Some great and thoughtful feedback pro and con to the “Blame Game” column in TIME today. One issue a few people have raised on the web and in notes is “sure, let’s drop 5 percent, but who will replace them?” That wasn’t the core point of the column, but it’s a great question and exposes a couple of interesting things about our education system and our education debate.
First, if you remove the lowest performers it’s not really the right question to ask. That’s because if someone is at the bottom of the distribution you are better off with a random draw from the overall applicant pool than that person. But, even accounting for that, a random draw isn’t actually the choice in most cases. Again from a standpoint of probability you’re on firm ground choosing teachers from certain teacher prep programs (traditional and alternative) based on the evidence today. Unfortunately, some of those programs are controversial – see Project, New Teacher The or America, Teach For – and we’ve done a lousy job policing quality in teacher prep so the good and the bad are basically on equal footing. You could also – and I know this is crazy talk but just for argument’s sake – do what some schools do and actually audition prospective teachers in a live teaching setting.
We also have a peculiar situation as a country where we produce more teachers than there are jobs yet still have shortages. That’s because there is a geographical, subject matter, and grade-level mismatch so it’s not one to one but it does speak to poor signaling from states, school districts, and prep programs today. It also speaks to the need for a more ambitious set of incentives in many cases. Finally, in some instances, it would make sense to raise class size by a student or two rather than retain demonstrably low-performers.
Each of these approaches has trade-offs, of course, and each one is not applicable across the board. The point is that doing nothing is not an acceptable option, and it is a choice, and there are other choices that can be made.