- Cullman, Alabama

August 18, 2013

Evaluating education

The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — A new poll compiled by the Associated Press indicates parents back standardized testing in schools.

In fact, 75 percent of parents believe the tests are a solid measure of their children’s abilities. Another 69 percent also believe the tests are a good measure of the quality of schools.

For educators, this is perhaps a sign that they are reaching the public. Nonetheless, there is parental concern that schools place so much emphasis on standardized tests that they cause unnecessary stress for students. It seems that a child’s overall performance in school would be at least equally considered with standardized tests.

But there’s even more to the survey that deserves attention.

Parents widely believe testing should be a measuring stick for the quality of teachers when coupled with honest classroom evaluations. The parents survey generally believed school systems are weakened by the inability to remove teachers because of poor performance.

The concern among these parents goes back to the rise of powerful teachers’ unions and the outdated existence of tenure.

In Alabama, for example, the Alabama Education Association for years controlled the hearts and minds of legislators. While that influence has been met in recent years by more independent-minded lawmakers, the influence of the union remains strong. The oddity of a union supporting tax-paid workers is that it collects dues from teachers’ salaries and converts this money back into lobbying efforts and public campaigns to sway lawmakers and voters in what ever direction it chooses. At the same time, the AEA has not been a standard-bearer for reforms in public education.

Tenure also locks school systems into longterm support of teachers who may be on the bottom side of performance. Public education would be a stronger force if teachers and administrators were judged more like workers in the private business and industry side of the economy.

For some reason, the common sense of treating the employees who live off taxpayers  the same as workers in the private sector has escaped lawmakers.

The age of teachers’ unions needs to pass away. School authorities should be able to evaluate teachers on performance, not membership in an organization or tenure.