On December 3rd, 2012, the International Journal of Education Policy & Leadership published a study from the University of Oslo on two extremely different perspectives on how to promote academic achievement among students. Professors Christophersen, Elstad and Turmo compared (1) teachers working under assessment-based accountability and (2) folk-high school programs who work without tests and examinations, and thereby, without external accountability devices. The city of Oslo recently passed a new performance management system called Management by Objectives, Rules & Control, whose goal is to develop and implement new education policy focusing on the fostering of student effort and achievement. In order to ensure that national regulations are upheld, the education agency of the city of Oslo created a result-oriented external accountability system that makes each principal responsible for attaining specific targets for a school’s grades. The intention is to increase the quality of principals and teachers, which theoretically will lead to an overall improvement in student achievement. Critics of the program argue that these external pressures may backfire. Potential problems include artificially inflated grades, targeting instruction to near failing pupils, classifying more pupils as special needs or disabled, shifting the amount of time devoted to test subjects, cheating by teachers on standardized tests, and altering the test-taking pool by strategically assigning suspensions to low-performing pupils near the test-taking period.
The other camp is represented by the folk-high schools (FHS), whose unique approach to non-university adult education is raising the question of what teaching techniques are the best at achieving higher levels of student achievement? The FHS system emphasizes mutual teaching and conversation in hopes of creating lifelong learners. Students that go through a FHS are taught to be self-motivated learners, which is a beneficial skill in today’s rapidly changing work force. Critics of the FHS system believe it is too focused on social activities and far too little on academics. This paper and these two contrasting systems raise an important question that all teachers, schools and government bodies need to examine: how do we increase student effort and achievement, and how do we make it last a lifetime?