Accountability on the Student Side

Here’s a distressing trend for college teachers to face.  According to The American Freshman Survey, the percentage of high-school seniors who study six or more hours per week has dropped significantly in the last 20 years.  In the late-80s, the rate stood in the upper 40-percent range.  By late-00s, we had fallen to the low 30-percent range.  At the same time, the percentage of seniors who expected to earn at least a B average in college jumped from the low 40s to the low 60s. (See PowerPoint slides near the end of this list.)

The noncorrelation between effort and expectation may be due not only to grade inflation, but to an unfortunate implication of the current forms of accountability in secondary schooling.  Will Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review, makes the point here.  He has two summary quotations in the piece that pinpoint the problem:

One is from Paul Zoch, a teacher in Texas who says: “Let there be no doubt about it: The United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.”

The other is from Diane Ravitch, who writes: “One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance.  NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

Exactly, Fitzhigh agrees.  To implement an accountability system that doesn’t include students and families in the field is to ignore two crucial determinants of achievement.  It is also to burden teachers and schools with implanting motivations and behaviors that derive from out-of-school conditions.  Teachers can assign rigorous homework exercises, they can encourage students to work hard, and they can design strong curricula, but they can’t sit in every student’s room at night to make them do the work.

Some charter schools, such as KIPP programs, do involve parents in the workload, and they ask parents to agree formally to maintain school standards at home.  But public schools can’t do that, even as they are pressured to earn Adequate Yearly Progress, and the consequences of failure fall entirely upon themselves, not upon the students and their parents.

The situation may even filter down to students themselves, who sense the set-up and follow it by shifting responsibility for their learning over to the teacher and school as well.  And they may carry that “It’s your duty not mine” assumption directly to college as well.

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