Discussion of study findings


The previous chapter presented a wealth of findings on the study variables and the relationships among these variables. We described at length teachers’ and principals’ accountability dispositions, cultural values, and organizational support, all in relationship to each other and to background variables. The present chapter presents a discussion of the findings related to the core issues of the study. We start with discussing the differences in the two dimensions of accountability: external and internal. Special attention is paid to two accountability audiences: parents and school management. A unique issue is the predictive relation of principals' accountability to teachers’ accountability. Then we move to the central topic of this book: the relations of cultural values - individualism and collectivism - to accountability on both personal and country levels. In the final section of this chapter, we focus on the role of organizational support in the research study model.

The two dimensions of accountability: external and internal

As described in the theoretical background to this book (Chapter 2), a two- way classification of accountability disposition was used in the present study: external and internal dimensions. The external dimension represents one's accountability disposition in relation to institutional rules and regulations. Accordingly, educators' external accountability refers to their inclination and willingness to comply with policy regulation and to report to their superiors. The internal accountability dimension, on the other hand, is more abstract, representing one’s accountability in regard to inner professional and ethical standards, thus reporting to oneself. The basic rationale behind the two-way classification is recognition of employees' divided approaches when reacting to accountability expectations. Based on the relatively wide consensus among accountability researchers in regard to this dichotomy (Firestone & Shipps, 2005; Knapp & Feldman, 2012; Poulson, 1998), we have designed our study questionnaire to separately measure each of the two dimensions (see Chapter 3 - Study Methods, p. 29). Accordingly, one of the study challenges was to test whether the two measures reliably described the two discrete concepts. This challenge was approached through examination of the interrelations between the two, testing differences in scores on the two dimensions, and discerning the unique antecedents of each.

Interrelations bebveen external and internal accountability dispositions

Correlation tests between the two accountability dimensions showed that in the case of principals, the interrelation was very close to zero (0.001); thus, the two dimensions were entirely different. In the case of teachers, though, the two dimensions correlated moderately (r=.50, p < .01), indicating that there was about a 25% shared explained variance between the two. We believe that the different results between the two groups - teachers and principals - may be explained by their different occupational status, as specified next.

Teaching is largely considered a semi-professional occupation, aspiring to become a full profession by complying with basic demands such as occupational-related knowledge and personal commitment (Krejsler, 2005) - two key characteristics of education. Both teachers and school principals (who are typically teachers by training and experience) are inherently committed to professional and ethical codes in their work, and thus are likely to be internally accountable. In the case of principals, professional responsibility is augmented by their status as instructional and team leaders (Hallinger et al., 2020) who are expected to define their school’s mission, promote a positive learning climate, manage instructional programs, supervise teachers, advance empowerment among staff, perform administrative tasks, and more.

Both teachers and principals, as any employee in any working context, are expected to be externally accountable. In the case of teachers, this means reporting mainly to their immediate superior, the principal, and to parents, and other pedagogic coordinators, such as subject-area or age-level coordinators. For principals, external accountability is considerably more conspicuous than for teachers. Principals assume a heavy load of administrative and managerial duties ex-officio. Being restricted by high-stakes accountability policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act (2002) and Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) in the U.S., principals are accountable not only to audiences on the school grounds but also to external bodies like the local educational municipality or the national educational department. Accordingly, school performance and educational results strongly shape the success and careers of school principals. As heads of their schools’ teaching faculties, principals' external accountability has still another unique aspect, in Lortie's words (2009): “The principalship is a particular kind of occupation: it is among those lines of work where one is held accountable for the performance of others who rank lower in the hierarchy” (p. 2). In short, external accountability in principals' work is strongly influenced by the administrative and managerial aspects of their work.

Differences among the nature of teachers’ and principals' responsibilities may explain why only for principals no relation was found between internal and external accountability. For teachers, pedagogical and administrative duties are more or less harmoniously integrated in their class work, which explains the moderate correlation (where some of the explained variance was shared) found between the two accountability dimensions. Apparently, the shared variance between the two dimensions among teachers represented common fundamentals of both external and internal accountability in the same tasks: the willingness to report and be evaluated by clear standards (Frink & Ferris, 1998; Hall et al„ 2007).

In the principals' case, however, the administrative work is largely managerial and somewhat separated from school-level pedagogical work. Principals' accountability is targeted not only to school stakeholders, where more internal accountability is expected, but also to bodies outside the school grounds, where external accountability is more likely to be anticipated. Hence, there is little correlation between external and internal accountability among principals in our study, unlike the case of teachers.

Internal accountability preferred over external accountability

The most striking finding of the mean comparison analyses between the two accountability dimensions was that the internal score was higher than that of the external: both teachers and principals reported being more internally than externally accountable. It is noteworthy that the significant difference between the two dimensions persisted across samples and in each and every country. A comparison between teachers’ and principals' scores showed that principals were consistently higher than teachers on both external and internal accountability (external: M=4.19, M=3.90; and internal: M=4.58, M=4.47, respectively). The reason, perhaps, lies in the extra administrative (external) and instructional/professional leadership (internal) responsibility embedded in the managerial position compared to teachers’ non-managerial roles. Also, the difference between teachers and principals was larger on external accountability than on internal accountability, which aligns with our previously stated reasoning about the different positions of the two groups.

These differences show that teachers and principals still put more emphasis on their inner professional principles than on external work aspects in their accountability approach. Pervasive efforts in many educational systems to promote teachers’ and principals’ external accountability, with measures such as value-added assessment (Amrein-Beardsley, 2019; Zamir, 2019), apparently have not been able to change this situation. The great emphasis placed by teachers and principals on internal accountability may be rooted in the motivational foundation of educators starting as early as the careerseeking stage. Results of the 2018 TALIS showed that the majority of the surveyed teachers (over 90%) mentioned that they chose the teaching profession because they wanted to contribute to the development of children and society (OECD, 2019) - an intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. In another study, students in teaching programs reported that they preferred intrinsic values (e.g., learning new things) over extrinsic ones (e.g., promotion, salary) (Pascual, 2009). The strong internal accountability disposition then reflects the typical, inherent, professional values of teaching and education.

Moreover, the consistent and across-the-board superiority of internal over external accountability can be explained in relation to the distinctive impact of the two types of accountability on one’s work. External accountability is clearly more visible than internal accountability in daily school life. Performance indicators characterizing external accountability, such as students' evaluation reports and work assessments, are concrete and transparent to superiors, school faculty, parents, or the surrounding community in general. Internal accountability, on the other hand, consists of employees’ inner performance standards and is not easily visible to the outside. Consequently, the existence of internal accountability may be unknown or at best only assumed. Even when these inner standards are applied to concrete performance, the transfer between the two spheres is not necessarily immediate, and the inner elements in performance results are not conclusive. These may be the reasons why teachers and principals more strongly stressed their commitment to internal accountability, so that their inner work-related motivation would be known, than to external accountability, where work results are easily accessible to the outside.

Alternatively, educators' motivation to emphasize their internal accountability may be related to a cognitive bias, such as the social desirability effect. This phenomenon, widely documented in social research, describes a response set where respondents tend to falsify responses in order to conform to social expectations, similarly to some degree to the impression management phenomenon (Larson, 2019; Lavrakas, 2008). The result of this effect is that respondents’ behavior may not consist of their pure, actual opinions but of deception and the transfer of their original opinion to one that is perceived publicly as more acceptable (Leng et al„ 2020). In education. Khanolainen (2019) reported that teachers' attitudes toward new standards in a Russian school district were affected by a social desirability bias. In this case, because of disenchantment from school and government accountability systems, educators reacted by developing attimdes and behavior that seemed to them more socially desirable. Thus, the possibility of reporting higher internal than external accountability because of social desirability bias should be taken into account. In light of the strong preference showed by teachers and principals toward internal accountability, the possibility of social desirability bias in educators’ work reports should be considered.

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