The story goes that a preacher once asked a young lad if he wanted to go to heaven. The young man quickly replied, “No, sir.” The preacher then asked, “You don’t want to go to heaven when you die?” The young man replied, “Oh, of course, I want to go to heaven when I die. I thought you were getting up a trip now.”
Unfortunately, too many Texans, particularly in leadership roles, have the same idea about quality education. Almost everyone wants quality education; however, too many are unwilling to pay the price. Sadly, some who are not willing to pay the price are certified, card-carrying teachers in various teacher organizations.
There are three major teacher groups in Texas---Texas State Teachers Association, Classroom Teachers Association, and Association of Texas Professional Educators. The sad truth is, although all profess to be striving for the best education which could possibly be delivered to the young people of this state, none have taken action to match their rhetoric. None of the teacher organizations mentioned above have any requirement for their membership other than paying their dues.
If there is anything more elusive than finding the Holy Grail, it is defining quality in education and quality in teachers. Seeking quality in education and teachers has to be among the list of things sought by so many and yet understood by so few.
Politicians constantly yammer about keeping and rewarding great teachers and getting rid of those who are not so great or poor. The problem is no one seems to be able to give an adequate formula or description of how to determine the quality of education in general or the quality of teachers in particular. While serving on a committee which went far and wide throughout the United States in seeking how to define quality, the principals and teachers in almost every school visited were able to identify the outstanding teachers in the school. They seemed to think it was a simple matter to identify those teachers.
Unhappily, nobody could give a definitive answer as to how they made that decision.
Lawmakers are becoming more and more frustrated over the issue of trying to obtain better quality teachers in the classroom and producing better results. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle laid out a plan by the Houston Independent School District to use improved student test scores as 50% of the evaluation tool to determine teacher ratings such that good teachers by this scale would be rewarded and bad teachers would be fired.
Teacher groups consistently will tell you that tying teacher evaluation to student test scores is not fair and not a true measuring stick of the quality of the teacher. Teacher groups vigorously oppose allowing subjective observation of the teachers as an adequate measuring stick because of favoritism among school administrators and evaluators. Teachers getting the highest marks for quality could very well be those “sucking up” or doing favors for the administrators and not necessarily the ones who are the best teachers.
My warning to teachers is this: Teachers had better wake up to the fact that the general public is demanding some measure of the quality of the persons teaching their children. The best possible group to come up with such a formula should be teachers. If teachers stubbornly cling to only seniority and minimal statutory requirements, teacher groups will soon be recognized as nothing more than groups akin to industrial unions protecting only seniority as a measure for job security.
While all institutions resist change, our public education systems have resisted change far too long. The changes we are seeing in today’s world --specifically in interactive communications technology, the rapid expansion of knowledge, and ability of young people for increased comprehension--has outdistanced the traditional institutions of public education.
And not only the substance of public education and quality of teaching should change. We should be far past the line of thought that the school year and time in class should be suspended for the summer because kids need to be home helping to harvest the crops.
It’s well past time for all kinds of change, and we need leadership from our teachers to make sure it happens.