The TLE dinosaur with a tiny brain

by Tom Deighan

Generations have been taught that the spike-tailed Stegosaurs had a brain the size of a walnut, but I recently discovered that its brain was closer to the size of a tennis ball. I also learned on the interweb that those iconic battle scenes between Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus from Land of the Lost never happened because they reportedly lived millions of years apart. This fake news makes me question everything I learned from Saturday morning television. Were the Sleestak lizard people really evil, or were they simply misunderstood by the unenlightened Pakuni? Most importantly, does the fossil-record tell us if these ancient peoples went extinct because the maskless Marshall family infected them with the COVID?  Where are the fact-checkers when we need them! 

Nevertheless, Tyrannosaurus Rex was the Cretaceous classmate of a 15,000 pound sauropod with a brain the size of two walnuts. The 50-foot long Ampelosaurus lived about the same time as T-Rex, which we compared last week to the impractical federal testing system with high-stakes teeth that relies on the itty bitty arms of keyboarding 8-year-olds for survival. If T-Rex is “The Testing Dinosaur with Little Arms” (last week’s article), then the Ampelosaurus is the TLE Dinosaur with the Little Brain.

TLE is the Teacher-Leader Effectiveness model adopted by Oklahoma eons ago in 2010 as part of Oklahoma’s failed bid to receive Race to the Top funds that inadvertently hatched two voracious monsters: Common Core State Standards and Oklahoma’s TLE.  TLE was part of an ambitious federal plan to tie teacher performance to test scores and usher in a golden age of incentive pay, but just as the testing dinosaur struggles with little arms, the TLE Dinosaur wrestles with a brain too small.  Consequently, for over a decade, teachers and principals have wasted precious instructional time corralling the Ampelosaurus while simultaneously chasing pterodactyls away from children on the playground. (Disclaimer: state-mandated drills have virtually eliminated staff and student carry-offs by Pterosaurs.)    

While TLE may have begun with great intentions, it is now an outdated model tied to the federal testing dinosaur that compares groups of children to other groups of children. Although politically useful, this testing system is educationally worthless as a real-time guide for instruction.  In 2021, teachers now rely on short, age-appropriate diagnostic tools to monitor individual students’ growth during the school year. Unlike federally mandated tests, these tools impact a child’s day-to-day education.

Unfortunately, in over a decade we have not implemented the quantitative (measurable) portion of TLE with any fidelity.  To-date, we only use the qualitative (subjective) portion.  Since the TLE dinosaur has never tied the federal tests to teacher performance, we now have a giant, time-wasting, paperwork dinosaur that exhausts teachers and principals as it gobbles up learning time from students. Like the Sleestak and Pakuni from Land of the Lost, however, educators have learned to survive these dinosaurs by employing technology and better practices from this century. Unfortunately, this creates two testing systems in school – one that is helpful and one that is mandated.  

If we really want to tie teacher performance to tests, we should tie them to the classroom diagnostic tools that impact instruction, and these tests should be aligned to college-and-career readiness standards.  Restoring local and state control of teacher evaluations based on meaningful data would reduce time-wasting, create more robust evaluations, and make it possible to implement incentive pay based on measurable outcomes. TLE needs to follow the federal testing dinosaur with little arms into extinction. If not extinction, we should send them to an island off Costa Rica where they can frolic with other dinosaurs like Stegosaurs, Common Core, PASS, and NCLB.  

If Land of the Lost perpetuated such fake news, then I am no longer convinced that the Pakuni or Sleestak lizard people are extinct, either.  Maybe Ancient Aliens is on to something, but that is a subject for a different time. Meanwhile, please do not forget to pray for the safety of our schools this Second Sunday of the month. Trust me, it works. Not a pterodactyl in sight. 

Tom Deighan is currently the superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. Email him at Read past articles at

Comanche Times
United for Oklahoma - September