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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Clarifying my agenda

My recent scholarly excursion into school accountability was long overdue -- although I was well aware of all the talk and activity surrounding the use of accountability in the education field, I generally avoided looking into the work in that area (which the exception of Kenneth Meier's "Texas school studies"). Now that I have (thanks to the invitation to address a group of European education professors on my more generic approach to accountability), I am impressed by both the complexities and relevance of that work to the questions raised by the ever expanding fascination with accountability. It probably the best possible "testing ground" for theoretical work like mine.

A couple of themes I have been working with were strengthened by the experience. School accountability, especially where it stress "performance," clearly reflects the four characteristics of the current trends in accountable governance reform -- it is promising (the answer to every problem), pervasive (found everywhere), obsessive (desired by everyone), and perversive (dysfunctional and distorting of all it touches). There is probably no better general comparative case study to test my observations that education, and there is probably no arena where both the interest and data are global.

What is as important, there is probably no other area where there is access to studying what I regard as the true essence (for lack of a better phrase) of accountability-as-governmentality. I believe my attacks on the current accountability reforms efforts are beginning to give the impression that I somehow do not "believe" in accountability and its role in governance. But as I point out in earlier work, I see my purpose as drawing attention to the abuse of the concept and improving our understanding of the central (I would argue "defining") role accountability has played in modern governance. It is that core function of accountability that I think is at risk with the current reform movements....

Over the next few days I plan to post both the initial draft of the paper I presented in Vienna as well as the powerpoint presentation (which stressed additional points I had not put in paper).

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