Researchers and practitioners all seem to agree that teachers are the most important factor within a school. And many have taken that another step and asserted that teacher quality is almost the only thing that matters. I've pushed back by pointing out that lots of things affect a teacher's performance other than a person's talent or moral character.
But here's what blows my mind. Across the country, people seem to argue that teachers need to put up or shut up -- and that if a school fails it must be a result of poor teaching. And, yet, all across the country, teachers are told to do things the way the principal, superintendent, board of ed, or whomever wants them done. The last decade has seen the proliferation of scripted curricula ("teacher-proofing" they call it) and increasing micromanagement in urban schools (ask an NYC teacher if they have their "word wall" up or if their bulletin board properly displays student work). If teachers bear all the responsibility for student success, why are they given so little responsibility for what and how students learn?
Think about it: if a teacher's not given any responsibility for how and what their students learn, then how can we hold them responsible for how and what students learn? It's accountability without autonomy, responsibility with no actual responsibility.
When NYC started their principal accountability program, it was in the context of an "autonomy zone". Principals signed contracts that basically said they would be fired if student achievement didn't improve in 5 years. And, in return, principals had far more say over how their school was run and how professional development funds were spent.
Teachers, on other hand, aren't really offered the same deal. They're essentially being told that they will be held responsible for what happens in their classroom (which isn't entirely unfair) -- but also that they will run their classroom a certain way . . . or else.
If we don't trust teachers to do what's in the best interest of students, then maybe they're not the ones we should be pointing fingers at when students don't learn. If a teacher follows a scripted curriculum and students don't learn, maybe we should point our fingers at the curriculum writers. If a teacher follows the checklist the district passes down and students don't learn, maybe we should point our fingers at the district personnel. If a teacher does everything their principal demands of them and students don't learn, maybe we should point our fingers at the principal.
If we think a teacher's primary responsibility should be to stick to the curriculum, decorate their rooms the way the superintendent says to, and follow the instructions of their principal, then, by all means, we should evaluate them on these things and hold them accountable when they fail to do them. But if, instead, we think a teacher's primary responsibility is to ensure that students learn, maybe we should think about letting them determine what and how students learn before holding them accountable for this.