In my teaching career I can think of numerous times I needed a redo. One instance demonstrates the craziness of testing. I had a student who was a guaranteed top scorer on the state assessment. This student was my Michael Jordan and I was ready to watch him roll. A few days before the test, tragedy struck his family. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I actually worried about how this would impact his score. My selfishness made me so angry with myself. How could I possibly think, even for a quick moment, about a test more than I was thinking about this child? I imagine there are millions of teachers out there who have some lingering thoughts this spring they wish they did not have.
I am struggling as I have always supported accountability and high standards. I have spent four years researching expert teachers, in order to write a dissertation. I believe highly effective teachers create highly effective classrooms and therefore highly effective students. However, I am not sure testing students is the single best way to measure effectiveness. Some countries, like Finland, have completely turned around their education systems in a decade to be the best in the world by recruiting, developing, and supporting strong teachers with little to no standardized testing. Unfortunately, testing seems to be the only avenue our country is willing to embrace even with all of the international models pointing to a variety of other avenues.
If this is the best way to turn our schools around, maybe this system could turn around the rest of our country. I propose a rigorous accountability system for our government. The assessments will come at the end of each fiscal year. The first step is to set long range goals as we have in education. Due to this process being highly rigorous, two goals should suffice for the initial four-year phase.
Goal 1: The United States will be out of debt by the year 2016.
Goal 2: All citizens will be employed by the year 2016.
The “tests” for each year will be the measurement of movement towards eliminating the debt and the percentage of people employed. Private testing companies will be responsible for the measure and analysis towards the goal, as the government should not be trusted to report their own efforts. Of course, we would want to phase in these four-year goals in with short-term Average Yearly Progress goals.
AYP 2013 Goal 1: The United States will reduce the national debt by 25% by June 30, 2014.
AYP 2013 Goal 2: Unemployment will be reduced by 25% by June 30, 2014.
Congress and the President will write a version of what educators in Louisiana call our yearly Student Learning Targets. These could be called United States Goal Targets. Each congressman will write a goal based upon his or her congressional district. For example, a congressman with 60% unemployment will write a target to reduce his or her district’s unemployment rate by 25%. Each congressman will write another target to cut the budget in his or her area of influence. For example, if a congressman is on the committee for healthcare, he or she must find a way to cut 10% of the budget by the end of the year. The cuts must be voted on and put into place by July 1, 2014 to count. Simply proposing a bill is not sufficient. Inability to work with the other side is no excuse not to meet your target. Things out of your control, including the viewpoints of fellow members or your constituents’ abilities, resources, mental state, or educational level, matter not. This is your job, you must be held accountable.
The hard part will be the accountability. No tenure should be allowed for committee positions. Any Congressman not achieving his or her goals the first year will be subject to a renewal vote by his or her district. The vote must occur by August 2014. If a Congressman is returned to Congress the second year, he or she must reach the goals by the end of the next year. If the goals are not met, the member is relieved of his or her duty immediately. Achieving goals one year does not impact the lack of achievement of the goals the next year even if there are extenuating circumstances. The runner-up in the more recent election could fill the void or maybe someone lacking any sort of credentials could just fill in. Rumors suggest this is working in education.
For the position of the President, goals will again be simple in the initiation of this process. The President will cut 10% of his administrative budget by the end of the year through the reduction of agencies and staff. This may not help unemployment numbers, but logic seldom seems to go hand in hand with goal writing. The President will apply diplomatic skills to reduce foreign aid by 10% by the end of the year without involving us in major conflict.
The President will have yearly goals also, but voting on the President each year, would simply be ridiculous. Rather a President’s failure to achieve the yearly goals two out of four years would eliminate his or her ability to run for reelection for first term presidents and for second term presidents, the party of the President would not be allowed to offer a candidate in the next election.
This is only an initial proposal. As the system develops, more goals could be added to include peace efforts. I would expect to see a goal around peace in the Middle East. Much like teachers who work is high poverty areas are expected to meet goals regardless of the economical, social, cultural, or leadership issues, the inability of our government leaders to garner peace is certainly not about century old issues, but rather about the effectiveness of the politicians.
Imagine if this system had been in play for the past 40 years. Our political landscape would look extremely different. There is little incentive for either of the major parties to work together. Their power actually benefits from making the other look inept. This could open the door for other parties or divide the two major parties into smaller parties. Imagine if the system expanded to our state governments. We may actually have to tell the truth about certain restructuring efforts.
In the past 21 years I have worked with amazing teachers and I have worked with teachers who are deplorable. I really don’t support tenure, but I also don’t support a system based on a calculation formula with numerous statistical issues as we have in Louisiana. I am not pretending ineffective teachers are not teaching in our classrooms. Unfortunately they are in abundance in many areas. Our system is unacceptable and accountability should exist. However there are so many circumstances a single test score does not even begin to explain. I am not proposing testing should be eliminated rather testing should be a much smaller piece of the model.
Accountability should begin with creating a highly rigorous and effective model for recruiting, developing, and supporting teachers. Rather than wasting billions on various programs, the testing cycles, and the magic bullet materials, pay for high-quality people to enter the profession. Change the profession and accountability takes care of itself. Instead of spending 40 more years trying to find an effective system, simply look around the world to find what is working. The answer will be effective, intelligent, and problem-solving teachers.
Likewise, our government is not working at maximum capacity, because for the most part we have elected intelligent people who are brilliant in the art of self-promotion, worrying more about their party’s power than the citizens, and who understand enslaving people through entitlements and ignorance keeps them in power.
If we want a free nation, education is the most critical foundation. Creating a world-class system is not accomplished by testing children to death. Creating a world-class system is accomplished through single classrooms filled with amazing, gifted, intelligent, and highly motivated people who can think, inspire, and transform lives. The second piece of a free nation is a government of the people, by the people and FOR the people.