Opinion
Teacher Preparation Opinion

What If We Brought Education Reform to the Military?

By Lawrence Baines — August 21, 2012 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It is in vogue to compare preparation programs for teachers to preparation programs for doctors. Interns in medicine observe surgeons using a scalpel before trying it themselves; interns in education observe seasoned teachers instructing children before trying it themselves. Recently, the accrediting agency for teacher preparation, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, released a “Blue Ribbon Panel Report on Clinical Preparation,” thick with analogies between medicine and education. By associating with doctors, perhaps the hope is that the stature of teachers will rise.

In truth, however, the teacher-doctor analogy does not hold, as many beginning teachers today “learn while they earn,” meaning they jump into teaching with little or no preparation. No medical school allows first-year interns to perform surgery on real, human subjects. Prospective doctors must have four to seven years of intensive training beyond the bachelor’s degree. But no training is expected of prospective teachers beyond the bachelor’s degree. In fact, the current trend is to deny pay increases to teachers who earn a master’s or doctoral degree, thereby eliminating the possibility that they’ll pursue either.

To be honest, teaching has more in common with the military than with medicine."

At the same time, school districts across the nation have started counting “local service activities” as professional development, effectively giving lunchroom duty the same weight as enrollment in a graduate program. In many states, districts have the power to decide what constitutes professional development and what doesn’t. In Florida, a teacher can simply retake a certification test in lieu of university coursework. Doctors cannot undertake cafeteria work or retake old exams for their professional development. They must attend conferences and learn about the latest developments in medicine.

To be honest, teaching has more in common with the military than with medicine. Like a soldier, a teacher who fails to perform assigned tasks can be removed. Union representation doesn’t exist for soldiers; soon it won’t exist for teachers, either.

Like a soldier, a teacher must secure the area, actively monitor the welfare of the locals, and constantly assess potential threats. Both soldier and teacher must follow orders devised by superiors of higher rank who work far from the action. Both teacher and soldier are expected to subvert personal needs for the sake of the mission. The soldier does not relish defusing an improvised explosive device, or IED, in the middle of a war zone, but neutralizes the bomb to save lives. The teacher does not relish subduing a violent student in a high-poverty school with an “unacceptable” rating, but pacifies the out-of-control student to protect other children.

Of course, the jobs of teacher and soldier are not exactly alike. Currently, soldiers carry weapons and teachers do not, but savvy legislators in many states are working to resolve this discrepancy through the radical easing of gun laws that will help arm students and teachers on campuses everywhere. Forty-nine states allow concealed weapons; 25 states allow the open carrying of handguns. Legislation such as Georgia’s House Bill 981, which expressly endorsed the open carrying of handguns on K-12 campuses and in churches, was narrowly defeated this year.

In 2011, the federal government expended 20 percent of its budget on the military, but only 2 percent on education; perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that Americans tend to value soldiers more than teachers. As if to reinforce the point, the 2012 edition of the Gallup Confidence in Institutions poll found that the military had a 75 percent approval rating, while public schools had a 29 percent approval rating, the lowest rating since 1973, when Gallup first began polling for confidence in the public schools.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Nevertheless, the military could learn much from America’s education reformers, particularly in the areas of recruiting and accountability. Rather than burden new recruits with the humdrum drill of boot camp or the tedium of officer candidates’ school, the U.S. Army should consider “alternative entry” for soldiers who want to “make a difference” right away. These recruits should be allowed to skip all military training and head straight to the front lines of battle.

Similarly, the Army’s antiquated accountability system, still focused on quality training, must change. Although a comprehensive accountability system would be expensive, the best performers need to be identified and rewarded. An infantryman in Afghanistan, outnumbered by well-armed terrorists, who fails to accomplish the mission should receive a deduction in pay. An accountant stationed in Honolulu, who balances the payroll, thereby accomplishing his mission, should get a raise. In a strict accountability system, environment and assignment are irrelevant. There are no excuses.

Entire platoons should be graded on a scale of A to F, depending upon relative effectiveness. A platoon that experiences catastrophic casualties would not make adequate yearly progress and should be given a grade of F. A platoon that experiences success should be given a grade of A. Soldiers in an A-rated platoon should be offered opportunities for advancement; soldiers in an F-rated platoon should be court-martialed and publicly humiliated by posting their names with their performance scores in newspapers and on websites.

This outcomes-based, pay-for-performance system would allow soldiers the chance to be all that they can be and would transform the military into a different kind of institution. To be competitive in an increasingly global society, the American military must implement policies that allow anyone to be a soldier, including those who want to join over the Internet, on their own time. The military should require no training, and should immediately halt the antiquated practices of tenure and promotion, professional development, and postbaccalaureate study. After all, these innovative reforms have made the teaching profession what it is today.

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 2012 edition of Education Week as What If We Brought Education Reform to the Military?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teacher Preparation Student Teachers Are Learning Outdated Tech in Prep Programs
Most teacher preparation programs aren't keeping up with advances in technology, concludes a report scheduled to be discussed at ISTE.
5 min read
Hand of a trainer addressing group of females sitting in a conference hall.
E+/Getty
Teacher Preparation Opinion What’s Ahead for the Nation's First Federally Approved Teacher-Apprenticeship Program?
The model promises to make licensure less costly while opening the profession to a broader pool of potential candidates.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Teacher Preparation Alternative Certification Programs Are Booming. But Candidates Aren't Finishing
These non-university-based programs enroll more teachers of color and tend to be cheaper, but quality control remains a concern.
7 min read
In this photo taken Sept. 1, 2011, Michael Darmas "high fives" a student at Holmes Elementary School in Miami. In a distressed neighborhood north of Miami's gleaming downtown, a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced instructors from Teach for America is trying to make progress where more veteran teachers have had difficulty: raising students' reading and math scores.
Michael Darmas, a Teach For America instructor, gives his student a high five in this 2011 photo taken at Holmes Elementary School in Miami.
J Pat Carter/AP
Teacher Preparation Are Aspiring Elementary Teachers Learning Enough Math?
Teacher-prep programs don’t always dedicate enough time to elementary math coursework, a report finds.
6 min read
Elementary students writing math equations on a whiteboard with teacher near by.
iStock/Getty Images Plus