Thrawn Rickle 12

The Forgotten Resource

© 1990 Williscroft

Education in America is an acknowledged disaster with no simple solution. There are, however, several avenues that hold real promise. One obvious way to produce excellence is to start with excellence. We need to capture for the teaching profession those competent minds that now turn to science and industry for employment. If we create a teaching corps of brilliant achievers, we will be on our way to producing more of the same.

Excellence associates with excellence, so one order of business is to weed out mediocre teachers. Ideally, we should do this with the enthusiastic cooperation of national teacherís organizations. Unfortunately, these organizations are proposing that tenure instead of performance be the main consideration for increased pay. This makes them part of the problem. It is difficult to understand the need for a national organization to monitor the interests of teachers who are responsible to local school boards. It is far better to forge a local partnership between parents, teachers, and the governing boards.

Regular testing of teacherís knowledge is often touted as the solution to the problem of poor education. While I donít quarrel with the intent of this approach, I donít think it addresses the complete problem. Before hiring a contractor to build a house, you find out what he knows. But you also check out his performance. Have his houses stood the test of time?

If we were to judge teacher competence not only by periodic testing, but also by how well students performed, we would force teachers to

teach more and agitate less. When your pay and possibly even your job depend upon how much your students have learned, you are much less likely to spend any time on a picket line. Obviously, such an evaluation program would have to consider the kind of students each teacher instructs. It would be unfair, for example, to compare the performance of an accelerated class with that of a class of slow learners. Nevertheless, student performance is the true measure of teacher ability.

There is an especially appealing way to boost competence among teachers. In our communities live large numbers of retired people from all walks of life with many accumulated years of experience. It should be far easier to teach an experienced accountant how to transfer some of his or her knowledge to high school kids, than to teach a freshly certified high school teacher enough accounting to have the same impact. Ditto for the retired chemist, corporate CEO, writer, mechanic, farmer...just about any profession or trade you care to mention.

Tens of thousands of retired professional and trade people would leap at the chance to participate in such a program. The retired professional-turned-teacher probably will not demand an excessive salary either. If we are to entice excellence away from corporate offices, however, we must be willing to compensate good teachers accordingly.

Offer sufficiently large salaries, ensure that the people you hire earn what you pay them, make use of all available human resources, and the children who graduate from our schools will be the finest, brightest, most able young people on this planet.