The demise of student responsibility and the paradox of school accountability

by Denisha Jones

Some of my biggest pet peeves as a college professor are students who refuse or do not know how to take responsibility for their own learning. Whether it’s not knowing what the requirements are for the degree they want or blaming their professor for their failing grade, the increase in the number of students who truly believe that everyone else but themselves is the reason they are not doing well is mind-boggling. Today, everyone is held accountable for students learning except the one person that should be: THE STUDENT.  We force students to take standardized tests and then, if they do not do well, we blame the teachers and call them ineffective. If most of the students in the school do not do well, we blame the school and call it “failing.” Then, if the school continues to produce low scores, we close it and turn it into a charter school. And so, the push for accountability results in less student responsibility. As the student gets older and is required to learn more, no one asks if she ready to take charge of her learning. On the one hand, we see the child as incapable of taking on this level of responsibility but, at the same time, we expect her to absorb a tremendous amount of information and to be able to apply it to multiple choice tests.  If we do not trust our children to be in charge of how they learn and what they learn, how can we expect them to demonstrate to us what they have learned?

When such children finally reach college, they are in for a rude awakening! You see, in college, there is no one to blame and we expect that they know how to take responsibility for their own learning. But I have come to realize that our expectation is way off for students attending most public and charter schools today. They have never learned how to be in charge of their own learning. Many do not know how to set a goal for what they want to learn or how to determine if they were successful. However, this is essentially what we expect from them in college. So, they struggle and they fail because, in college, if you do not come to class or if you fail your assignments, you will earn a failing grade.

The corporate reformers tell us that we must hold teachers and schools accountable so that the students will be college- and career-ready. But, I can assure you, the test-and-punish accountability happening today is not helping children be ready for or succeed in college.