chapter  4
Leadership and the Demands of Standards-Based Accountability
Pages 28

Public schools and their leaders face a new political landscape, one where standards-based accountability is the “distinctive hallmark” of state educational policy (Abelmann and Elmore 1999). While details of the particular policies vary, almost every state has now established a centralized curriculum and/or performance standards, assessments to measure student learning, and stakes for schools, staffs, and/or students. They have, simultaneously, decentralized the decisions about how to reach those standards, thus providing a theoretical horse swap of increased accountability for greater autonomy. By directly confronting the technology of teaching and learning, and by forcing schools to assume responsibility for educational outcomes (often in terms of test scores), these policies present new and dramatic challenges for schools (Elmore 2000). However, while standards-based reform is purportedly designed to improve student achievement for all children, it is less clear how (or whether) schools will achieve this critical goal. Policy, be it accountability or otherwise, is not good at mandating the actions of individual schools and their leaders; policy can only establish incentives to encourage or motivate desired actions or behaviors. Thus, the ultimate success of delivering on the goal of increased student achievement for all children will require leadership to mobilize organizational resources to change the way schools operate.