HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy, Decision Science, and Management


The primary lever American policymakers have used to improve school performance is “accountability” in the form of high-stakes testing. But the behavioral literature, overlooked in the education policy debate, shows that accountability exists in a variety of forms that evoke different psychological mechanisms and can have positive or negative effects. Examining the psychological/behavioral literature alongside the education literature, we identify four forms of accountability relevant to K-12 schooling: outcome-based (high-stakes testing), rule-based, market-based, and professional accountability. Promoting continuous improvement in schools is likely to require multiple forms of accountability that not only offer rewards and sanctions but also increase the transparency of educational practice and provide mechanisms for improving practice. This suggests that professional accountability—which has historically been underutilized in schools—merits particular attention.


Gill, Brian P., Jennifer S. Lerner, and Paul Meosky. "Reimagining Accountability in K-12 Education: A Behavioral Science Perspective." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP16-018, April 2016.