Thinkfest!
Accountability: Decloaking the Hidden Agendas
by Dr. Larry S. AndersonFounder/Director, National Center for Technology Planning (NCTP)
MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2002 
In previous columns, we have thought about accountability, technology audits, and new models for technology planning. For this column, then, it seems prudent that we return to the concept of accountability and dig in a bit to see what new truths we can discover.

When you hear people bring up the topic of accountability, do you wonder if they have a hidden agenda? Do you think that perhaps there is some specific outcome they expect from accountability? Is it possible that they want everybody else to be accountable, yet they seem reluctant to agree to produce evidence demonstrating their own accountability? Or, do you imagine they promote accountability simply so any flaws existing in some organization, person, or activity will stick out like a sore thumb, thereby making them look good, in a rather sick way?

If asked, most educators would probably place the concept of accountability on the "evil side" of the ledger. I contend, however, that accountability can be a good thing, and I hope to provide some clarifying questions to promote the notion.
 

Tools for Effective Accountability
In my second "ThinkFest!" column, I presented the NCTP Accountability Matrix (see MultiMedia Schools, October 2001, page 53) as a tool that could be used as you construct your own framework to guide the technology audit. I continue to believe that this design holds great merit. As I filled in the cells of the matrix, however, examples I used were too focused upon the hardware side. I had unintentionally put too much emphasis on the techno-stuff and not enough on the student-learner side of things. For that, I apologize. I hope you don't think I believe that the stuff of technology is anywhere near as important as the central purpose of our educational endeavor—to build, support, and enhance an environment for learning by all, including students, teachers, administrators, and all others in the schooling picture.

I have received queries from some of you who wonder if the design I offered was intended to be identical for all schools. Well, in response to that, I call your attention to a slide from one of the PowerPoint presentations I deliver to many audiences (see Figure 1 on page 51). One size fits all? Hardly!!

Therein lies part of the dilemma. How on earth do we help our leaders in the federal government, who are so determined that America's schools will have a technology accountability requirement, to understand that schools, like students, are individuals? Perhaps there is a tender balance between "going all out" in either one direction or the other.

The NCTP matrix can serve as a strong tool as we develop our thinking on this matter. No clear, irrefutable solutions appear on the close horizon. It requires that we exercise our vision—looking beyond just where we can see to where we can imagine. We should even tempt the renegade within us to stand boldly and discover new vistas of possibility in the realm of technology accountability. In the process of clarifying our collective mutual vision, we will eradicate incidence of hidden agendas, as well. At least, we hope!
 

Readers Respond
In the October 2001 "ThinkFest!" column mentioned above, I couched the audit in terms of an external stimulus, coming from federal or regulatory agencies. Such is certainly not always the case, as was pointed out so accurately and clearly by Dr. Gloria Frazier in a communication to me. She wrote:

[External stimulus] is not the driver for many districts. It is all internal/local reasons that are the topics of discussion. They are focused on their accountability to parents and the business community for students who are prepared for a technologically driven society.

They are talking about accountability to the taxpayers who voted the bond levy to support technology—being able to describe beyond hardware/infrastructure how it has helped students.

Districts want to know how they are doing against benchmark practices of other districts nationally. They want to know how others have moved beyond the infrastructure issues to transforming the student/teacher uses to support learning. They want to reflect on what evidence exists that they have accomplished something, celebrate what they have accomplished, and set a new course of action for the next 5 years which changes how people learn and teach.

Dr. Frazier is right on the money with her comments—and I commend her for taking me to task when I painted too stereotypical—and erroneous—a picture. The fact remains, however, that too many school leaders will wait until external pressures force them to call for a technology audit.

In that same October piece, I attempted to provide a detailed description of the proposed accountability matrix. When I explained columns four and five of the matrix, I wrote, "Columns four and five are optional. If, however, you decide to use them, they will be of inestimable positive value." These columns are labeled "Evidence" and "Lessons Learned." One reader e-mailed a magnificent, poignant reaction to my advice that these columns are optional—and the reader took issue with me. How terrific! We're thinking here! Light bulbs are going off!!

The respondent stated:

I don't understand why you would say these are "optional." They seem to be to me the guts of whether or not their plan is an accountable plan. This statement seems to discredit everything you've written preceding this section. Columns 4 and 5 are the core of using data to make decisions and to use the reflective and inquiry practice to drive the work. Without columns 4 and 5 the work of the technology plan is everyone's best guess—and we can predict there will be no change in the way they do business.
Wow! Yes!! This is precisely what I was hoping would happen. You, as readers, as deep thinkers, have seen through my original proposition (that this information could be optional). You have shown that you will not stand for nor tolerate complacency when it comes to describing high quality.

I call your attention to my column in the November/December issue of MMS, in which I wrote: "If the school has maximized the value of the matrix, it will have recorded a variety (emphasis added) of other types of information, such as lessons learned, identified weaknesses/shortcomings, success stories, and costs associated with the activity. All this information will help inform the auditors, but it also will assist the school as a robust brag sheet is compiled."

As you can see from my comments, I feel quite strongly that deep-thinking planners will expand beyond the basic matrix columns I proffered in October. Much akin to the maturation of technology planning documents over the years, I suspect we will witness numerous iterations of the accountability matrices used in schools. Some designs will be strong, laudable, and clear. We will learn much from them. We may even decide to modify our own designs. Some will be weak and almost meaningless in their scarcity. We will learn from these, as well.

Nonetheless, the basic reality we should face is that an accountability matrix can be designed that will serve our purposes. It will be simple. It will guide us. It will allow us to challenge ourselves as we initiate a perpetuating audit environment—one designed to promote growth, achievement, expanded vision, and enhanced opportunity. Let's not victimize ourselves, though, by making the matrix so complex that it becomes a nemesis of our own creation. Meaningful is better than massive every time!

Chalk up one victory for the "decloakers" of hidden agendas! By responding actively via your e-mails to me, you have aptly demonstrated two essential, key concepts here:

  • Technology audits, for accountability purposes, are most effective when they have an internal genesis. Accountability that is imposed solely externally will have far less use to school and personal/professional improvement efforts. If this basic concept is true in the operational credos of large organizations such as Weight Watchers and Smokers Anonymous, how much more beneficial to society this will be when it is embraced by the educational technology community.
  • Evidence must be a central component of accountability. As a matter of fact, we actually yearn for it. Any time we become truly excited about something, we want to "show and tell"—we want to leave no stone unturned until we are able to describe fully and extensively the source of our positive excitement and enthusiasm. Merely going through the motions of an accountability audit will not suffice if true improvement is sought.


Danger! Bridge Out!
Warning! Many danger signs can show up during the whole accountability function as it is operationalized in a school. While we have agreed that accountability can bring positive benefit to our efforts, we must face the reality that not everyone will treat the audit—and resulting accountability—totally honestly.

We do have a few people in schools who might be tempted to stretch the truth a little here, exaggerate there, and fudge on the facts elsewhere. Pretty soon, their self-reporting has created an entirely new school environment (on paper) that bears little resemblance to the one where they work.

What can be done about this danger? I recall a great quote I heard from the internationally respected speaker and philosopher Jim Rohn, "Time will either promote you or expose you!" No doubt, the deceitful writer of the accountability report has a hidden agenda. Well, being the truth detectives that we are, we shall ferret out the facts and help configure a plan for getting the school back on the straight and narrow. You see, when one of us in this profession distorts the truth, we all pay the price, in one way or another. Hidden agendas hurt! Deception destroys!
 

Decloaking 101
How do we find and reveal the untruth that this hypothetical school representative has perpetrated on his peers? How do we substantiate our own reporting? Are there tools we can use both to help us as we demonstrate our accountability and to ward off incidents of erroneous or deceitful accountability reporting?

The magic key in decloaking the deceit, the hidden agenda, may be column four in the NCTP Accountability Matrix: Evidence. So, if a school provides evidence that a specific audited condition has been met, the field auditor (or even the inquisitive legislator, parent, or community constituent) can seek the substantiating details.

Few things reveal accuracy of facts like the bright light of truth. Just think back across our nation's history to the times when prominent leaders have been "found out." That bright light dismissed them from their dark corner of deception.
 

In Sum
Hidden agendas exist. Unscrupulous individuals can be found, if only in small numbers, among the ranks of educators. The majority of us, though, are above reproach; our goal is to demonstrate clearly the many magnificent ways that we enhance student achievement in bold, imaginative ways that defy the constricting nature of standardized tests. Our demonstration attempts are manifested through the medium of technology audits and the ensuing accountability reporting. As we strive to champion the "accountability demon," we stand tall as leaders in excellence. Let's support each other as we learn, grow, and excel in this movement. It's up to us! I'll commit myself to winning! Will you?
 

Previews of Coming Attractions
Future articles will include discussions of the following: the actual on-site audit, what is involved, how to prepare yourself, and what happens afterward; variant models of technology planning; and understanding the concept of planning, as a verb rather than as a noun. I hope you will join the ThinkFest!

If you have compelling questions, suggestions, or general comments, please feel free to send them to me. I look forward to hearing from you. Until next issue, stay tuned!


Communications to the author may be addressed to Dr. Larry Anderson, National Center for Technology Planning; e-mail: larry@nctp.com; Web page: www.nctp.com.

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