Reimagining Accountability in K-12 Education

Publisher: Behavioral Science and Policy Association, vol. 2, issue 1
Oct 19, 2016
Brian P. Gill, Jennifer S. Lerner, and Paul Meosky
Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002, American policymakers have relied primarily on outcome-based accountability in the form of high-stakes testing to improve public school performance. With NCLB supplanted in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act—which gives states far greater discretion in the design of accountability systems—the time is ripe for policymakers to consider extensive behavioral science literature that shows outcome-based accountability is only one of multiple forms of accountability, each invoking distinct motivational mechanisms. We review rule-based, market-based, and professional accountability alongside outcome-based accountability, using evidence from the laboratory and the field to describe how each can produce favorable or unfavorable effects. We conclude that policymakers should (a) make greater use of professional accountability, which has historically been underutilized in education; (b) use transparency to promote professional accountability; and (c) use multiple, complementary forms of accountability, creating a complete system that encourages and supports the continuous improvement of educational practice.