Article Comment 

Jay Lacklen: Education's misdirected mission


Jay Lacklen



Since the 1970s America has doubled its per capita education spending yet gained no increase in standardized test scores. Ominously, many other countries have improved their students'' test scores and have left the U.S. far down the rank ordered list of student achievement, a sure indicator of declining American competitiveness. 


There are two major dysfunctional characteristics of the American education system, teacher unions and the intertwined issue of supervisor teacher evaluations. 




What is the objective? 


The education system exists to ensure child education, not to ensure teacher job security. Education is not a jobs program. When the teachers are rigidly protected, the child''s education is left vulnerable. This misalignment has wrecked untold destruction in the American education system and, ironically, on the teachers themselves. 


Proper teacher pay, perks and prestige are withheld in retaliation for union intransigence which short-changes current teachers and dissuades exceptional teacher prospects from entering the profession, a double-down disaster for the education process. 


Ironically, teachers are complicit in their own diminishment. When they demand protection for an inept or inappropriately motivated teacher, they also ensure lower pay and prestige for themselves, rewards they have earned and deserve. They harm themselves to shield their misplaced, ineffective cohorts instead of protecting the educational prospects of their students, supposedly the raison d''ĂȘtre of their profession. They sacrifice their mission to bestow inappropriate altruism on inept teachers who will, in the long run, be happier and more prosperous elsewhere. 


However, from the teacher''s perspective, there must be protections from arbitrary and capricious management actions, such as firing senior, more highly paid, teachers to save money, or demoting teachers as a result of personality conflicts with the principal. Such management malfeasance created the need for union protection, but there are effective methods to accomplish this without unnecessarily protecting teachers who ought to be working in another field for their own well being as well as that of the children. 




Proper teacher evaluation 


Effective teacher evaluation, a crucial tool in the education process, seems, somehow, an incomprehensible task for the current education establishment. Administrators complain that they cannot spend sufficient time sitting in classrooms to evaluate the teachers they manage, so no comprehensive evaluations are done. Instead, they depend solely upon standardized student test scores to rate teachers which can result in teachers teaching tests instead of educating students. 


The rigid orthodoxy of the education establishment has apparently blinded it to solutions. Specifically, it has misidentified the proper customer of instruction who should rate teachers. The principle is not the customer; but the valid customer and perfect evaluator has been sitting before them for generations, the students. 


As a student in the 1950s and 1960s, I knew who the superlative teachers were. Word of mouth among students and parents clearly identified the most desirable teachers for the following year in grade school and in individual subjects in intermediate and high school. This pragmatic filter rank-ordered teachers for my wish list, but, alas, no one ever asked me which teachers I wanted. 




Why not? 


Allow students to select their teachers for the following year and lay bare relative teacher effectiveness. There are no politics or managerial favoritism involved in this process, the direct customer of the teacher product, the student, makes the call, as they should. Then let the chips fall. 


While this may seem a brutally frank and explicit evaluation method, it actually provides the protection teachers demand. No principal who values his or her own report card would dare cross a student-validated teacher. Also, in an open teacher market, principals could, and would, attempt to attract other school''s highly rated teachers to enhance their own team. 


Teacher age, ethnicity, gender, and pedagogical method would be rendered largely irrelevant before the golden rule of student validation, as long as standardized test scores somewhat correlated. 


This would allow pay scales to align with ratings, not with seniority, and would draw high power talent to the teaching ranks. It would also provide feedback to those who need to improve their product, and provide to others the imperative, ultimately salutary, news they should be working in some other field. 


The current American education system squanders vast resources to produce an inferior product due mainly to misplaced priorities and rigid ideologies. Why do we allow this? 


Parents and citizens raise holy hell if a high school football coach fails to field a winning team, yet they sit silently while the school system fails similarly. Society generally gets what it demands, so, tragically, we will produce winning football teams, but not winning schools. 


Lacklen is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot, who flew missions in Vietnam and Iraq. Presently he is simulator instructor at CAFB and is writing a book about his experiences in the Air Force. His e-mail address is [email protected]


Jay Lacklen is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot, who flew missions in Vietnam and Iraq. Presently he is simulator instructor at CAFB and is writing a book about his experiences in the Air Force.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment newsjunkie commented at 5/18/2011 9:10:00 PM:

Allow students to choose their favorite teachers, and that is the measure of effectiveness? Kids will pick the most "fun" teachers everytime! That's like saying the best pilots are the ones who make the prettiest streaks in the sky! Why does this guy get so much space to comment on something that is not his area of expertise?


Article Comment raider commented at 5/18/2011 11:32:00 PM:

I have to agree with newsjumkie. Allowing students to grade the teachers and pick their teachers would just make things worst than what they are now.

When I went to ninth grade, there were 2 freshmen english teachers. One teacher spent almost a full semester teaching romeo and juliet. The other spent the full year on traditional english. Both were good at their craft but the overwhelming number of students wanted to be in the traditional english class. In addition, the R&J class had a lot more homework and special assignments. Although over time, it was proven that the R&J class better prepared the students for more advanced classes that came in junior and senior years, based on your suggetion, the R&J teacher would have been fired because the freshmen hated her and the percentage of failures were slightly higher in her class.

On another note. I really get tired of people blaming public school teachers for the shortcomings and failures of our school systems. Parents, students, principals, administrator and everyone else involved in education are held blameless while the teachers bear the blame and the scorn. The assumption is... every student shows up to school with an equal amount of previous learning, an equal capacity to learn and an equal motivation to learn. Ergo, every student should each the same goal. When the end results are not the same, the teacher is automatically blamed for failing to get the job done. Unfortunately (or fortunately) all kids are not created equal. They are not like power tools that are manufactured to look and perform exactly alike. With power tools, if you use the same plans, preparation and the same techniques, you should get the same results. However, god blessed each person totally different. Just because things work for one doesnt mean it will work with another. A kid that is failing may be failing for any number of reasons and it may not be the teachers fault. The kid may not want to learn. He may not be able to do the work because he did not have the proper instruction in previous classes or at home when he was small. He may be distracted by a trouble maker that the office keeps returning to class etc.

Over the last 30 years, teachers and teacher unions have been made the scapegoats for student failures. However, the failures of our education system is multi-faceted and there are plenty of blame to go around. Until we recognize that fact and quit trying to look for the easy target to blame, our system will continue to fail.


Article Comment newsjunkie commented at 5/19/2011 1:21:00 PM:

"No principal who values his or her own report card would dare cross a student-validated teacher." Therein lies the problem!!!


Article Comment sure22 commented at 5/19/2011 5:20:00 PM:

The education system exists to ensure child education, sounds great. Being a good teacher also requires buying school supplies, being a friend, acting as parent (because some parents don't), watching out for abuse/neglect, making sure kids eat breakfast and lunch (paying when they can't), giving children lots of comfort and attention (because some of them get none at home), being a positive role model, going to funerals(because some kids lose loved ones), listening when no one else will, giving children respect and trust(when no one else will), buying clothing(because a short sleeve shirt just won't do in December), Having a smile on their face 24/7 even when something bad is going on in their lives and having the desire and willingness to do this day in and day out.

The education system exists to ensure child education, not to ensure teacher job security. Well I think it exists or has become alot more than just to educate. In a perfect society or in the authors mind all this other stuff would not be needed.


Article Comment educationfirst commented at 5/21/2011 9:54:00 AM:

I agree with the comments above about students chosing teachers. Even in college, many of the students inevitably chose the professor that was going to give them an easy A. I had no choice about one teacher...she was a very friendly teacher with an "everyone should be happy" kind of attitude. I learned nothing in her class. I worked hard on a project only to receive the same A that someone else received for turning in something thrown together. And guess what? I was the only one complaining about her.

In addition, teacher unions are not even present in Mississippi and yet this is written for a Mississippi newspaper and directed as the cause of our troubles. The most Mississippi has are teacher organizations.

I wish all of those who think they have the education problem figured out would come out to a school and volunteer for at least a month's worth of days. Vary those days from beginning of the year (students who are happy to be back), mid-nine weeks, right before any break, and more. Come with an open mind and be prepared to take notes. Talk to the educators, the administrators, the students, and the parents. Because I guarantee that you simply will not walk away thinking it is an easy problem to fix.

Not only are there universal problems that affect the majority of schools, but then each school is unique. In the Lowndes County School District, we have one school system (elem., middle, high) that is predominantly white, another that is diverse, and another that is predominantly black. The socio-economic factors at each set of schools is just as different. The students face different cultures, influences, and attitudes about education.

I don't think we need to ignore the problem, but to assume the answer is going to be an easy, simple-step solution is absurd. It is going to take a major shift among all the stakeholders and it's going to have to encompass everything from local up to federal.


Article Comment zenreaper commented at 5/22/2011 10:49:00 AM:

The problem is not parents. The problem is not teachers. The problem is ADMINISTRATION. I suggest everyone watch the movie, "The Cartel" (its on Netflix right now). It outlines the problem that the teachers unions have created, in making level after level of administration, thus increasing the cost per student while adding NOTHING to the level of education.


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