Autonomy and Accountability in Standards-Based Reform

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In this article we discuss the effects of one urban school district's efforts to increase the autonomy and accountability of schools and teams of teachers through a standards-based reform known as team- based schooling. Team-based schooling is designed to devolve decision-making authority down to the school level by increasing teachers' autonomy to make decisions. Increased accountability is enacted in the form of a state-level standards-based initiative. Based on our evaluation over a two-year period involving extensive fieldwork and quantitative analysis, we describe the ways that teachers, teams and school administrators responded to the implementation of team-based schooling. What are the effects of increasing school-level autonomy and accountability in the context of standards- based reform? Our analysis highlights several issues: the "lived reality" of teaming as it interacts with the existing culture within schools, the ways that teachers respond to the pressures created by increased internal and external accountability, and the effects of resource constraints on the effectiveness of implementation. We conclude by using our findings to consider more broadly the trade-off between increased autonomy and accountability on which standards-based reforms like team-based schooling are based.


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How to Cite
Watson, S., & Supovitz, J. (2001). Autonomy and Accountability in Standards-Based Reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 9, 32.
Author Biographies

Susan Watson, Consortium for Policy Research in Education - University of Pennsylvania

Susan Watson was a Research Associate at CPRE, University of Pennsylvania while contributing to the evaluation of team-based schooling. She has recently returned to New Zealand where she works an independent education consultant and visiting lecturer in the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research interests include monitoring the effects of market-style policies in education, international comparative research and research on the social contexts of schooling. Susan can be contacted at

Jonathan Supovitz, Consortium for Policy Research in Education - University of Pennsylvania

Jonathan Supovitz is a research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. At CPRE he is the principal investigator and a team member of a number of evaluations, including the evaluation of team-based schooling in Cincinnati, the national evaluation of the America's Choice comprehensive school reform design, and the evaluation of a partnership between the Merck Institute for Science Education and school districts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania he teaches about the instructional and policy uses of assessment. Jon can be contacted at