Barrett: Tennessee's tougher teacher evaluations prompt hysteria

Barrett: Tennessee's tougher teacher evaluations prompt hysteria

November 13th, 2011 by Steve Barrett in Opinion Columns

Something close to panic has seized opponents of new teacher standards in Tennessee.

Among other things tripping their horror reflex is the fact that tenured teachers may no longer skate by with only two evaluations every 10 years. They're also miffed that a big part of determining a teacher's proficiency will be subjective classroom observations.

That's uncanny, considering the fit-pitching we've come to expect when anybody tries to use objective measures for that purpose. (A Tennessee Education Association periodical refers to "the agony of relying on student test scores and other acts of God in order to gain and retain the designation of a tenured teacher.")

Anyway, some weird histrionics about the new requirements were on display recently in the House Education Committee.

* Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, told of a colleague who had spent hours trying to devise an acceptable lesson plan. The teacher, Coley said, ultimately was reduced to tears and "urinated on himself."

* An official with the Professional Educators of Tennessee said the evaluation process is "a literal nightmare as teachers I know personally within our district reported loss of sleep, vomiting from extreme nervousness and even stress-related shingles."

That's bizarre -- and not just the part about people who can't sleep having "literal" nightmares. I think the word he was searching for was "waking," not "literal."

But waking or sleeping, if a teacher is vomiting, wetting himself or suffering a near-breakdown over the stress of coming up with a lesson plan or having his classroom technique observed, it suggests not a need to ratchet down expectations but to emphasize the availability of counseling.

Wanna talk stress? Chat with a kid who graduates into this economy without the skills to get a job that doesn't require hovering over a grease vat. He can tell you all about stress.

The critics of the evaluations won't say it, but their criticism boils down to a question that ought to answer itself: Do schools exist for children or for teachers? The latest melodrama suggests that those who favor option two may sense their long jig is up.

Herman and the Carpenters

The Carpenters proved that talent could triumph over a negative image and limited connections.

Coming from a middle-class family, the brother-sister duo had no strings available for pulling. And in an era marinated in Woodstock and The Doors, they had an image and a musical style that were not only out of step but were seen in more strident quarters as well-nigh reactionary. Corporate publicity on their behalf didn't help. By Richard Carpenter's admission, it was sweet to the point of cloying.

If they were to get anywhere, it was going to be on the strength of ability and hard work. "Anywhere," of course, turned out to be more than 100 million record sales.

With that in mind, I'm comfortable rejecting the idea that no Republican candidate has a chance to defeat Mitt Romney and win the GOP nomination.

Consider just the example of Herman Cain.

Romney is vastly better funded than Cain (though the savagery of the 24/7 sexual harassment cottage industry seems to be boosting Cain's donor base.) Romney also has the Shamu-class weight of an ossifying but still important GOP establishment behind him. And he has a weapons-grade nationwide campaign organization.

All of which has won him the support of, maybe, a quarter of likely Republican voters. In poll after poll, Cain is tying or beating him -- on a shoestring budget, with no more than a token organizational structure in some areas and despite all the Molotov cocktails the media can sling.

Part of Romney's stable unpopularity in the midst of massive advantages may stem from the fear that conservative distrust toward him could get so strong that his nomination would spawn a third-party challenge, ensuring Obama's re-election. A serious third-party campaign -- at least one that would hurt the Republican rather than Obama -- would be highly unlikely with a conservative candidate.

So pardon me and tens of millions of Americans if we are not ready to accept the bromide swaddled in a cliché surrounded by a truism that Romney's nomination -- much less his ascent to the White House -- was etched in granite from the foundation of the world.

Cain and even Gingrich may have only just begun -- to fight.

Barack, Joe and Newt

Speaking of Gingrich, is he a delight to watch in the debates or what? Can you imagine how he would mop up the forensic floor with Barack Obama -- to say nothing of the greasy stump to which he would reduce Joe Biden?