It’s hard to know where to begin listing all the things wrong with what passes for “teacher evaluations” these days. In an April 4th article in the Post Dispatch, Rep. Scott Dieckhaus of Washington is quoted as saying he’s looking for objective standards, “something that’s measurable” to make teachers accountable for their students’ success.  From what I’ve heard from friends who taught with Dieckhaus, he’s not the best person to be making decisions about quality teaching methods.  But, if that’s what the legislators want, let’s apply the same standards to them. How about this for a plan:

Since the Missouri legislature is so keen on merit pay and accountability indicators for teachers, how about we set up the same kind of system for them?  We could establish goals, objectives and testing mechanisms just like the politicians demand of schools.  When they don’t meet their goals, we can call them “failed political bodies” and shut them down.

The state motto of Missouri is Solus populi suprema lex esto.     “The Welfare of the People Shall be the Supreme Law ”  gives us a good starting point for goal making.  We can track the standard of living and quality of life  markers for all Missourians, regardless of their individual performance ability and home environment.  

Then we can compare Missouri’s achievements with the other states to determine where the legislature needs an improvement plan.  It certainly won’t be difficult for Missouri to make improvements because a study released by the University of Missouri St. Louis Public Policy Research Center recently puts  Missouri in the below average range on all 58 indicators of economic success.   If this were a basketball tournament, Missouri wouldn’t have a chance of making the playoffs.  Not to put too fine a point on it,  Missouri is in the losers bracket.

• We all know the state has lost population.  That’s why we’re losing a seat in the U.S. Congress.  

• During the last several decades, the state’s gross domestic product, i.e., the state’s economic output, has fallen from 18th to 36th  place.  

• Median family income has fallen dramatically from 17th to 37th place.  

• In terms of revenue collected and spent,  Missouri ranks down in the mid 40’s.    Only five states spend less than we do on higher education.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why we’re not producing many rocket scientists.  Why would  families and businesses want to move to a state that disrespects education as much as we do?

Professor Emeritus Don Phares,  author of the UMSL report, concludes that Missouri is in a downward spiral as we lower our expectations in terms of revenue collected and investment on human resources.   The trend may be irreversible at this point because low revenues and low spending produce a climate that repels job creating economic ventures.

Another useful tool in our evaluation plan for state legislators is the annual  United Health Fund report which tracks health and quality of life issues.  Compared to other states, Missouri  dropped another notch in 2009 down to 39th out of the 50 states.  Given our low test scores on things like premature death, cardiovascular disease, smoking rates, obesity, and air quality, it shouldn’t be hard for our state leaders to bring our scores up in coming years.

Of course, with the lowest cigarette tax in the country, we’re not really trying very hard to get people to quit.  Our air quality is also causing a lot of our asthma and chronic lung disease problems.  Even as this is being written, our state legislators are figuring out ways to ignore EPA regulations that protect our health even though there are only 12 states with dirtier air than Missouri’s.  

One of the most distressing findings in the United Health Fund report  is the percentage of children living in poverty. In just one year, the percentage increased from 18.7% to 23.8%.   This should be shocking to all of us, especially since these children represent our future.

The good news is that we have improved in terms of the number of students graduating from high school,  we’ve reduced the incidence of infectious diseases and we’ve  increased  access to early prenatal care.    If we can make improvements in those areas, maybe we can tackle some of the other challenges we face.

When the current legislative session ends in early May, let’s review the bills passed that improve the quality of life for Missourians.  Using those indicators for success as our goal, we can evaluate our state representatives and senators and give them a grade.  If they do not perform up to the standards we set for them, we may have to put them on probation and require them to submit to us their plan for improvement.  Then we can decide whether to keep them on or fire them.