and their schools) so that they’re less at the mercy
of policies coming from the top. At the same time,
we see schools and communities as proactive
partners moving upward as they take into account
and influence policy.
What kind of accountability would promote
motivation and positive change among
Richard Elmore said 15 years ago, “No amount
of external accountability will be effective in the
absence of internal accountability.” So what’s
internal accountability? It’s when the group individually and collectively has a sense of responsibility
about their work. When we look at collaborative
cultures, the districts, the schools, even some of the
systems that have strong degrees of collaboration,
they have built in a growing and increasing sense
of responsibility about what they’re doing and how
they need to explain themselves—not just to themselves, but to the wider system.
To have accountability that works means to
have a framework of goals, to monitor the results
that come from those goals, but to be transparent
and specific about the evidence that people
themselves are using to improve. And once you
have trust, transparency, specificity, evidence,
and nonjudgmentalism, you get a constellation
of conditions that make progress possible. In
effect, this turns accountability on its head. Such
accountability is built at the level of action, which
in turn interfaces with the external accountability
system—inside-out more than the reverse.
In Freedom to Change, you note that
research from the business world finds that
employees need freedom from constraints like
micromanagement to contribute their best.
How does this concept of “freedom from”
play out in education organizations?
There is a big difference between “freedom from”
constraints and what you do with “freedom to”
once you get it. This idea of “freedom to” has
a long history, starting with sociologist Erich
Fromm around 1930. Here’s the essence of it:
What people try to do first—because we all want
“freedom from”; we want to not be imposed
upon—is to get rid of constraints. So account-
ability is a big constraint. How do we reduce that?
How do we reduce testing? Educators work to get
rid of a whole bunch of constraints like that.
If you work on those things and you’re successful, there’s an inclination to declare victory.
We got rid of the constraints! But what people
realize once that happens is, now that they have
the freedom to change, they’re kind of at sea. They
don’t know where to go. And that’s the part we’ve
been working on—to provide educators with individual and small-group autonomy connected to
Collaborative professionalism is fueled by both
good autonomy and good teamwork. Autonomy
is not isolation. If you have good autonomy, it
means that you’re your own person; you’re trying
things. But you have to be connected and learn
from the group, otherwise your autonomy won’t
get stronger. You have to contribute to and learn
from the group. These conditions of “freedom to”
are the real solution to the dilemma that if you’re
completely free, it won’t work, and if you’re completely subsumed by the group, it won’t work.
So this sophisticated type of freedom to change
is really the part we’re moving towards now. I
think we’re making progress getting rid of constraints, so there’s a real opportunity. One thing I
say to principals and teachers and district people
is, your job is not to implement government
policy. It’s to exploit government policy for local
priorities, to be less on the receiving end and more
on the initiation end. So it’s a proactive solution.
Can you give an example of a district or
a local entity doing this?
Our team has been working a lot in California for
the last five years. California has a thousand districts and seven million students. Five years ago, at
all levels—the governor, the state superintendent
of education, the key districts—California took
a strong interest in our theory of school change,
which values capacity building over compliance,
moving towards coherence and internal accountability. Some key districts have been working
proactively with the governor’s policy of decentralization of resources, or local control in the context
of a state policy of continuous improvement and