Skip to main content

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

Accountability: The quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions <public officials lacking accountability – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2011).

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. This paradox underlies issues of central importance to both national governments and international relationships. For example, it was the focus of arguments in the Nuremberg trials over the responsibilities of Nazi officials and fuels contemporary debates about the responsibilities of government and military personnel for war crimes and violations of human rights that may have been ordered, sanctioned, or accepted by their superiors (Gregory 2003).

  2. Further illustrating the link between capacity, answerability and responsibility, people are not expected to be answerable or responsible if they have been coerced or if they do not have the competence to act responsibly (due to illness, inability to comprehend; lack of relevant understanding etc.) (see for example, Watson 2001).

  3. These classifications were based on available data from the PISA and TIMMS tests at the time of the launch of the study in 2009. Norway and the United States are characterized as “lower performing” (as opposed to “low performing”) because their results are generally average or somewhat below average.

  4. Theories of action are the beliefs and assumptions, often implicit and unarticulated, that lead people and groups to act in certain ways (Argyris and Schön 1978; Schön and McDonald 1998; Weiss 1995). The larger research study focuses primarily on the “espoused theories” in the policy documents and in the descriptions obtained in interviews with policymakers and administrators, though it also draws on evaluations which reflect what is happening in practice (for a related approach, see Janssens and de Wolf 2009).

  5. In order to maintain confidentiality the job titles and specific responsibilities of the interviewees are not described.

  6. Concerning Student Assessment, School self-evaluation and the National Quality Assessment System in 1995–1996; Toward Richer Goals: Concerning the Comprehensive School,Equal Opportunity in Education and a National Strategy for Assessment and Quality Development in Compulsory and Upper Secondary Education in 1998–1999.

  7. In an analysis of different approaches to school restructuring in the 1990 s in Scandinavia, Klette (2002) characterizes the Norwegian and Danish approaches as a “this you have to deliver” strategy. She contrasts this approach with a “this you have to achieve” approach more characteristic of Sweden and Finland during the same time period.

  8. While “shocking” to many, the PISA results had been foreshadowed by the relatively poor performance of Norwegian students on the first administration of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

  9. This basic skills emphasis constituted a particularly significant change in the early years: up until 1997, six year olds did not even attend compulsory public school, much less focus on basic skills.

  10. In addition to this, there is also an Apprentice Survey and an Instructor Survey. These are not discussed further here because vocational education and training (VET) based at companies are not a part of this study.

  11. The Directorate of Education was itself a product of the “agentification” and de-evolution of government functions, and was designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the central government’s work in education.

  12. Note that the Tylsyn focuses on whether local education authorities have systems in place to determine the extent to which schools are in compliance; it does not assess whether schools actually are in compliance.

  13. Despite the focus on over-all results and the prohibition on using information from the national tests for rankings, the well-established right to public information in Norway means that newspapers can still get the data on the performance of individual schools, and it is not illegal for them to produce their own rankings using this information. As a consequence, newspapers and other news media often publish school results on the same day that the Directorate releases the information on performance at the municipal and county level. Denmark, which has a similar right to public information, addressed this issue by specifically exempting the school testing data from the right to public information.

  14. While these policies describe what is happening in Norway overall, there are exceptions. For example, the municipality of Oslo, which continues to have a more conservative government, has also made a significant commitment to and investment in using tests to improve performance. That commitment includes the development and implementation of a wide range of tests in many different subjects and grade levels; the publication of school-by-school results; and the use of the results to inform decision-making by Oslo school administrators.

  15. Previously, qualified graduates of teacher training could teach at any level from years 1–10.

  16. This was a translation provided by an interviewee who was reading from the report in Norwegian. The report also concluded that the Directorate did not have sufficient oversight over the administration of the tests and that the poor quality of many of the tests and a high boycott rate at the upper secondary level meant the results from the 2005 tests should not have been made public.

  17. It should be noted that this is not a random sample of municipalities; the Tylsyn focused on municipalities where some problems were suspected.

  18. In some ways, this shift in focus for Norwegian educational administrators appears to move in the opposite direction from shifts underway in the United States where many district administrators accustomed to monitoring and control are now asked to take on support roles for schools (Honig 2008; Honig et al. 2010).

References

  • Accountability. (2011). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved March 20, 2011, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accountability.

  • 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 

  • Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978). Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ball, S. J., Vincent, C., & Radnor, H. (1997). Into confusion: LEAs, accountability and democracy. Journal of Education Policy, 12(3), 147–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boarini, R. (2009). Making the most of Norwegian schools. Economics Department working papers no. 661. Paris, France: OECD.

  • Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

  • Christensen, T., & Peters, B. G. (1999). Structure, culture, and governance: A comparison of Norway and the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (2006). Troubling images of teaching in no child left behind. Harvard Educational Review, 76(4), 668–697.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, D., & Ball, D. (1999). Instruction, capacity, and improvement. Pennsylvania, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

    Google Scholar 

  • Corcoran, T., & Goertz, M. (1995). Instructional capacity and high performance schools. Educational Researcher, 24(9), 27–31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). No child left behind and high school reform. Harvard Educational Review, 76(4), 642–667.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

  • 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 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elstad, E., Nordtvedt, G., & Turmo, A. (2009). The Norwegian assessment system. An accountability perspective. CADMO, 17(1), 89–103.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gregory, R. (2003). Accountability in modern government. In B. G. Peters & J. Pierre (Eds.), Handbook of public administration (pp. 557–568). London: Sage.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Hanushek, E. (2010). The high cost of low educational performance. Paris: OECD.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harmon, M. (1995). Responsibility as paradox: A critique of rational discourse on government. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

  • 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 http://www.theworkfoundation.com/DownloadPublication/Report/107_107_Deliberative%20democracy%20and%20the%20role%20of%20public%20managers.pdf.

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Klette, K. (2002). Reform policy and teacher professionalism in four Nordic countries. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 265–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Legatum Institute (2010). The 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index. Retrieved on March 20, 2011 from http://www.prosperity.com/country.aspx?id=NO.

  • Leithwood, K., & Earl, L. (2000). Educational accountability effects: An international perspective. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(4), 1–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lie, S., Caspersen, M., & Björnsson, J. K. (2004). Nasjonale prøver på prøve [National tests on test]. Oslo: University of Oslo.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Lysne, A. (2006). Assessment theory and practice of students’ outcomes in the Nordic countries. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50(3), 327–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDonnell, L. (1994). Assessment policy as persuasion and regulation. American Journal of Education, 102(4), 394–420.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDonnell, L., & Elmore, R. (1987). Getting the job done: Alternative policy instruments. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 9, 133–178.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. (2006). The education mirror 2005. Oslo: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. (2008). The education mirror 2007. Oslo: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. (2001). The Development of Education 1991 to 2000: National Report from Norway. Retrieved on March 20, 2011 from http://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/kd/Documents/Reports-and-actionplans/Reports/2001/The-Development-of-Education-1991-to-200/1.html?id=277458.

  • Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. (2004). Competence for development: Competence development strategy in basic education 2005–2008. Oslo: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nusche, D., Earl, L., Maxwel, W., & Shewbridge, C. (2011). OECD reviews of evaluation and assessment in education: Norway. Paris: OECD.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • O’Day, J., Goertz, M., & Floden, R. (1995). Building capacity for education reform. New Brunswick, NJ: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

    Google Scholar 

  • OECD. (2006). Education at a glance. Paris: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Price Waterhouse Coopers & The Norwegian Association of Local Authorities (KS). (2009). Come closer Oslo. Norway: The Norwegian Association of Local Authorities.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Shuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ravitch, D. (2000). Left back: A century of failed school reforms. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rothman, R. (1995). Measuring up: Standards, assessment, and school reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Skedsmo, G. (2011). Formulation and realization of evaluation policy: Inconsistencies and problematic issues. Educational Assessment Evaluation & Accountability, 23, 5–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Statistics Norway. (2011). Facts about norway education 2011: Key figures 2009. Oslo: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stein, S. (2004). The culture of education policy. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stone, B. (1995). Administrative accountability in the “Westminster” democracies: Towards a new conceptual framework. Governance, 8(4), 505–526.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Suspitsyna, T. (2010). Accountability in American education as a rhetoric and a technology of governmentality. Journal of Education Policy, 25(5), 567–586.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • United Nations Human Development Program. (2010). Human Development Index 2010. Retreived on March 20, 2011 from http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Watson, G. (2001). Reason and responsibility. Ethics, 111, 374–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas Hatch.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hatch, T. Beneath the surface of accountability: Answerability, responsibility and capacity-building in recent education reforms in Norway. J Educ Change 14, 113–138 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-012-9206-1

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-012-9206-1

Keywords

  • Accountability
  • Capacity
  • Educational policy
  • School improvement