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By Dave Palmer
Many politicians express concern about the state of our nation’s educational system. They say that they want to ensure a great future for today’s generation of students who will become tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, and business executives. Many remedies are proposed, including high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations, and increasing school resources that candidates and incumbents believe will change the system at large. However, when the time comes for the rubber to meet the road, the person in office is often long on promises, but short on actions to back them up. It is time for politicians to bring action to the table in the form of common sense and balanced reforms for our educational system including increased educational funding, evaluations of administrators, evaluations of parents, and evaluations of teachers.
Increased educational funding is a no-brainer in today’s growing school population. Teachers have been forced to endure 10% pay cuts, increased contributions to their health care, and increased contributions to their pension system if it hasn’t already been cut in favor of private 401(k) plans. School districts have been forced to outsource transportation, food, janitorial, and other support services that make teachers’ jobs easier. This is not a plan to attract the best and the brightest to the field of education. The best and the brightest have student loans to pay off, want to buy a house, and start a family, which is decidedly difficult to do on $25,000 a year to start when you have to pay into your own health insurance and retirement out of your paycheck. Teacher pay and benefits must be increased in order to attract the best and brightest to the field, and they must have access to as many resources as they deem necessary to run their classroom effectively.
Evaluating administrators must also be a part of educational reform. Bad administrative policies can seriously interfere with a good teacher’s procedure. Yet, that same teacher is frequently laid off and forced to apply for their job again while the administrator gets to collect their high five-figure or six-figure salary and keep their assistant. If politicians wish to truly reform the educational system, teachers and parents must be allowed to evaluate administrators yearly, and administrators should be dismissed after three bad evaluations in the same manner teachers can be dismissed for three bad evaluations.
Parents should have some nature of evaluation to endure if politicians truly intend to be fair about reforming education. Parents complain about not having enough say in their students’ education, and in the same breath say that they don’t have time to help their child with homework or enforce technology-limited (no Facebook, Twitter, etc.) study or reading time. Teachers should be able to submit to the state an evaluation of parents based on percentage of homework completed. Students should be able to contribute to these evaluations based on how much time they spend studying and how much time their parent spends helping them with homework when asked. Parents could even contribute by admitting their shortcomings on certain subject matter if they feel the need to defend themselves. While there are no punitive measures that would be effective in mandating parent involvement, these evaluations at the very least should be filed with the teacher’s evaluation to provide a more comprehensive view of what a teacher has to deal with on a yearly basis.
Teachers already have to endure evaluations based on high-stakes testing, and administrative whims. While most teachers can pass the administrative whim test, the state-mandated high-stakes testing can easily rate a teacher who has been successful for 15 years running as unsuccessful based on a single year’s test. By the same token, a bad teacher can simply teach to the test until the test, and be rated successful on a regular basis. There is no easy solution for demonstrating that a teacher is either effective or ineffective. Testing should be a part of it, but should comprise a relatively small portion of the overall evaluation combined with administrative, parental, and even student evaluations.
Politicians, whether incumbent or candidate, must bring action to the table in the form of common sense and balanced reforms for our educational system including increased educational funding, evaluations of administrators, evaluations of parents, and evaluations of teachers. Too often, the finger is simply pointed at teachers for failed administrative policies, lack or parental involvement, and decreased funds/resources for their classrooms. To truly reform education, all of these parts of education must be addressed and possibly evaluated to determine where changes are to be made in education. Surely, some politicians will see the potential benefit of expanding the evaluation system for education in order to find a balanced way to reform it.