My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Trying To Wrap A String

As I was driving around today, I was trying to consider what the likely reaction of the major education constituencies might be to my post from last night. What I realized was that it might be a lot easier to list the proponents of my idea--they would fit on one hand (maybe one finger (I'll let you decide which finger)).

For instance, let's guage the reaction of teachers to annual testing for all grades which has consequences to both student progression and teacher evaluation: BOOOO! I think even with the recent example of the Denver Teachers' Union approving a performance-pay plan, I do believe teachers unions would come out against this very strongly. Why? For a couple of reasons. The increased pressure on the teachers in the younger grades runs counterintuitive to the majority education mindset. Secondly, it removes their primary excuse: If I'm working in a room in which I know all the students can function at a third grade level, then I have no excuse for not delivering the third grade curriculum in a way that the students can absorb and perform. Thirdly, from a union standpoint, the numerical ability to demonstrate incompetence would increase the pressure on the union to be more supportive of dismissals for incompetent teachers, and that is anethema to the union.

How about parents? BOOOOO! First of all, it lays a portion of the responsibility at their feet, and nobody wants that when they can credibly avoid it. Imagine the outrage of the two career family who has raised their child on a steady diet of sitcoms and cartoons, who is suddenly informed at the end of Kindergarten that their child is not ready for first grade and will have to repeat Kindergarten--AND HERE'S THE TEST SCORE TO DEMONSTRATE THAT. Or, more likely, imagine the non-English speaking parent who is told the same thing. You can hear the outraged cries of "racism" from here, if you try. Or think older in life: the parent of a thirteen year old girl, who is in the middle of an ugly divorce, who is told that their child's repeated discipline issues have made it impossible for her to keep pace with her class, and so she did not pass the test and will have to repeat seventh grade. The point is, if you take the choice of promotion away from people and make it the conditional on specifically measurable criteria, then you will have a huge public relations problem with parents who do not want to deal with the fact that their child is only minimally able to function at their intellectual age. Also, generally speaking, I would say the Parent Teacher Organizations are only slightly less liberal than the teachers' unions, so anything that disrupts their carefully simbiotic status quo is reflexively rejected.

Would school administrators like this idea? I think there are some who would--until the parade of outraged parents arrive at their doorstep and they are confronted with a handful of teachers whose class performance demonstrates incompetence. On the other hand, a very creative person who is willing to extend themselves and create a revolutionary program design in a building could have a heyday with this. Seems custom-made for a charter school environment (which is another thing that will tick off the teachers' unions). Generally, though, I don't think administrators would be terribly happy to have so many decisions taken out of their hands.

How about the community at large? Perhaps some support here. Certainly local businesses might like the fact that there will be a segment of the workforce with employable skills immediately after completion of high school. I think a lot of people out there who don't have children in the schools would appreciate the accountability of the plan on all levels--though the grandmothers and grandfathers would be especially outraged if their own little angel were one of the first held back. There is a precedent for community support of such an idea: only five years ago Jefferson County approved a massive mill levy increase but only on the condition of test scores improving from year to year. But it is hard to say how widespread that support would be.

The only group I can imagine that would be uniformly amenable to my idea would be the parents of students who are high-achievers and who really feel stunted in the public school arena. These people could take advantage of the idea that college tuition could be partially handled by the state via the PPOR.

Perhaps I'm having a cynical day, but I do believe my plan could manage to anger a huge portion of the electorate.

Which, of course, does not mean it's a bad plan.

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