A School System Lost at Sea: Top-down accountability requires bottom-up reporting (2004 – even more true in 2011)

Jul 20, 2011 by

Accountability in a school system requires the empowerment of teachers. Teachers’ concerns and reports of practices that affect a school’s educational mission should be evaluated on their own merit. Over the past decade that has not been the case. In almost every school building there are teachers who feel a great “sense of outrage about the poor state of student achievement,” (as noted in the Council of Great City Schools Report, “Restoring Excellence to the DCPS,” December 2003; p. 29), and the improper practices that take place in their schools, but are powerless to stop, since teachers are regarded as “having no standing” by and vis-a-vis central office officials.

The following account from Dava Sobel’s “Longitude: The Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time” (1995) will remind many teachers of experiences they have had:

“Returning home victorious from Gibraltar after skirmishes with the French Mediterranean forces, [Admiral] Sir Clowdisley Shovell could not beat the heavy autumn overcast. Fearing the ships might founder on coastal rocks, the admiral summoned all his navigators to put their heads together.

The consensus opinion placed the English fleet safely west of Ile d’Ouessant, an island outpost of the Brittany peninsula. But as the sailors continued north, they discovered to their horror that they had misgauged their longitude near the Scilly Isles. These tiny islands, about twenty miles from the southwest tip of England, point to Land’s End like a path of stepping stones. And on that foggy night of October 22, 1707, the Scillies became unmarked tombstones for two thousand of Sir Clowdisley’s troops.

“The flagship, the Association, struck first. She sank within minutes, drowning all hands. . . .

“Only two men washed ashore alive. One of them was Sir Clowdisley himself, who may have watched the fifty-seven years of his life flash before his eyes as the waves carried him home. Certainly he had time to reflect on the events of the previous twenty-four hours, when he made what must have been the worst mistake in judgment of his naval career. He had been approached by a sailor, a member of the Association’s crew, who claimed to have kept his own reckoning of the fleet’s location during the whole cloudy passage. Such subversive navigation by an inferior was forbidden in the Royal Navy, as the unnamed seaman well knew. However, the danger appeared so enormous, by his calculations, that he risked his neck to make his concerns known to the officers. Admiral Shovell had the man hanged for mutiny on the spot.”

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