Skip to content

On Teachers, Testing and Tenure — An Analysis

Arguing the Three Ts: Teachers, Testing and Tenure

Americans seem caught on the horns of a dilemma with all this testing and learning business.

Dr. Lawrence Davidson / Veterans Today

The Florida House has approved SB 736– Gov. Rick Scott

The Florida State Senate and House of Representatives have passed Bill 736. The state’s governor, Rick Scott, has signed the bill and so this effort to “reform” teaching practices in the Florida public schools is now a law. Reform them how? According to the Miami Herald, the bill will eventually “tie teacher pay to student test scores, eliminate so-called tenure for new hires as of July 1 [all subsequent hires will get only yearly contracts] and end layoffs based on seniority.” It was, of course, a Republican sponsored bill and that had the Democrats looking for flaws. It did not take them long to spot an obvious one. According to the Florida House Minority leader Ron Saunders (D-Key West), “if you are basing a teacher’s pay on test scores, there’s going to be a natural incentive for the teachers to teach to the test, instead of, maybe, expanding other areas of interest.” The Republican response to this concern was to dismiss it as a false issue. According to Representative Eric Fresen (R-Miami) who sponsored the bill, “As long as the students are learning, I don’t think there’s a problem with that.”

The state of Florida is actually rather late in coming to this. The bill largely mimics the still extent Bush Administration policy known as “No Child Left Behind” which came into existence in 2003 and was overhauled by the Obama Administration in 2010. As the Florida legislation suggests, this approach relies on assessment based on standardized tests and has made a lot of money for companies who put such tests together.

There are number of assumptions that lay behind all these efforts and here are some of them:

1. There is an assumption that the American public school system is performing poorly.
2. There is an assumption that this is the fault of bad teachers.
3. There is an assumption that getting rid of the tenure system will get rid of bad teachers.
4. There is an assumption that using standardized tests will allow you to measure necessary levels of learning for specific ages.
5. There is an assumption that having instituted such tests, the attainment of adequate scores means that both the student has successfully learned and the teacher has successfully taught.

It just so happens that all of these assumptions are problematic. Let’s take them one by one.

1. Is the American public school system performing poorly? Well, yes and no. There are plenty of supposedly scary statistics out there that show that the majority of public school students are not fully proficient in a number of academic areas, given a definition of proficiency set by standardized tests. For instance, the U.S. Department of Education reports that, as of 2009, 17% of 12th graders are proficient in math and 18% are proficient in Science (let’s keep these percentages in mind), and that “in comparison to 1992, reading scores were lower in 2009.” However, these statistics begs the question of what criteria is being used to determine proficiency? Or, if you will, just what does it mean to be educated?

Historically (and here I mean from the dawn of civilization onward), the notion of educational proficiency has always been tied to making a living. In other words, either through apprenticeship or formal schooling, what most children have learned over the ages is what their economic environments required of them. Applied to our own time this means that, for all students in all schools, there are two curricula. Whether you want to be a lawyer or an auto mechanic, the primary curriculum is vocational and the second one is, shall we say, elective. This elective category may or may not include independent critical thinking which, in any case, is a pursuit that is often disapproved of by local school boards. By the time American kids are in Junior High School they usually know the difference between what is vocationally valuable and what is not and most gear their learning efforts to what they believe are their future career interests. That means vocational learning will most often trump elective learning. It also means that it is not the school per se, or the teachers, that are actually setting the criteria for learning. It is the economy and the student’s local culture.

So, if the economy demands reading and writing abilities at the level of business memos and technical reports, that is the proficiency, on average, that you will get. On average, all learning beyond that, regardless of the courses taken, will be seen by the student as elective and absorbed or not depending on personal interest. Ask yourself how many American students want to, or will be required to, know anything beyond basic math in their future workplace? 17% sounds like a roughly accurate number. How many are going to want to, or have to know much science? 18% sounds about right. Thirty years ago computer savvy was not a job related skill. Schools largely ignored it and relatively few people had real proficiency in this area. Today, the situation is reversed. So you see for most students, and their schools, useful knowledge is deemed to be employment knowledge.

Actually, almost all American schools, even the “failing”ones, deliver employment knowledge. You might think that this claim is off base, but it really is not. High end public schools cater to students, most of whom by virtue of their cultural background, have professional career expectations. And that is the educational preparation they get. Just so, low end schools (admittedly underfunded) cater to students, most of whom have very different expectations, and they are educated accordingly. I am not claiming this is a good thing, only that this is the way it works. If you want to change it, you have to change culturally driven expectations and the structural nature of the economy. Just looking at tests and teachers won’t do it. To achieve this sort of change means a lot of social rearrangement and revenue shifting. Historically, the U.S. has never been willing to do these things.

2. And that brings us to our second assumption. If you are not satisfied with the status quo in education, but are not willing to acknowledge where the real problems lie, you might be tempted to find a scapegoat. So, it all becomes the fault of bad teachers. First of all it should be determined what is meant by bad teaching. Do we define it by poor student scores on a standardized test? Or do we define it as the failure or inability to make a good faith effort to address the required material? It should be kept in mind that you can have the first without the second. I would be very suspicious of the first definition because of the reasons given above. So let use the second definition. Given that meaning, are there bad teachers in our public school system? Yes there are. But it is highly doubtful if, in terms of percentage, they number any more than bad administrators, bad bank managers, bad lawyers, bad doctors, and even bad Florida state politicians, etc. Nor is it true that, allegedly unlike the other categories, teachers are “insulated from accountability.” Almost every public school teacher in the country is under contract. One assumes that failure to teach competently is a breach of a teacher’s contract. Just as in all other contractually governed employment settings, it is the administrator’s (the principal’s) job to document the situation and fire the worker who is not doing his or her job. If you have the evidence of breach of contract it is unlikely that a union will expend much energy defending a bad teacher. As a consequence, it is simply wrong to blame the workers or their unions for what appears to be the incompetent response of management relative to bad job performance.

3. But what about the Tenure System? Doesn’t that protect bad teachers? No, it does not. Probably understood and applied, it should have nothing to do with the question of incompetent teaching. What the tenure system is designed to do is protect all teachers from the political, religious and other biases of politicians, school boards, administrators and the society at large. If you will, the tenure system is a necessary extension of the teacher’s constitutional right of free speech to the classroom. And this is absolutely necessary if teachers are to be free to teach anything other than the prejudices of the majority in their particular community. Also, tenure is not the same as seniority. Actually, the idea of seniority is in place to prevent management from firing expensive workers (that is those making a good wage) and replacing them with ones who can be paid much less.

4. In the end what is being attempted in Florida, and the country at large, is the implementation of quantitative measures for all school grades as well as all subjects. In some areas this is appropriate. You want to teach a child aspects of mathematics, you can access the result of this effort by a test with exactly definable answers. Even the testing of very basic levels of reading and writing might be quantified after a fashion. Setting a standard for what levels of mathematics, reading and writing someone should be at by what age is something else, particularly if one tries to do this without reference to the economy and local culture. Things get hazier when we enter the realm of the humanities and social sciences. The notion that one can create a one size fits all test to measure learning in these latter subject areas is highly problematic.

5. Nonetheless, according to the Florida approach, having set the test, whatever it might be, all else can inevitably be judged according to its result. This includes the child’s learning, the teacher’s teaching, the administration’s administering, etc. In other words, thanks to the test, we now believe that we know what good and bad means in the classroom. All the teachers can learn to teach for test and, if successful, that will automatically equal good teaching. Maybe some will get merit bonuses for this. All the students can learn to learn for the test and that, if successful, will automatically equal good learning. Some may get into better colleges for this. Besides the fact that putting so many eggs in one basket invites a lot of cheating and corruption, everyone can give a great sigh of relief.

Americans seem caught on the horns of a dilemma with all this testing and learning business. On the one hand, they want a yardstick that can tell them if their kids are being adequately educated in a time of economic uncertainty and cultural flux. On the other, learning is something that, with but few exceptions, is not easily expressed in quantitative terms. Nonetheless, the politicians are always going to go for the simple answer, whether it makes sense or not. In this way, Florida is right in step with the rest of the country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Davidson is the co-author of A Concise History of the Middle East and author of America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; Islamic Fundamentalism; and The Alexian Brothers: An Evolutionary Look at the Monastery and Modern Health Care. A member of West Chester University’s history faculty since 1986, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and completed his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Georgetown University and the University of Alberta in Canada, respectively.

View the original article at Veterans Today

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Posted in Finance & Economics, Politics.

Tagged with , , , , , .

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.

Support #altnews & keep Dark Politricks alive

Remember I told you over 5 years ago that they would be trying to shut down sites and YouTube channels that are not promoting the "Official" view. Well it's all happening now big time. Peoples Channels get no money from YouTube any more and Google is being fishy with their AdSense giving money for some clicks but not others. The time is here, it's not "Obama's Internet Cut Off Switch" it's "Trumps Sell Everyones Internet Dirty Laundry Garage Sale". This site must be on some list at GCHQ/NSA as my AdSense revenue which I rely on has gone down by a third. Either people are not helping out by visiting sponsors sanymore or I am being blackballed like many YouTube sites.

It's not just Google/YouTube defunding altenative chanels (mine was shut), but Facebook is also removing content, shutting pages, profiles and groups and removing funds from #altnews that way as well. I was recently kicked off FB and had a page "unpublished" with no reason given. If you don't know already all Facebooks Private Messages and Secret Groups are still analysed and checked for words related to drugs, sex, war etc against their own TOS. Personally I know there are undercover Irish police moving from group to group cloning peoples accounts and getting people booted. Worse than that I know some people in prison now for the content they had on their "secret private group". Use Telegrams secret chat mode to chat on, or if you prefer Wickr. If you really need to, buy a dumb phone with nothing for the NSA/GCHQ to hack into. Ensure it has no GPS tracking on it and that the battery can be removed. These are usually built for old people to get used to technology storing only a set of numbers to call. However they have no games, applications to install or other ways people can exploit the computer tracking device you carry round with you most of the day - your smart phone. If you are paranoid ensure that you can remove the battery when travelling around and do so to prevent GPS tracking or phone mast triangulation. Even with your phone in Flight mode or turned off, it can be turned on remotely and any features like front or back cameras, microphones and keylogging software can be installed to trace you.

So if your not supporting this site already which brings you news from the Left to the Right (really the same war mongering rubbish) then I could REALLY do with some..

Even if it's just £5 or tick the monthly subscription box and throw a few pound my way each month, it will be much appreciated. Read on to find out why.


Any support to keep this site would be appreciated. You could set up a monthly subscription for £2 like some people do or you could pay a one off donation as a gift.
I am not asking you to pay me for other people's articles, this is a clearing house as well as place to put my own views out into the world. I am asking for help to write more articles like my recent false flag gas attack to get WWIII started in Syria, and Trump away from Putin. Hopefully a few missiles won't mean a WikiLeaks release of that infamous video Trump apparently made in a Russian bedroom with Prostitutes. Also please note that this article was written just an hour after the papers came out, and I always come back and update them.

If you want to read JUST my own articles then use the top menu I have written hundreds of articles for this site and I host numerous amounts of material that has seen me the victim of hacks, DOS plus I have been kicked off multiple hosting companies, free blogging sites, and I have even had threats to cease and desist from the US armed forces. Therefore I have to pay for my own server which is NOT cheap. The more people who read these article on this site the more it costs me so some support would be much appreciated.

I have backups of removed reports shown, then taken down after pressure, that show collusion between nations and the media. I have the full redacted 28/29 pages from the 9.11 commission on the site which seems to have been forgotten about as we help Saudi Arabia bomb Yemeni kids hiding in the rubble with white phosphorus, an illegal weaapon. One that the Israeli's even used when they bombed the UN compound in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. We complain about Syrian troops (US Controlled ISIS) using chemical weapons to kill "beautiful babies". I suppose all those babies we kill in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria are just not beautiful enough for Trumps beautiful baby ratio. Plus we kill about 100 times as many as ISIS or the Syrian army have managed by a factor of about 1000 to 1.

I also have a backup of the FOX News series that looked into Israeli connections to 9.11. Obviously FOX removed that as soon as AIPAC, ADL and the rest of the Hasbra brigade protested.

I also have a copy of the the original Liberal Democrats Freedom Bill which was quickly and quietly removed from their site once they enacted and replaced with some watered down rubbish instead once they got into power. No change to police tactics, protesting or our unfair extradition treaty with the USA but we did get a stop to being clamped on private land instead of the mny great ideas in the original.

So ANY support to keep this site running would be much appreciated! I don't have much money after leaving my job and it is a choice between shutting the server or selling the domain or paying a lot of money just so I can show this material.

Material like the FSB Bombings that put Putin in power or the Google no 1 spot when you search for protecting yourself from UK Police with "how to give a no comment interview". If you see any adverts that interest you then please visit them as it helps me without you even needing to give me any money. A few clicks per visit is all it takes to help keep the servers running and tag any tweets with alternative news from the mainstream with the #altnews hashtag I created to keep it alive!

However if you don't want to use the very obvious and cost free ways (to you) to help the site and keep me writing for it then please consider making a small donation. Especially if you have a few quid sitting in your PayPal account doing nothing useful. Why not do a monthly subscription for less money instead. Will you really notice £5 a month?