A Better Plan for Getting Rid of Bad Teachers

One of the major obstacles to quality education here is not an excessive number of bad teachers, but an amazingly unbalanced system that actually blocks teachers from doing our best work.

Fawn Johnson,  education editor at National Journal.com/Education Insiders blog, threw some interesting questions at us this week, including:

What can standardized tests tell us about teachers? Where do they fall short? How can they be improved? Why are substandard teachers in the lowest income schools? What can be done to make sure they aren’t substandard? Can we eradicate bad teachers?

Here is my response (cross-posted from nationaljournal.com/education_insiders)

In ongoing hypocrisy, states have simultaneously ratcheted up the requirements for candidates coming out of colleges of education, while opening all sorts of alternate routes into the classroom for persons whom meet none of those requirements other than passing the Praxis® (developed by Educational Testing Service, ETS).  It is mostly the latter group who are assigned to the harder-to-staff schools, which underscores why those schools have a higher percentage of what you refer to as substandard teachers. Schools that serve the highest concentrations of poor students tend to be the schools to which states and districts give the least and the last of all resources, including teachers. They have the harshest working conditions for teachers, and thus the worst learning conditions for students.

Meanwhile, the standardized tests that are currently given to public school students actually reveal very little about which teachers are good or bad. They simply are not designed for that use. Trying to take the numbers from these tests and associate them with the performance of any individual teacher continues to be the source of much controversy among statistical and testing experts and of much confusion among the general public.

We have more accurate and efficient methods to identify the quality of teachers’ work and either help them improve or revoke their licenses. These methods are either being ignored or not used properly. One of the great ironies of the recent Vergara decision in California is that when the due process procedures (erroneously referred to as tenure) are actually used, the result should be the removal of ineffective teachers.

However, if we pay close attention to the most recent comparison of U.S. schools to those in higher performing countries, we’ll learn that one of the major obstacles to quality education here is not an excessive number of bad teachers, but an amazingly unbalanced system that actually blocks teachers from doing our best work. This convoluted system has driven many of our most talented teachers out of the schools that need them or out of the profession all together. Likewise, it has generated incredible and enforced mediocrity in the quality of teaching across the U.S.  Teachers who are determined to do our absolute best for our students have testified repeatedly that we have to do it by working against many of our school and district policies. It is a frustrating and exhausting battle teachers have to wage on top of the already complex work of teaching children.

The report has sparked discussion among educators on what U.S. could and should do that really would dramatically increase the quality of teaching and learning in our schools. To participate in that discussion, examine this article by Barnett Berry,  here at the Center for Teaching Quality, and join the new CTQ-Global Lab.

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