Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 113–138 | Cite as

Beneath the surface of accountability: Answerability, responsibility and capacity-building in recent education reforms in Norway

  • Thomas HatchEmail author


Recent educational reforms in Norway include national tests and monitoring mechanisms to see if key outcomes are being achieved. At the same time, Norway has not established the follow-up mechanisms like high-stakes incentives and rewards that are characteristic of accountability policies in some other countries. As a consequence, one could argue that Norway has only moved “half-way” toward accountability. In contrast, this paper suggests that these developments in Norwegian policies demonstrate the difficulties of navigating the tensions between promoting two key aspects of accountability—answerability for the achievement of short-term goals and responsibility for the fulfillment of broader purposes—and the challenges of building capacity for both. Exploring developments in the Norwegian context highlights what it may take to develop policies that address both answerability and responsibility and reveals some of the cultural, geographic, political, and economic realities that make it difficult to do so.


Accountability Capacity Educational policy School improvement 


  1. Accountability. (2011). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved March 20, 2011, from
  2. Ahonen, S. (2001). The end of common school? Change in the ethos and politics of education in Finland towards the end of the 1990s. In S. Ahonen & L. Rantala (Eds.), Nordic lights: Education for nations and civic society in the Nordic countries, 1850–2000 (pp. 175–203). Helsinki: Tammer-Paino Oy.Google Scholar
  3. Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978). Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  4. Ball, S. J., Vincent, C., & Radnor, H. (1997). Into confusion: LEAs, accountability and democracy. Journal of Education Policy, 12(3), 147–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boarini, R. (2009). Making the most of Norwegian schools. Economics Department working papers no. 661. Paris, France: OECD.Google Scholar
  6. Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  7. Christensen, T., & Peters, B. G. (1999). Structure, culture, and governance: A comparison of Norway and the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  8. Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (2006). Troubling images of teaching in no child left behind. Harvard Educational Review, 76(4), 668–697.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, D., & Ball, D. (1999). Instruction, capacity, and improvement. Pennsylvania, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.Google Scholar
  10. Corcoran, T., & Goertz, M. (1995). Instructional capacity and high performance schools. Educational Researcher, 24(9), 27–31.Google Scholar
  11. Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). No child left behind and high school reform. Harvard Educational Review, 76(4), 642–667.Google Scholar
  12. Elmore, R. (2006). The problem of capacity in the (Re)Design of educational accountability systems. Paper presented at a symposium on NCLB and it’s alternatives. Campaign for Educational Equity, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  13. Elmore, R. F., Ablemann, C. H., & Fuhrman, S. H. (1996). The new accountability in state education reform: From process to performance. In H. F. Ladd (Ed.), Holding schools accountable: performance-based reform in education (pp. 65–98). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  14. Elstad, E. (2009). Schools which are named, shamed and blamed by the media: School accountability in Norway. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21, 173–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Elstad, E., Nordtvedt, G., & Turmo, A. (2009). The Norwegian assessment system. An accountability perspective. CADMO, 17(1), 89–103.Google Scholar
  16. Gregory, R. (2003). Accountability in modern government. In B. G. Peters & J. Pierre (Eds.), Handbook of public administration (pp. 557–568). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hanushek, E. (2010). The high cost of low educational performance. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  18. Harmon, M. (1995). Responsibility as paradox: A critique of rational discourse on government. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  19. Honig, M. I. (2008). District central offices as learning organizations: How sociocultural and organizational learning theories elaborate district central office administrators’ participation in teaching and learning improvement efforts. American Journal of Education, 114, 627–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Honig, M. I., Copland, M. A., Rainey, L., Lorton, J. A., & Newton, M. (2010). School district central office transformation for teaching and learning improvement. A report to the Wallace Foundation. Seattle, WA: The Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy.Google Scholar
  21. Horner, L., Lekhi, R., & Blaug, R. (2006). Deliberative democracy and the role of public managers: Final report of The Work Foundation’s public value consortium. London: Work Foundation. Retrieved on November 1, 2012 from
  22. Janssens, F. J., & de Wolf, I. F. (2009). Analyzing the assumptions of a policy program: An ex-ante evaluation of “educational governance” in the Netherlands. American Journal of Evaluation, 30(3), 411–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Karlgren, I., & Klette, K. (2008). Reconstructions of Nordic teachers: Reform policies and teachers’ work during the 1990s. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(2), 117–133.Google Scholar
  24. Kearns, K. P. (2003). Accountability in a seamless economics. In G. Peters & J. Pierre (Eds.), Handbook of public administration (pp. 581–589). London: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klette, K. (2002). Reform policy and teacher professionalism in four Nordic countries. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 265–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Koretz, D. (2008). The pending reauthorization of NCLB: An opportunity to rethink the basic strategy. In G. L. Sunderman (Ed.), Holding NCLB accountable: Achieving accountability, equity, and school reform (pp. 9–26). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  27. Legatum Institute (2010). The 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index. Retrieved on March 20, 2011 from
  28. Leithwood, K., & Earl, L. (2000). Educational accountability effects: An international perspective. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(4), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lie, S., Caspersen, M., & Björnsson, J. K. (2004). Nasjonale prøver på prøve [National tests on test]. Oslo: University of Oslo.Google Scholar
  30. Lie, S., Hopfenbeck, T. N., Ibsen, E., & Turmo, A. (2005). Nasjonale prøver på ny prøve [National tests on test again]. Oslo: University of Oslo.Google Scholar
  31. Lysne, A. (2006). Assessment theory and practice of students’ outcomes in the Nordic countries. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50(3), 327–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Malen, B., & King Rice, J. (2004). A framework for assessing the impact of education reforms on school capacity: Insights from studies of high-stakes accountability initiatives. Educational Policy, 18(5), 631–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McDonnell, L. (1994). Assessment policy as persuasion and regulation. American Journal of Education, 102(4), 394–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McDonnell, L., & Elmore, R. (1987). Getting the job done: Alternative policy instruments. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 9, 133–178.Google Scholar
  35. Mintrop, H., & Sunderman, G. (2009). Predictable failure of federal sanctions-driven accountability for school improvement and why we may retain it anyway. Educational Researcher, 38, 353–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Møller, J., Prøitz T. S., & Aasen, P. (Ed.) (2009). Kunnskapsløftet—tung bør å bære? Underveisanalyse av styringsreformen i skjæringspunktet mellom politikk, administrasjon og profesjon. [Education and promotion—a heavy burden to bear? Analysis of the governance reforms in the intersection between politics, administration and professional]. Oslo, Norway: NIFU STEP.Google Scholar
  37. Newmann, F., King, M., & Youngs, P. (2000). Professional development that addresses school capacity: Lessons from urban elementary schools. American Journal of Education, 108(4), 259–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. (2006). The education mirror 2005. Oslo: Author.Google Scholar
  39. Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. (2008). The education mirror 2007. Oslo: Author.Google Scholar
  40. Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. (2011). OECD review on evaluation and assessment frameworks for improving school outcomes: Country background report for Norway. Oslo: Author.Google Scholar
  41. Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. (2001). The Development of Education 1991 to 2000: National Report from Norway. Retrieved on March 20, 2011 from
  42. Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. (2004). Competence for development: Competence development strategy in basic education 2005–2008. Oslo: Author.Google Scholar
  43. Nusche, D., Earl, L., Maxwel, W., & Shewbridge, C. (2011). OECD reviews of evaluation and assessment in education: Norway. Paris: OECD.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. O’Day, J., Goertz, M., & Floden, R. (1995). Building capacity for education reform. New Brunswick, NJ: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.Google Scholar
  45. OECD. (2006). Education at a glance. Paris: Author.Google Scholar
  46. Olssen, M., & Peters, M. (2005). Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: From the free market to knowledge capitalism. Journal of Education Policy, 20(3), 313–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Price Waterhouse Coopers & The Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS). (2009). Come closer Oslo. Norway: The Norwegian Association of Local Authorities.Google Scholar
  48. Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Shuster.Google Scholar
  49. Ravitch, D. (2000). Left back: A century of failed school reforms. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  50. Romzek, B. S., & Ingraham, P. W. (2000). Cross pressures of accountability: Initiative, command, and failure in the Ron Brown plane crash. Public Administration Review, 60(3), 240–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rothman, R. (1995). Measuring up: Standards, assessment, and school reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  52. Schön, D., & McDonald, J. (1998). Doing what you mean to do in school reform: Theory of action in the Annenberg challenge. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for School Reform.Google Scholar
  53. Skedsmo, G. (2011). Formulation and realization of evaluation policy: Inconsistencies and problematic issues. Educational Assessment Evaluation & Accountability, 23, 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Spillane, J., Hallett, T., & Diamond, J. (2003). Forms of capital and the construction of leadership: Instructional leadership in urban elementary schools. Sociology of Education, 76(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Spillane, J., & Thompson, C. (1997). Reconstructing conceptions of local capacity: The local education agency’s capacity for ambitious instructional reform. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 19(2), 185–203.Google Scholar
  56. Statistics Norway. (2011). Facts about norway education 2011: Key figures 2009. Oslo: Author.Google Scholar
  57. Stein, S. (2004). The culture of education policy. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  58. Stone, B. (1995). Administrative accountability in the “Westminster” democracies: Towards a new conceptual framework. Governance, 8(4), 505–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Supovitz, J. A. (2009). Can high stakes testing leverage educational improvement? Prospects from the last decade of testing and accountability reform. Journal of Educational Change, 10(2), 211–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Suspitsyna, T. (2010). Accountability in American education as a rhetoric and a technology of governmentality. Journal of Education Policy, 25(5), 567–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Telhaug, A. O., Aasen, P., & Mediaas, O. A. (2004). From collectivism to individualism? Education as nation building in a Scandinavian perspective. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 48, 141–158.Google Scholar
  62. United Nations Human Development Program. (2010). Human Development Index 2010. Retreived on March 20, 2011 from
  63. Verhoest, K. (2005). The impact of contractualization on control and accountability in government-agency relations: The case of Flanders (Belgium). In: G. Drewry, C. Grieve, & T. Tanquerel (Eds.) Contracts, performance and accountability (pp. 135–156). EGPA/IOS.Google Scholar
  64. Volkmar, N. (2008). Knowledge and Solidarity: The Norwegian social-democratic school project in a period of change, 1945–2000. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Watson, G. (2001). Reason and responsibility. Ethics, 111, 374–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Weiss, C. (1995). Nothing as practical as a good theory. In J. Connell, A. Kubisch, L. Schorr, & C. Weiss (Eds.), New approaches to evaluating community initiatives (pp. 65–92). Aspen, CO: The Aspen Institute.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Teachers CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations