To accomplish systems change, those in power must be held accountable when they fail to do their jobs properly. Sadly, because those in power desperately try to maintain their grip on power, they are rarely willing to accept responsibility even when utter failure is staring them in the face. The only remedy for accountability failure is for advocates to shine a bright light on both the failure in the system and leaders’ refusal to accept responsibility. Without this, failure will continue and leaders will maintain their grip on power despite their failures.

A recent example of failure to accept responsibility by deflecting administrative accountability has occurred in the rapidly growing Madison suburb, Sun Prairie. Earlier this month, parents complained that teachers were using a racist lesson in their virtual classrooms as shown below.

There has been plenty of media about this story and plenty of finger-pointing, including outright lying. What there has not been is a single instance of a Sun Prairie administrator accepting responsibility for this total and complete curriculum failure. Indeed, quite the opposite has occurred as the Superintendent defended the school district’s administration despite its obvious lack of curriculum oversight.

A timeline of events will help reveal this failure.

  • When her child showed her this obviously racist assignment, the parent complained to the middle school principal, who conceded it was a bad assignment and apologized, but failed to hold anyone responsible.
  • The school district claimed this assignment was not part of its curriculum, but conceded that teachers have flexibility to use available on-line materials for their curriculum without supervision or approval.
  • Since this racist assignment was utilized by multiple teachers, indicating an even deeper failure by administration to supervise their staff, those teachers were placed on administrative leave. No supervisors or administrators have been put on leave or accepted responsibility for failing to adequately supervise these teachers.
  • The school district compounded its failure by trying to cloak itself in the mantle of equity and diversity, by falsely claiming it had a partnership with the YWCA to address racial equity. Once again, no administrators have been disciplined in any way for making this false public claim.
  • Remarkably, rather than accept responsibility for its own racism, the Sun Prairie school district demanded an apology from the website that sold this racist lesson to it. Seriously? The district gives its teachers unfettered freedom to purchase whatever materials they want to use to teach their students, but rather than accept responsibility for its failure to supervise or give adequate direction to its teachers, it wants an apology from the seller of the racist lesson?
  • Most recently, a Sun Prairie public schools advocate, whom I usually hold in high regard, posted the district’s response to this incident and lauded its “transparency.” While transparency is important, accountability is even more important. As of yet, not a single administrator has been held accountable in any way for the district’s clear failure to supervise and train its teachers on the appropriate way to teach racism to 6th-grade students.

This would all be pretty bad if it were the only problem with Sun Prairie’s failure to supervise its teachers’ choice of curriculum. However, not covered in the news is another assignment that revealed this was not the only failure. As shown below, another assignment from the same website used in the same Sun Prairie school by the same teachers was clearly misogynistic.

Thus far, the Sun Prairie School District has not acknowledged this horrific piece of its curriculum, let alone held anyone accountable for its use. While I am quite sure that the Sun Prairie School District will claim it learned lessons from this incident, its failure to hold any administrators accountable for multiple teachers using racist and misogynistic lessons on impressionable 6th-grade students demonstrates that the most important lesson it could have learned has been completely overlooked.

When the people in charge do not accept responsibility for their failure to properly train and oversee their staff, odds are high that the same types of problems with repeat themselves. Moreover, what lessons does such an accountability failure teach Sun Prairie children? The clear lessons these children are learning include:

  • Racism and misogyny will be taught in our schools;
  • Nobody supervises teachers’ choices of curriculum;
  • Nobody in charge takes responsibility for their own failures.

It should surprise no one that with racist lessons followed by an utter lack of accountability, racial disparities show up in Sun Prairie. In the last school year in which data is available (2018-19), while nearly 47% of the student body were proficient in English Language Arts, and 20% performed below a basic level, under 11% of Black students were proficient in English Language Arts, and nearly 55% performed below basic. The results in Math are even worse. Absenteeism in the district overall was slightly over 6%, with Black student absenteeism reported at over 15%

These racial disparities are glaring in Sun Prairie’s discipline data as well. While a whopping 46.2% of Black Sun Prairie students were suspended that year, only 3.8% of white students were suspended. Clearly, racism is not only being taught in Sun Prairie, it is being meted out in the district’s discipline and it shows up in its academic results.

While the Sun Prairie School board and administration say they are learning lessons which they will incorporate into their district, without holding leadership accountable, it is clear that the district has failed to learn the most important lesson-owning administrative failure to supervise and direct. As a result, we can surely expect more racism and misogyny to be taught to Sun Prairie children in the future and glaring racial disparities in academic performance and discipline, to continue.


This editorial was originally posted at the Systems Change Consulting website.