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  • John Tanner

Windshields and rearview mirrors

Windshields and rearview mirror's represent two distinct systems. One gives us an indication of where we have been, while the other signals what we are trying to accomplish.


It is important to recognize that how we use these systems matters a great deal. If all our focus is on where we have been we will never get to where we are trying to go. If all our focus is only on the future with no regard for the past, we risk redundancy and inefficiency by failing to ever learn.


It is also important to note that the past and where we are trying to go aren't handled the same way. Most of our attention needs to be on the road ahead, with an appropriate amount going to where we have been and what we need to know about what is behind us.


When it comes to educational accountability, these lessons are particularly important. Traditional approaches place educational accountability completely in the rearview mirror, ignoring the fact that if we can't see where we are going we aren't going to get there. Even worse, they focus accountability on a tiny dot in that rearview mirror of last year's test scores in a few subjects, which is just a fraction of what actually mattered and what was done. Trying to got to a better place under that scenario is unlikely.


Those imposing such systems on schools try and use all the right words about the future as they obsess over that little dot in the past, but that's like trying to drive across the country with only a small section of the rearview mirror to guide us. However lovely descriptions of the goal may be, you aren't going to get there if you can't face forward while also having a larger view of where you've been.


Where you want to go needs to be the most active part of any accountability.


Only when we make where we give education the opportunity to participate in a real accountability will it have a chance to accomplish all that we need it to do, one with a proper windshield, and a proper rearview mirror.

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