Reader: it is one of the tragic ironicalisms of our time that the same education officials who are so eager to impose strict accountability measures on the teachers in their states are denied the experience of being held accountable themselves. In state after state, a persistent culture of low expectations means that officials continue to earn hefty paychecks even if they aren’t good at their jobs. Which raises a fiercely urgent question: is it long past time to hold our education officials to the same standards of excellence to which they have never before been held?
Today’s trip on the education reform express is a return ticket—back to the great state of Tennessee. Last time we visited the Volunteer State, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, or TNeduCommish, had unveiled a plan to compensate the state’s teachers as actual volunteers. The plan was immediately found to have great merit, especially by those who don’t live in Tennessee and are not teachers. But TNeduCommish knew that his work was not yet done. There remained in Tennessee some teachers whom he had not yet driven from the profession. But with the accountability arrows in his quiver nearly spent, what new measure could TNeduCommish find to impose upon them???
Take this test and teach to it
Great news, reader. Beginning in 2016, the teachers who have not yet abandoned their Volunteer state teaching jobs will only be able to renew their teaching licenses if they are found to have added enough value to Tennessee’s crop of test-taking youngsters. And like all education policy debates with far-reaching consequences, this one was given the public airing and vigorous debate it deserved—on a Friday afternoon conference call.
The board vote was made during a telephone conference call that was at times hard to hear because of the sounds of a school intercom system, background talking, static and even a howling dog that prompted laughter and promises from staff members that the dog was not in a state building.
The Value Added State
Oh sure, there are a few pesky details to be worked out. Like what the plan actually says, since officials haven’t yet made it available. Or how the majority of Tennessee teachers who teach in subjects that aren’t currently tested will have their value added added up since the subjects in which they teach don’t merit measuring. Still, we can be assured that the plan is an excellent one because it has a highly effective seal of approval, from TNeduCommish himself. And as we learned during our last visit here, no one knows more about adding value than TNeduCommish. In fact, I have it on excellent authority that the AP English students upon whom TNeduCommish laid some excellence upon last spring have advanced to the next grade—because that’s how much value he added.
Fix ur wagon
Which brings us to today’s $200,000 question: since it is clear that TNeduCommish is a one-man-value-adding-machine, would it not make cents to devise an elaborate method to calculate the precise amount of value that TNeduCommish is adding and make both his pay and career prospects dependent upon such? For example, we might begin with a simple A-F report-card style system to grade the performance of TNeduCommish, in the interest of “transparency,” “accountability” and “excellence.” This easy-to-use sixty-four part rubric would assign TNeduCommish a single grade based on such factors as popular opinion, scandal-o-meter readings and attendance.
Best of all, TNeduCommish’s grade will accompany him when it is time for him to leave Tennessee, either because he has added as much value as one outstanding individual can possibly add, or because a groundswell of angry parents and teachers sends him packing. And this is great news, reader. You see, in the bad old pre-accountability days of today, a failed education chief can easily move from state to state, as evidenced in this value added hall of shame. Thanks to our new accountability rubric, TNeduCommish can revel in his new found accountability, secure in the knowledge that the days of social promotion and “failing up” are finally over.
What grade would you give TNeduCommish? Send tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.