BANGOR – Once again, various factions are trying to link student performance on standardized tests to evaluation of teacher and school district quality (LD 1799) with the intent to eliminate poor teachers and to reform poor schools.

The “No Child Left Behind” act similarly tied student performance to evaluation of school quality and punished poorly performing schools.

At least the government recognized that throwing money into a leaky boat only made an expensive leaky boat. However, the act failed to reform the schools, patch the leaks or make the system seaworthy.

Now we are faced with another round of educational reform that assumes we need to motivate teachers to do a better job, and that without these “incentives” teachers are just lazy or incompetent or both.

Some folks call LD 1799, and the similar bill just passed in Colorado (SB-191 — “Ensuring Quality Instruction through Educator Effectiveness”), the “business model of education,” comparing it to a business where if you fail you are fired.

However, blaming teachers or schools for the failure of students is placing responsibility on a group that does not wholly control the outcome.

Learning is a complex process that requires access to knowledge, practice in using that knowledge, and motivation or focus. If one of these elements of the triangle is missing, learning will not occur.

Teachers can provide knowledge, give assignments for practice, and can encourage the student, but cannot motivate a student or “make” them focus. Student motivation comes from within.

This failure of the upper echelons of government and public education to properly identify the role of teachers and schools has led us to the brink of intellectual bankruptcy.

The business model counts the student as a product moving down an assembly line managed by school officials and staffed by teachers who at various points attach math, glue on science, screw on a bit of reading and writing, bolt on some social studies, add a touch of physical education, clear-coat it with some wellness and buff out the rough spots to produce an educated adult citizen.

The business model incorrectly assumes that good students can be manufactured like any widget. Where, in any of these educational models, is the student’s responsibility to learn? Education is a bizarre business in which the customer is employed to build the product they desire.

The student is simultaneously customer, employee and product. Teachers are technical consultants and mentors.

Students are active participants in the educational experience. They are employed to complete specific tasks and to achieve certain certifications.

If they have done this well, they acquire the skills to enter the work force as productive citizens, having served an apprenticeship with the schools.

Where is the responsibility of parents and guardians? Learning requires parents to have high expectations and emphasize learning as important.

Learning requires parents to read to their preschooler, listen as their elementary student reads to them, worry about due dates, insist that homework is done and teach their children how to do all this for themselves. Learning requires that parents communicate with teachers and hold students accountable for their responsibility to learn.

The continued drive to improve education is laudable. We must focus, however, on processes that will improve student learning. What we need is reform that requires learning, rewards success and encourages innovation. It must:

1) Place the responsibility for learning on the student. Learning is an active process in which they gain knowledge and demonstrate it.

2) Eliminate the concepts of entitlement and social promotion. Just getting to school and putting a butt in the seat does not entitle a student to a grade. Being there gives them access. Learning earns the grade.

3) Make parents and guardians an active part of the student learning cycle, responsible for their student’s quality.

4) Make homework mandatory for all subjects and all grades. Many studies show that homework is critically important to learning.

5) Provide tax incentives for parents and scholarships for students that meet achievement standards.

6) Give all students an equal economic opportunity by funding schools on a substantial per-capita basis.

7) Make teacher evaluations reflective and formative, designed to inform teachers of their practice and continuously improve their art.

8) Create a positive culture where all teachers are encouraged to research new approaches, try new methods, and collect data about the effectiveness of those methods.

A negative culture where teachers are punished if their students do not measure up will crush morale and stifle innovation.