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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  • wjtolley

    Excellent way to re-direct

    Excellent way to re-direct the debate in a more relevant direction. The complexity of the situation escapes too many pundits and our students suffer due to the ripple effects. 


    • ReneeMoore

      Part of Our Work as Teacher Leaders…

      …is to redirect just such conversations away from the buzzwords and political silos back to the real issues and what matters. Thanks for your comment.

  • LotharKonietzko

    I am an Highly Effective Teacher in Urban America

    Are there issues and problems in our education system that we need to address?  Yes, absolutely, but I love the apple to kumquats comparison of American Education to other countries that we are falling behind.  Other nations track their kids and push them into different directions based on student performance.  For example Han’s might not be the brightest bulb in the box so he is being sent to the trade school because he is really good at working with his hands and can take anything apart and fix it and put it back together.  Gunter on the other hand is excelling in math and has taken AP Calculus and is being encouraged to go to the University.  Gunter gets tested for his understanding of math and Hans gets to get around it.  In America, all kids, regardless of ability take the state standardized test in Michigan regardless if they even speak English.  I would put up our best math students against the math students of other nations any day.  A true apple to apple comparison, all things being equal would probably show that we are not falling as far behind as people think.  But that is not the message we are being fed.  If we tell people something enough times in the media people will begin to believe it.


    What is truly frustrating is the continual myth that urban schools are where many of our worst teachers are.  I truly find fault with that because I believe that I teach with some of the very best teachers in Michigan.  I teach at Everett High School, in Lansing, Michigan, the school Magic Johnson graduated from back in the 1970s.  My school is full of AP teachers, Honors teachers, teachers that speak more than one language, teachers that have to learn to become Social Workers without a degree in Social Work, teachers that have to teach Special Education or students with Learning Disabilities along with ESL students and regular level students all in the same class.  My high school is very heterogeneous and students come with all kinds of outside the school issues that they bring with them into class everyday.  Yet, we have kids that pass AP exams with 4s and 5’s, get into Yale, U of M  and Michigan State University or Lansing Community College and are successful.  But that does make good news when your trying to destroy the nations urban schools because they are the easiest to take away from the public. 


    I have been rated as a “Highly Effective Teacher” for two years since teacher evaluations hit my school.  A school that the state says is a “Priority School” not in terms of funding and getting great staff or keeping current great staff but priority for a possible state take over. I would say many of my colleagues should be rated highly effective because of the many hats they have to where on top of knowing their subject area as an expert.  I am sure the teachers in the outlying suburbs that are very homogenous and the social economic situation is more stable for their student population would have some difficulties until they learn the ropes so to speak of a school like mine.  I’ve often seen those teachers come and go because the ropes are difficult, frustrating, trying and of course tiring, but they are also extremely rewarding too.  Teacher turn over in urban schools is an issue, if we truly were a “Priority” for the State of Michigan, we’d find a way to truly make them a priority rather than in just words and standardized test scores. 

  • ReneeMoore

    Don’t Let the frustration….

    …with the way we teachers are treated in the mass media and urban myth, lead you (or the rest of us) into the same type of overgeneralization errors. I have spent my career in small, rural Mississippi high schools whose problems and shortages mirror those of our urban cousins (I’m from Michigan originally!).  There are too many miscomparisons not only between education in the U.S. and that in other countries, but also between schools/districts inside the U.S.  For example, schools in Ontario, Canada are arguably more diverse in ethnicity and income than many in the U.S., yet they have found more effective ways to teach students and to empower teachers.

    The search for the “bad” teachers that allegedly overpopulate failing schools in the U.S. is a political witchhunt designed to distract the public from the real problems. I thought your take on the irony of the “priority” labeling was spot on.  For example, have you written anything for your local newspaper or other outlet that parents in your community might see that goes breaks down some of these issues from your unique perspective? 

    • LotharKonietzko

      Frustration solutions

      Hi Renee, thanks for replying to my post.  You are correct in that we do have misconceptions between school districts and states.  I graduated in the 1980’s from Okemos High School, a school with an excellent reputation for teaching excellence.  I had some great teachers without a doubt, there were also a few duds along the way, just like anywhere and in any profession.  The issue with Okemos was class based.  What was and still is interesting is that many parents want to take their students out of urban schools because they feel there is a danger or drug issue.  When in fact, weatlhy suburban schools have kids with money who can afford all kinds of drugs, the 80’s were crazy when I was in high school. The kids who have really gone off with violence tend to be attending these schools as well.  A very interesting and troubling dynamic and one that needs to be studied and understood on so many levels.

      I have thought of writing a letter to the editor or even attempt an editorial.  The one I posted here is already on my mind for that purpose.  The other thing I am doing as a teacher is I am running for political office.  I am seeking a seat as a County Commissioner and have a primary election Aug. 5th to get through. There are a few other educators who are running for State Representative. Until we teachers step up to the plate and run for or get appointed to a political office we are going to continue to be doomed to the fate that others have in store for us.

      Michigan misses you I am sure 🙂