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Draconian Policy for Weak Teachers

It had to happen eventually. Tennessee will revoke the licenses of teachers whose students fail to post progress on standardized tests ("Teachers Face License Loss," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 17). Evidently it isn't enough to fire these teachers. They have to be punished, and what better way to do so than preventing them from ever teaching again.

Although Rhode Island, Louisiana and Delaware are also considering pulling the licenses of teachers whose students consistently fail to improve test scores, Tennessee is the predictable center of the strategy. It was at the University of Tennessee in 1992 that William Sanders constructed the controversial value-added model being used to evaluate teachers. The state has already abolished collective bargaining for teachers and made it harder for them to earn tenure.

I expect to see other states joining this Draconian movement. I don't know of any other way to describe it. If the ostensible goal is to improve instruction for students, then why not provide underperforming teachers with help? If they don't improve after a reasonable period of time, then more drastic action is warranted.

But that's really not what's behind the new strategy. The ultimate goal is to reduce teaching to a service industry. That means treating teachers strictly as salaried employees who can be fired at will. Tenure is already disappearing. It won't be long before teachers are compensated strictly on their students' test score growth. The rationale is that test scores are the only objective way to determine teacher effectiveness. For example, a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that standardized tests have support among many parents who believe they are a useful way to measure the performance of both students and schools ("Parents back high-stakes testing," Education News, Aug. 18). Despite copious evidence that such scores are not a reliable way of doing so, protests are futile.

Teaching used to be a field where those who were committed to helping young people achieve their potential made a career. That era is now disappearing. When historians look back, the truth will finally emerge about the reform movement. Hint: It has little to do with students ("Our Gilded Age Education System," In These Times, Aug. 16).

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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