Archive for the 'Accountability' Category

Nobel Winner, Elinor Ostrom, Offers Hope for Responsive Schools


Responsive Schools Key to Good Society: Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Winner

Can citizens effectively and efficiently manage their own affairs?  Their own schools? Can self-governance work in education? YES, there is this hope for schools — provided there is limited central state interference and provided powerful special self-interest insiders don’t dominate.

That is the message Elinor Ostrom, a co-winner in this year’s Nobel Economics prize, passes on to help empower people at local levels to 1) challenge outsiders and self-interests, and 2) confidently evolve the procedures, rules, and oversight which serve their interests.  She cautions against any one-size-fits-all model. Local people, local governance.

She and others of her school of thought challenge the usual dichotomy in seeking solutions – state or market.  Should there be state finance, control and provision of services and resource management OR should the markets prevail?  There is a third way – shared ownership.

While Ostrom’s work has usually dealt with user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, she has also been embraced by development workers, especially in third world countries.  Her general principles apply to any area where citizens manage their own projects — without the heavy fist of the state or the invisible hand of the market.

Ostrom distinguishes the three methods of provision:  public, private, and civil. She sees more citizens becoming involved in policy analysis and application if they are to avoid becoming “the objects of an authoritarian regime” or exploited for profit.

Self-governing, adaptive organizations follow these principles:

1.  Balance power at many levels within the structure (checks and balances)
2.  Monitor performances and hold designated persons accountable
3.  Accept conflict as healthy, indicating need for mediation or more problem-solving
4.  Empower citizens and communities with enforceable rights to check abuses of authority

Regarding the education field she comments that simplistic solutions can go “amok”.  Amazing word to be used by an academic — "berserk, demoniacal, possessed, insane, characteristic of mental derangement” (Wikipedia)! 

After studying 70 years of school district consolidations in the name of efficiency and equity she found that these “top-down, command-and-control solutions” did not result in better achievement or lower per-pupil spending.  She concludes that “policy makers are reconsidering the consequences of past reforms and recommending charter schools, voucher systems, and other reforms to create more responsive schools.”

In other words, she concludes, “state control has usually proved to be less effective and efficient than control by those directly affected” and sometimes even “disastrous in its consequences.”

What applies to common-pool forests and fish-stocks applies to people services as well.  That is why school-based management, independent schools, charter schools, parent participation preschool cooperatives, etc. work so well.  Unfortunately, today, they are often resisted and blocked by powerful self-interests. 

Fortunately, however, we now have a more prominently revealed social science to help those who seek shared ownership solutions to social services. Change activists in education could gain a lot of tips from studying the works of Elinor Ostrom.   (See: “Policy Analysis in the Future of Good Societies” by Elinor Ostrom)


BC Education System Creaking, Cracking, Croaking!


I just published in a local blog the following comment on mismanagement and "accounting errors" in Langley School District.  I infer from my comments that this may not be the only jurisdiction with major bookkeeping and reporting flaws. I am calling for a full-scale forensic accounting examination of the accounts, reporting and due diligence of the school board.

BC Education System is Creaking and Cracking and Croaking.

(by Tunya Audain, comment published 090911, in The Report Card blog by Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun education reporter on topic: “Education Minister and quote of the month” 090910)

Look at the Langley school district fiasco — a $4.8 million deficit suddenly balloons into $8.3 million due to “accounting errors”.    That $35,000 paid by the School Board for a financial “review” is peanuts compared to what a proper forensic accounting examination would cost.  But, it would be worth it.  It would ferret out, item by item, digit by digit, the cause and effect of the problem revealed by the shocking and stunning disclosures this week.  It’s not as if there weren’t warnings and red flags all over the place.  They were there, but were snubbed and dismissed.

A proper forensic accounting report, I think, should be properly and appropriately ordered and financed by the Provincial Government.  It would:

–   Catch what the board’s auditor and external review failed to catch
–    Provide an accurate account of assets and liabilities
–    Discover if there has been deception, cover-up, fraud
–    Determine if proper accounting procedures were followed
–    Establish if there was proper reporting and administrative response
–    Check if the board of trustees were well-informed in a timely manner for decision-making and oversight
–    Examine if proper accountability procedures were in place and followed
–    Determine if the law has been broken
–    Provide evidence for future litigation if supporting data is revealed
–    Comment on whether a “blind eye” was turned on complaints and alerts by members of the public
–    Further the public interest  
–    Clarify the language used in reporting to the public and media, eg, what constitutes “cost pressures”

Whether small or large corruptions are found, or none at all, mistakes have certainly been made and incompetence has been acknowledged. It’s not just “underfunding” that’s brought on this state of affairs.

A recent research paper, entitled: Corruption and Educational Outcomes: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back by Francis Huang

says :  “…corruption has the potential of holding back or sabotaging a country’s education progress – much like taking two steps forward and one step back…turning a blind eye to it does not make it go away but actually encourages it. Eliminating corruption involves a culture change and a shift in mind-set along with the implementation of accountability systems and processes.” 

Huang further elaborates that it’s no surprise that corruption might occur in education systems world-wide (she studied 50 countries) because “education is the largest or second-largest budget item in most countries and opportunities for corrupt practices are numerous.”

Given that last observation, shouldn’t the whole Ministry of Education and all boards have forensic accounting reports done?  At $8,323 per child shouldn’t we want to know what percentage of that actually reaches the target?

Or are we funding a self-serving industry, serving selfish vested interests?  Only a credible, in-depth examination will tell us if the present model is effective and efficient or if we need to search for better models of education delivery.


Parent Rights a Top Priority for Education Responsiveness


How well parents exercise their rights determines what degree or quality of services they get in public schools.  It is quite different in independent or private schools as there the customers are usually treated as paying customers.  So, how can parents exercise their expectations and rights better, across the socio-economic spectrum?

People often think that by moving to an affluent district the schools are better.  And this is generally true, even though there are exceptions where schools in poorer areas achieve excellent scores. We can learn from this demographic skew and adopt some of the characteristics of parents in rich districts. It is not necessarily the money that makes the difference!

First:  High Expectations. They are used to good service, and can afford to shop around.  For doctors, for accountants, for cars, for groceries, whatever. If they make mistakes, the costs are not earth shattering.  Whether from their parents or from experience or both, they soon embody the ancient dictum:  Caveat Emptor, buyer beware.

Second:  Using Choices and Competition. They know how to handle shoddy goods and services.  They do not patronize them. They shop around.

Third:  Complaining is Effective.  They know how to get results, especially if public services are at issue. Whether roads, sewage, zoning or public health, complaints take many forms:  letters to the editor, using your elected officials for remedies, law suits, etc.

Fourth:  Knowledge of Rights is Inherent in their Bones.  They seem to know and expect what they have a right to, and as citizens and taxpayers, have a keen awareness of what to expect from public service providers.  Furthermore, they use information systems, including the Internet, to augment information on what to expect and what constitutes good practice.

So it is with public education.  Even though parent rights in education are not usually enshrined in legislation or printed in school handbooks, somehow parents from responsive school districts have a good sense of how to negotiate the system to benefit their children. 

If you seek more information on Parent Rights, Google will yield many references, especially for special needs.  However, we have an already compiled document which has been around since 1977 and still stands the test of time in empowering parents.  Whether you use it as a starting point for your own needs or as study material with other research and tools to develop new material, here it is:

Parent Rights and their Children's Education


Should anyone think my concerns of 30 yrs ago are stale or “old hat” see The Province (Vancouver, BC newspaper) of Tuesday, Nov 21, 2006 by Michael Smyth, regular columnist.

The story: “Teachers’ union fails test for accountability. Skills Assessment: Sabotaging annual class statistics hurts future education”

Every year, the Ministry of Education tests the abilities of kids in Grades 4 and 7 in the classic three r’s: reading, writing and arithmetic.
Although participation in the so-called Foundation Skills Assessment tests is voluntary and does not count toward final marks, about 90 per cent of eligible school kids take the test each year.
This year’s overall participation, however, was down about two per cent. Why? Very likely because of the boycott campaign against tests led by the B.C.Teachers Federation.
The teachers’ union urged parents to pull their kids out of the assessment tests, arguing the tests are “harmful” to kids by triggering “test anxiety” and damaging their sense of self-worth if they score poorly.
I find the union’s arguments absurd–as do most parents, according to groups such as the B.C.Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.
As the largest advocacy group for parents of kids in the B.C. school system, BCCPAC agrees with the ministry’s argument that the tests are a useful tool for measuring the fundamental skills that children require to succee at school. Not to mention life.
The test results are used to make improvement in the school system. Parents are also sent their kids’ test results, giving them a direct accounting of their children’s education progress.
The teachers’ union opposes all of it and has gone to extreme lengths to convince parents to pull their kids out of the tests and to hamper the ministry’s actual conducting of the tests themselves.
In addition to pressuring parents, the union has urged its members in the past to refuse to conduct the tests unless directly ordered to do so by a supervisor.
Teachers ordered to conduct the tests were told by the union to not put labels on the test booklets, to not match up multiple-choice response forms and to not put insert sheets in the booklets. They were also told to not have students sign their test papers and to refuse to mark the tests.
What an appalling lack of professionalalism from a union that was just given a generous new contract that included a 16-per-cent wage hike and a $4,000 signing bonus for teachers. Is this their thank-youy to parents who pay their wages and support these important tests?
I wonder how many kids get “test anxiety” because of the fuss the teachers created?
The participation rate in this year’s assessment tests whows how badly out of touch with parents the union has become a two-per-cent drop in participation, despite the BCTF boycott campaign, shows parents massively rejected the union’s pressure tactics.
Now the test results are in and they show a disturbing dip in students’ reading and writing skills. Just 73 per cent of Grade 7 students are meeting expectations in reading, a four-point drop over last year. (Grade 4 kids averaged 80 per cent, up one point.)
In writing, 90 per cent of Grade 4 students and 87 per cent of Grade 7 students are meeting or exceeding expections, both down three point from last year. Scores in math modestly improved this year in both grades.
The Ministry of Education will now take these numbers and try to make improvement. As they do so, they know which school districts, individual schools districts, individual schools and even individual classrooms are having trouble.
Is that the real reason the BCTF opposes these tests? At the end of the day, these results are about accountability for teachers as well as for students.
There are few things more important to our kids’ furure than making sure they can read, write, add and subtract. Rather than bad-mouth, boycott and sabotage these tests, the BCTF should carefully examine the results and commit themselves to doing better.

The next day, Nov.22/06, very predictably, the Teachers’ Union president, Jinny Sims, produced the expected response:

BCTF responds

We agree with Michael Smyth that few things are more important to our kids’ future than making sure they can read, write, add and subtract.
But we draw the line at his misguided efforts to blame the B.C.Teachers Federation for the dip in student achievement levels in government tests.
Research shows large-scale testing can have negative effects on student motivation and learning, especially for low-achieving students.
That’s why teachers are frustrated with the lack of understanding that their classroom assessment is preferable to government’s large-scale assessment.
True, the BCTF encourages parents to boycott government tests, because those asessments fail to produce an accurate portrayal of how their children are performing academically.
Smyth needs to understand the difference between assessment for learning and assessment of learning.
When parents want to know how their children are doing in class, they shouln’t ask the government.
They should ask those who work with those kids on a daily basis: the trained professionals who will provide more than just a test score.

Jinny Sims, President, BCTF

The next day, Nov 23/06, a parent responds:

Test score needed

What is B.C. Teachers Federation president Jinny Sims afraid of?

Is it that we will actually find out how our kids are doing?

While the evaluation of students by their teachers is valuable, they can be subjective.

We need the “trained professionals” and a test score from an unbiased, objective source.

Cherryl Katnich, Maple Ridge

Short and sweet, AND a parent point-of-view.

While I am in the process at the moment of producing reviews of three very important books that illuminate the issue of accountability (for future posts) I direct you to the titles of these books and you can look up the reviews on the Internet or get them from your library for now.

Important Books on Accountability in Education

– Public Education: An Autopsy
Myron Lieberman, 1993, Harvard University Press

– The Teacher Unions: How they Sabotage Educational reform and Why
Myron Lieberman, 1997, the Free Press, New York

– PTA: The Untold Story
Charlene K. Haar

An important article is printable from the Internet

Teacher Unions and Parent Involvement (from the EPI series on Teacher Unions) by Charlene K. Haar from the site

Go to Search and ask for Education Policy Institute


[This article was published in The Canadian School Executive, Dec. 1982]


School accountability: from defensiveness to disclosure

By Tunya Audain

I know it’s wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what schools are doing? And how well they are doing? Wouldn’t parents feel much more confident as they send their children to school? Wouldn’t taxpayers feel they are supporting a worthwhile cause?

In an era of cutbacks wouldn’t we all feel better if we knew that essential tasks were being carried out and that priorities in education were still being met?

Most parents admit they are poorly informed and easily bamboozled concerning the educational enterprise. Taxpayers usually get sensationalist impressions from the media, but even those who dare to question directly are equally befuddled and given the run-around. This is not to say that school people necessarily conceal information, or that they are nasty to customers. They are generally nice. “But, it’s like dealing with a marshmallow,” some say, “soft and sweet and bouncy. And, nothing to bite on.”

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