Understanding accountability from a microanalysis of power dynamics in a specialized STEM school

Tang Wee Teo, Margery Osborne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The central thesis of this article is that conceptualizations of accountability systems need to be more encompassing to accommodate the current diversity of school choice. This article examines an emerging type of school that specializes in advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curriculum for gifted and academically talented students. These schools, found in the US, parts of Southeast Asia, and Australia, are typically not held accountable through standardized testing but through other less well-defined measures. Here, we examine a specialized US STEM school to show why it is important for such a school to demonstrate accountability through everyday school operations - the projection of positive school image, the control of teacher quality, and the provision of advanced classroom curriculum. Using Foucault's concept of power as a microanalytic tool to critically examine artifacts and critical narratives constructed from interviews and lesson observations, we show how institutional, professional, and personal accountabilities were achieved using hierarchical observations, normalizing views, examination, and simple tools. The broad implication for education policy makers is that accountability measures extend beyond standardized test scores, and to adequately understand how they function within schools, we need to consider other types of evidence arising from school-identified goals and aims.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-245
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Studies in Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2014


  • accountability
  • Foucault
  • power
  • specialized school
  • STEM-focused school

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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