16 Years After No Child Left Behind: 10 Reasons Accountability Still Matters

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings walk out of the U.S. Department of Education. (Jay L. Clendenin-Pool/Getty Images)

This piece was produced in partnership with the George W. Bush Institute, following The ‘A’ Word series examining how “accountability” became a “dirty word,” and what can and should be done going forward to ensure accountability withstands the test of a bad reputation.

School accountability. In some circles, the term has become a dirty word. But here are 10 reasons that the fundamentals of accountability — raising academic standards, testing students regularly to see if they grasp them, and assigning some consequence to the results — still matter.

These points come from education leaders who participated in interviews this year for The ‘A’ Word: Accountability — The Dirty Word of Today’s School Reform.

Why Accountability Matters

  1. The fundamental responsibility of schools is to kids, and you can’t help kids and schools improve if you can’t diagnose a problem.

Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina and former education secretary for President George W. Bush

  1. Before accountability, schools could hide low-achieving students, especially poor and minority kids.

John King, president and CEO of the Education Trust and former education secretary for President Barack Obama

  1. Without accountability systems identifying a problem, states and districts don’t have to get low-performing schools adequate resources.


  1. Accountability is about helping schools meet goals – and getting support to meet those goals.

Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools

  1. Accountability can lead to the restoration or replacement of a school that is not serving its students well over time and shows no signs of improving with the right supports.


  1. Accountability is a way to drive results for kids who have no voice, especially for students with learning disabilities or whose native language is not English.

Diane Tavenner, founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools

  1. Students and their families need to know if they are receiving a good education that will put them on the path to the middle class.

Hanna Skandera, former New Mexico secretary of education

  1. Accountability leads to quality educators being rewarded and low-level teachers leaving the system.

Kevin Huffman, former Tennessee education commissioner

  1. Accountability keeps a spotlight on rural districts that are often overshadowed by urban districts.

Felicia Cumings Smith, assistant superintendent of academic services at Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky

  1. Who wants to be on a team where no one is accountable?


William McKenzie is editorial director at the George W. Bush Institute.

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