To the "greatest generation," it was called personal responsibility. They didn't talk about it, they just did it.

Today, politicians call it "accountability." They talk about it, but it has nothing to do with them. It's someone else, usually those at the bottom of the food chain. Like maybe school teachers?

Accountability is the snakebite medicine state politicians now choose to solve all ailments afflicting education. When the public complains about education, politicians quickly call for more accountability, usually from teachers, which translates into more laws requiring more regulations and more reporting requirements.

Education administrators, being responsible bureaucrats, immediately respond by adopting more regulations that generate data to document all the procedures they followed to prove they are complying with the new laws.

Taxpayers can thank legislators for funding and creating more bureaucratic red tape to collect and mothball data than the Office of Education (OE) can use to demonstrate accountability. The system is appropriately called "Data Warehouse."

What's in a name? Data Warehouse hordes all kinds of data in case someone asks an uneducated question like, "What does education do?" The OE proudly states in their 2002-03 annual report that it "provides accountability through implementing law and policy and and collecting and reporting information." It reports on process, rather than results, that does not add value to the education of children; but it sure fattens the government that politicians keep telling us they are fighting.

The Legislature funded the "data warehouse" to keep track of how well the schools are implementing all the state and federal mandates: U-PASS that collects "comprehensive" data, general purpose data and those of the Leave No Child Behind requirements. The annual report even has a separate chapter titled, "Accountability." It highlights how the office has carried out the legislators' concern about schools, student accountability and the "increased number of laws, both federal and state, passed on this issue."

Unwittingly, legislators who focus on accountability now become part of the problem by overburdening the education system with more administrators to write regulations and create reporting requirements. The "regulators" in turn require local school districts to collect data for the "Data Warehouse."

And who is stuck with the job of actually collecting data? Classroom teachers. They are the ones who do the testing, grading, document attendance, behavior, discipline, special accommodations, follow safety regulations, comply with nondiscrimination laws and make sure they follow state core curriculum. All this is supposed to be done within the eight-hour day with a classroom of 35-plus students. The teachers are the ones who could benefit from having the data, but don't get to see it in any usable form.

Teachers making sure they follow all policies and procedures created by faceless state regulators have little time to practice the art they thought they would be doing when they were new, nave, and eager to teach children.

In a sense, legislators have not only funded a "Data Warehouse" but have created an environment where we may be warehousing students, all for the sake of accountability.

Today's classroom teachers spend unnecessary time collecting data for the unnamed state regulators hired to feed the "Data Warehouse." In today's private sector, companies have downsized and eliminated needless mid-level and quality-control people. CEOs use data to manage and monitor results. They cannot afford to collect data that reports on process. One cannot imagine a company giving an annual report to its stockholders like that of the OE that reports on what it does, but nothing on results.

Education administrators should not be the ones to take the rap for our faltering education system. They are doing what they are mandated to do. They do things right, just not the right thing because political leaders have never taken the time to articulate what is the product our schools are to produce. Having no clear direction, administrators try to guess what they are supposed to produce; but they want to have detailed policy manuals in case the wheels start coming off education on their watch.

If we are to provide a quality education so our children and our state can succeed in today's global society, our elected officials and our gubernatorial candidates might lower the rhetoric about accountability. They could start by concentrating on providing a clear vision for education, outcome standards, and work with the legislature to get rid of needless regulations.

The greatest thing our elected leaders can do to start giving new life to a beaten and hassled work force is to create an environment where teachers are respected, eager and happy to come to teach.

It all starts at the top, and it calls for what the greatest generation practiced — personal responsibility.


Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net