Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fire those lazy-ass teachers

When I talk about improving school, inevitably someone wants to talk about those lazy-ass teachers who need to be fired, and how those damn teacher unions protect them.

If you think that firing the bottom 5-10 percent of teachers every year would improve our education system, consider this:

Currently, around 8-9 percent of teachers leave the profession every year, and this will probably increase as baby boomers retire. Maintaining the deselection might place substantial strain on the labor pool (of course, there would be some overlap – teachers who would be fired under the proposal would have left anyway).
In particular, high-poverty and other hard-to-staff schools—which already have problems finding good new teachers—would have to replace even more teachers every year, while choosing from an ever-narrowing applicant pool (it seems that much of California is in trouble right now). The assumption that the quality of replacements would remain stable is rather unsafe, and the calculation hinges on it.
Moreover, you can bet that many teachers, faced with the annual possibility of being fired based on test scores alone, would be even more likely to switch to higher-performing, lower-poverty schools (and/or schools that didn’t have the layoff policy). This would create additional, disruptive churn, as well as exacerbate the shortage of highly-qualified teachers in poorer schools and districts.
When all is said, it’s conceivable that, taking the firings, attrition, and switching into account, the total annual mobility rate for all teachers could approach 25 percent, and it would be much higher in poorer school districts (making these students bear a disproportionate burden for this unintended consequence). It’s hard to imagine a public education system that could function effectively under those circumstances, let alone thrive.
Remember also that a widespread test-based firing policy would almost certainly change the “type” of person who chooses to pursue teaching (or, for that matter, chooses to remain). I find it hard to believe that any top-notch applicant would be attracted to a low-paying professionbecause of a systematic layoff policy (see here for an alternative view). There’s no way to know, but my guess is that the opposite is true. If so, the policy’s projected benefits would be further mitigated.
The simulation also assumes that all the dismissed teachers would leave the profession permanently. Again, this seems highly unlikely, especially if replacements are in short supply. Rather, I would speculate that a significant proportion of dismissed teachers would get jobs in other districts. In doing so, they would seriously dilute the policy’s effects, while also creating needless turnover for schools.


  1. I do think that would be a terrible policy and would likely do that which you describe. However, I'd also say that most folks in most school buildings can point to the the one or two teachers who should really go. We usually don't need test scores and other metrics to tell us this. Even the students know who should go. It's also no mystery as to what can be done to help teachers who we also know are really trying but could use some sincere help toward continued improvement.

    From a higher education perspective, faculty also tend to know who should never be granted a teaching degree. They cringe at the thought of student x actually working in a classroom, but they get passed on in the hopes that they'll improve with time and practice. They also clearly know that their programs are doing the best that they can under the conditions that they have to operate, but fully realize that students are often experiencing a minimum amount of preparation toward a teaching degree.

    In addition, other than a smaller minority of those who really feel the passion/calling to work in our more needy urban schools, we know that most teachers don't really want to work under those conditions and many transfer out at the first chance. We know how to improve those schools' conditions, too.

    So, the question becomes, why don't we do what we know is right? Until we start doing the right thing by kids, their communities, and their teachers, we'll always be chasing these sweeping, blanket politically- and commercially-driven "reforms" that do little other than sweep real issues under the proverbial rug.

    Sorry if all of this comes off a little blunt, but I'm getting tired of all of this talking and so little action.

  2. I'd like to talk for a moment about firing the bottom 10% (yearly) of engineers, doctors and politicians. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, right? I sometimes wonder how the people who propose doing things to teachers would feel if the same thing were done to them. (And I honestly don't know why it doesn't occur to them to consider it.)

    What do we do to people who are weak in private industry? Don't we give them additional training, rather than firing them? It seems likely to me that the weakest teachers in any given school are likely to be the new ones. As it would be in any enterprise. So if we were going to fire them all, why would we hire them in the first place? This underscores the fact that additional training would be a far superior approach to firings.

  3. I find it kind of strange that so many of you are so opposed to the system that pays your wages and gave you the education you have now. If you hate the system, why not leave it...start a private school of your own?
    just a thought!

  4. @Anonymous:

    While I can see how you take our desire to improve the system as an attack on the system, I think it is far more productive to say that we believe in life long learning, so we know the system can always be better.

    Romanticizing the past and invoking a defensive stance that pays homage to the system that groomed us will do little to ensure that our children get an even better education than we received.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I have to say that the comment by anonymous is almost identical to that which I was going to ask...I had made a comment here, but it is seems to have disappeared.
    I am a little confused as to why so many of you and your 'peers' for lack of a better word, would have such strong feelings, and not be joining forces to create an alternative school system that would allow like minded people to send their children to be educated in the style that you are supporting. Why would you stay in the public system when you could be happily working in an environment that would support your views and values?
    I would also like to hear your view on communication with the parents of your students?
    I AM a parent of one of your students...and I HAVE requested a conversation with you regarding my son, which you have questioned him about, but have not obliged me! When can I expect that you will address my request of communication?

  7. Because I believe that democracy is built on a foundation of public education, private schools are not an option for me.

    I believe I am needed where I am. So I'll stay and make a difference.

    As for joining forces with like minded peers, many teachers and parents in Alberta are joining together in the cause for progressive education. The province itself is leading their own charge towards reforming and rethinking traditional school:

  8. I think it is yet another example of many people (mostly outsiders) trying to find the "magic bullet" that will "save" education. Education, like any institution or entity of its size, has flaws. Real flaws. I don't think any of us within education dispute that. But it is downright insulting when people make the solutions out to be so simple, thereby inferring that the flaws in education are somehow a reflection that educators aren't smart enough to fix them. The reality is that the roadblocks to change - and there are many - will prevent any real, meaningful progress no matter what policies we attempt or succeed in implementing. Nothing is that simple, least of all the process of teaching and learning. And it would be nice if those of us with the background, experience, and knowledge of education were at least given a decent chance at fixing them ourselves first.

  9. Joe, what could be more democratic than parents having choice in how they want their child educated? I'm not sure who these parents are that support progressive education because I certainly don't know any. Thanks for the heads up on the Province's position because if this is true they will definitley lose my vote. In fact it could be the final nail in the PC Party's coffin in this province.

    Dave I take offense to being called an outsider. I don't think anyone has a higher stake in their child's education (besides the actual child) than a parent and to be called an "outsider" is frankly insulting to all parents. In fact I think this elitest attitude is part of the problem in Education.

  10. I am glad I came back to read some more! I am with Kari in her comment 100%
    Parents are not outsiders! I am a very involved parent. I spend my time being in contact with the school, and the teachers at every opportunity. The education of my children is VERY important to me, and I believe that as a tax paying single mother of three, that I should have a voice in the way my kids are being educated! I feel that at any time, I have the right to walk into the school and request to see what my kids are learning, and see examples of their work. No question.
    I find it insulting that parents are being considered outsiders!
    Kudos to Kari for a well worded statement!

  11. Joe, you bring up salient points. Thanks for taking time out of your already-busy teaching day, on top of parenting and assessing papers, to raise such important issues.

    I find the attention given to firing bad teachers and making aggressive reforms a la Michelle Rhee to hint at a rather insidious hostility towards public school teachers. The grand, table-sweeping gesture of expelling the "worst-performing teachers" sounds simple enough. But like so many rhetorical slights-of-hand, it leaves gaping questions: Where will the new staff come from? Who will train them? How long does it take to become effective? How will effectiveness be measured? By whose standards? Under what circumstances? And what about attrition? How will transfers and high turnover be managed under this system?

    And there's something else: I believe that any humane organization, whether corporate or public, will give the human beings working in that organization the opportunity for redemption. We should give that chance to our students. A good boss counsels and directs. These habits build loyalty, community, and quality. The morale- and soul-deadening practices of iron-fisted Wall Street mergers, e.g. firing workers, downsizing, and skimping on quality to save the bottom line don't always work with little kids learning to form the letter "A."

  12. I stumbled upon this article just recently. Because I'm having some minor difficulties with my youngest who is in kinder garden.My oldest is in special education programs where she needs to be. I'm all for it because when she first started this school her teacher at the time really did try to help and cared about my kids future before assessing that she was in fact dealing with a comprehension issue. Now.

    My youngest. Who just started in kinder garden with another teacher, same school is having problems adjusting ( even though it's only been the first two weeks of COURSE! It's going to be hard on her to transgress!) and not writing claiming the teacher. But I have noticed , even after showing huge amounts of concern believe my youngest had 'issues' the teacher basically pushed me and my child aside already wishing to put her into special education.. I really though that maybe it was my child, maybe some genetics involved? So again I tried to attempt to make some communication grounds to this teacher explaining that i was willing to devote my time and energy to help out in her class ( where as these other parents wouldn't give a hoot lick or shout to even consider doing this!) and again i was brushed aside.Literally turned her back on me and gloated how wonderful this other student was to this other parent.

    She is in such a haste to get rid of my five year old , she already stated she was getting the principles immediate attention on the matter to shift my youngest into a special education program. I was devastated. And became very stressed out and thought i was to blame for all this and failed my daughter.

    So, I sat down with her tonight, and we went over her ABC'S she knew how to read and spell her name correctly in five minutes. What gives? Really. I spent five minutes with my daughter and i got more out of her than this 'teacher' ever did in two entire weeks.

    Now I just believe this teacher to be incompitant. But beyond that i believe she is extremely bias.Now, i've made it my mission to be a thorn in this teachers side by being there three times a week to watch the class. Parents shouldn't be afraid to step up and really see what's going on in the class room and assert themselves, after all we trust these people with the most valuable people on our lives. Our children.How else will things change if parents do not step up?

  13. Anonymous, i wish your child attended my school. Our school is very diverse and all volunteers are welcome. We all make a difference. Attend a Parent Council Meeting in your area. Just one, give it a go, it might change your life.


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