Saturday, September 22, 2012

Evaluating Government School Teachers

HARBESON: There’s a lesson to be taught here

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Why are so many government school teachers upset at the idea of being at least partly evaluated according to the test scores of the students they are supposed to be teaching? Isn’t that their job — to cram government-mandated curriculum into each child’s brain so they can pass a government-approved test?

Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students makes perfect sense considering the factory-style setup of the school system. Each widget, I mean student, moves along the assembly line and is molded according to strict specifications set by the administrators and politicians who control these government school factories.

So it’s certainly logical to verify whether or not the student-widgets match the specs before they move farther along the conveyor belt to the next laborer who performs the next step in the process.

How can government school teachers complain about this? After all, by accepting these jobs, they are actively supporting the factory model of education and if a one-size-fits-all evaluation is valid for the students then why shouldn’t the teachers also be judged on the one-size-fits-all evaluation method?

If the kids have to endure year after year of standardized testing, shouldn’t the teachers, who dutifully play their part in this compulsorily funded scheme (happily collecting the pay and benefits), also have to endure being evaluated according to how well the students do on these things?

Teachers do not think it’s fair to be evaluated on how the student performs on the test because there could be lots of reasons why a child might not do well. They don’t want to be judged based on the performance of another individual.

Yet teachers themselves push a common “real life” lesson on the students — group projects. I’ve heard many people complain about group projects they were forced to do in school. Everyone seems to have a story about a member of a group who did not do well with his or her part of the project and brought the final score down for everyone in the group. If this is valid “real life” experience for the students, then why isn’t it for the teachers? They’re all in this together, right?

The most common defense I’ve heard lately about kids who don’t do well is that it’s the parents’ fault. They are uninvolved, don’t care and don’t cooperate. This may indeed be a valid concern. But if it is, then the teachers can’t have it both ways. If they want to place the blame for low scores on the parents then they must also place the credit for good scores on the parents.

It’s one thing for teachers to say they don’t want to be evaluated in this manner and another for them to use unions and attempt to create barriers to prevent experimenting with this option. The whole idea of government unions is contradictory anyway. These unions are not fighting against “the man” — some capitalist pig of a business owner — they are merely making further demands on taxpayers who are already being coerced to pay their salaries in the first place.

However, there does not have to be a one-size-fits-all answer to the task of teacher evaluation. If we separated education from government and opened it up to the voluntary market, people who think standardized testing works well and would like to see teachers directly evaluated on those test results could set up and fund an organization built on that foundation. Those who don’t think standardized testing promotes learning could create and fund their own alternatives.

True education is unique to each individual and there are many different needs and desires within families. The most respectful way to help each family meet those needs is to set education free from government control so a wide variety of educational philosophies can flourish and compete. This would create unlimited benefits to society as education in general grows much stronger, healthier and more dynamic.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is tired of smelling the stagnant, stale air of government run factories called schools.

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