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Monday, April 1, 2013

Why do we look to Tallahassee for wisdom in Education?

By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

The most successful argument that education reformers make is that they have to bring some common sense into the field of education.  Teachers, after all, have no real incentive to do the work that involves teaching our children.  These critics of public education perpetuate the negative stereotypes of teachers who do the bare minimum just to make sure that they pick up their paycheck, snag that beloved tenure and while away the hours until summer vacation.

This school of thought presumes that education is a profession that deserves the kind of scrutiny that no other career deserves - that in spite of the fact that we indeed have professionals who also work with children and other vulnerable populations but do not have to face the attitudes that we teachers face from politicians and administrators.

For the sake of fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers, our state's leaders will claim that they are helping the good teachers by making it incredibly impossible for the so-called bad teachers to stay in the classroom.  They would claim that it would be a bad idea to fund across-the-board pay raises for educators because the bad teachers also benefit.  It is also because of their zeal to root out the below par teachers that they crafted an evaluation system that was rushed into place under the guise of serving our students.

In my opinion, it is irresponsible to design policy around what we do not want.  There are indeed people who should not have gone into teaching, but we underestimate their ability to game the very policies that are supposed to winnow them out?

Let's put this all into perspective for a moment and wonder aloud what this world would be like if we treated other professions with the same lack of regard that we have afforded public school teachers.

Firstly, let's imagine if merit pay was applied to pastors.  I am not sure if there is a standardized test other than our eventual day of reckoning, but please humor me for a moment.  There is an array of centers of worship where the faithful attend because they want to learn something spiritual or religious.  If a good pastor was to really do his or her job, wouldn't there be a lot less sinning going on?  If a good pastor was to really earn his or her pay, wouldn't there be a lot more people living by the principles that they teach?

Secondly, let's pretend that we had an evaluation system that determined if attorneys could continue with their work.  During closing arguments in a trial, someone from the state bar association could sit in on the trial with a clipboard and could offer 'constructive' feedback about how the counselor engaged the jury in his or her argument.  If any juror was seen looking bored or confused, this would be an obvious sign that the attorney was not up to the high standards of appearing before any bench.  And let's not think about what would happen if the attorney actually lost his or her case.  This would be a ripe time for a growth plan to help him or her shape up or ship out to another line of work.

 Furthermore, let's make sure that all dentists earn their keep based solely on the results of their work.  I recently had to have fillings and nowhere during this ordeal did I blame my dentist or the dentist's assistant for my sweet tooth.  After each check up, I know that I should brush my teeth and floss more religiously but I end up taking the ultimate responsibility for my own actions instead of claiming that my dentist's office does not care about my oral hygiene.  Think of the hell that there would have been to pay if my dentist had to explain how I ended up having to get a crown in spite of all of the free toothbrushes, floss and lectures I received.

And, finally, let's not forget to include the men and women in Tallahassee whose wisdom drives the decisions that affect our schools, students and teachers the most.  Once upon a time, the state legislature decided that it would be an excellent idea to require middle and high school students to declare a major.  To implement this plan, dollars were spent on resources including the online system to get all schools on board.  Hours of training were spent to convince teachers that their time was best spent moonlighting as guidance counselors during their day.  In Duval County alone, social studies teachers faced the creation of new history/career planning classes to get this misguided idea off the ground.  Thankfully, we ignored those skeptical voices and soldiered on into the big muddy.  Today, middle and high school students no longer have to declare majors and their teachers no longer have to shoehorn career services into their work.  What do I have to say to our state about this?  Apology accepted.  Are we to hold these wise men and women in power for the errors of their ways?  Don't hold your breath.  We tend to forgive and forget on Election Day anyway.  More than we can say for the abuse that public schools receive from our elected leaders.

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