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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