obsolete concept and those attracted to the "education business" will cease to be teachers: they will become "knowledge entrepreneurs."

Only the lucky fraction of students whose schools, public and private, can ignore this malevolent, anti-learning mentality will be given the kind of education that all young learners should have the opportunity to enjoy: one that brings enlightenment, not the encroaching darkness of what has become the "Three MMS" of educational "reform": Mindless Market Mentality.

Children need to be given the motivation to want to learn through inspired teachers: those for whom money is not the major objective for their joining the profession. The idea that offering cash to teachers as if they were used car salesmen trying to increase the volume of sales will "improve" learning is as bizarre a concept to the teaching profession as training a fish to ride a bicycle in order for it to swim faster. And to allow those entrusted with millions of dollars of school funds free reign for years while making teachers "accountable" for their students' learning through micro-management reveals the incompetence of those officials who have no idea what teaching is really about but still have the power to control the way it is taught.

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Joel Shatzky

Joel Shatzky is an early-retired English Professor who taught writing and drama at SUNY-Cortland (1968-2005) and is presently teaching English and writing at King...