Titan of industry, Henry Ford, once said, "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." For an example of a group that has proven to ironically learn nothing from its past mistakes, one need look no further than the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
For instance, many of the candidates believe that fixing the public education system starts with eliminating teachers' unions. The problem is that not only does eliminating unions not lead to better outcomes, data show that the states with the most union teachers actually preform better than those with the lowest rates of union educators. Despite this reality, some still complain that unions have too much power; yet if you follow the money you will see that corporations, not unions, are the ones with burgeoning influence having outspent unions 15 to 1 in the last election cycle.
This sort of spending gap is why, despite not improving educational outcomes, corporate charter schools continue to expand. It's why, in spite of worse results, the number of "virtual schools" is increasing. And it's why, even though studies have found that "there seem to be few apparent benefits of school of choice", nearly every Republican presidential candidate supports it. The reality is that you'd be hard pressed to find a battle over the past decade between rich corporations and teacher unions where the unions won.
Of course, attacking teachers' unions is hardly the only tool in the Republican education reformers' bags of "mistakes". They also strongly believe in tying teacher's wages to the test scores of their students. The idea being that money will motivate all of the good-for-nothing lazy teachers to put in a little effort. For a group of people who claim to support capitalism, this is an embarrassingly antiquated position.
Years of studies have shown that, not only is money not a good motivator, but that the sort of tactics Republicans support can actually have "devastating motivational effects" on most teachers. The reality is that merit pay for teachers has been tried and failed numerous times and the research done by psychologists, economists and sociologists has found over and over again that in professions like teaching, this idea is a colossal waste of resources.
In fact the science on what not to do when attempting to motivate employees like teachers reads like a check list of Republican education reform ideas. Despite the fallacy of schools full of ineffective teachers, reformers have made firing bad teachers a core policy for improving education. Data show that this fear of losing their job leads to "less energy and drive to complete daily tasks".
Even though reports suggest that there is already a teacher shortage and that nearly 50 percent of educators leave the profession in the first five years, Republicans continue to look for ways to pay teachers less, which has been proven to "hinder motivation and performance".
In spite of studies that show "unleashing (an employees) imagination, ingenuity and creativity resulted in their contributions to the organization being multiplied many times over", Republican legislatures across the country continue to give educators less and less freedom in the classroom.
Regardless of studies that show the value of organizational and communal collaboration to student achievement, Republicans continue to push a rudimentary corporate-based competition model.
But even if the Republican carrot and stick reform ideas did motivate teachers, the gains would be minimal at best since all of these plans address the symptoms while ignoring the root cause of the purported "broken" education system. The one thing Republican education reform proposals never include is a way to boost teachers' skills. Professional athletes have reached the pinnacle of their profession, yet every day they meet with a coach that evaluates their performance and works with them to get better.
Imagine the results a school could get if it employed "coaches" that could help teachers implement new curriculums, coordinate with staff to develop and distribute highly effective lesson plans, review teacher performance and provide feedback for improvement, and interact with other coaches to identify and integrate the latest ideas.
If the objective is to increase student achievement, then asking teachers to independently add this sort of research and personal development to a work week that already consumes 53 hours of their time is an awful idea. Expecting results without providing any resources or training is only a good plan if your goal is to make your staff look incompetent.
Unfortunately it seems that the people who are the most outspoken about how to improve education are also the least educated on the best methods of eliciting improvement. The good news is that, come next year when most of these Republican presidential candidates are unemployed, there will still be plenty of jobs available in education. While this will likely mean a big drop in pay and an increase in days on the job, the way reformers tell it is any idiot can be a teacher, which is great since the ideas these candidates have presented to "fix" education can only be described as idiotic.