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Want more accountable schools? Look to Finland's peer approach.

Finland's model protects the judgment of teachers.

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As schools face increasing pressure to produce evidence of their effectiveness or run the risk of closure, reformers are finally beginning to look beyond standardized test scores as the end-all-be-all in evaluating teaching and learning. In the process, they're studying the experience of other countries that use professionally trained inspectors.

The task is to choose the right model.

The tradition of school visitations first started more than 160 years ago in England, and evolved into the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). Its corps of about 6,000 travel to schools to provide reports on their overall quality. Although most inspectors are retired principals and teachers with years of experience, OFSTED requires them to attend annual retraining in order to retain their certification.

Until 2005, inspectors were expected to spend most of their time observing classroom instruction, interviewing students, and examining random samples of their work to determine if schools met national standards. These steps were designed to provide inspectors with a comprehensive picture of educational quality.

Then in 2005, OFSTED instituted several changes. It no longer rates a school as satisfactory solely because it has reached a set of academic performance goals. The school must now also provide evidence of achieving personal development objectives for its students. And in 2008, OFSTED instituted a no-notice inspection policy to avoid the dog-and-pony shows put on by schools that were given advance notice.

The system of inspection that England uses has great intuitive appeal for the US in today's accountability era. Direct observation seems at first to provide the best basis for forming judgments about teacher effectiveness. But inspired teaching is more an art form than a scientific endeavor. As a result, what even the best trained inspectors observe constitutes only a snapshot that can't possibly capture the nuances of the interaction between teachers and students.

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