Second Response From Diane Ravitch

Ed Note – All week Eric Hanushek and Diane Ravitch have discussed and debated the pros and cons of more assertive policies to deselect the lowest-performing teachers.  Hanushek started on Monday, Ravitch responded on Tuesday, again Hanushek on Wednesday, and here is Ravitch with the final installment today.  Many thanks to both of them for this discussion.

By Diane Ravitch

I made two arguments in my first blog. Rick seems to have misunderstood both. Let me try again.

My first point is that the dramatic benefits he promises if schools fire 5-10 percent of teachers is not based on real world evidence. It is a talking point, not a policy.

Rick is a respected economist. When he tells policymakers that firing the “bottom 5-10 percent” of teachers would boost U.S. performance to that of high-achieving nations, they believe him. They think there is actual evidence that a systematic “deselection” policy will generate massive, miracle improvements over a relatively short period of time.

But no such evidence exists.

If Rick believes that firing based on comprehensive evaluation ratings comprised of multiple measures will produce the same results as “deselecting” teachers based solely on their ability to raise test scores, he’s entitled to that opinion. But he is just speculating. And he’s probably wrong.

Rick’s calculation is based entirely on wide variation in value-added scores in math only. Most teachers do not even receive value-added scores, and nobody – including Rick – can say how even well-designed evaluations will vary, or how well they will measure teachers’ ability to promote cognitive and non-cognitive skills, both of which should be valued outcomes. Rick can’t say how widespread “deselection” policies will affect the labor supply, or morale and teamwork. He can’t say whether these annual firings will hurt poor schools that already have very high turnover. In other words, he can’t say how his hypothetical calculation will play out in the real world.

I agree with Rick that administrators should fire bad teachers. In fact, it happens all the time. Teachers are easily and routinely dismissed in their first three or four years. If there are incompetent teachers who have tenure, they should get a chance to improve, and, if they can’t or won’t improve, they should be dismissed, after a fair hearing.

But it is irresponsible for Rick to claim, without qualification, that his formula for firings will increase student performance to the level of Finland or Canada within ten years.

The second, more important point I was trying to make in my response was that “deselection” by itself is not the best course of action if our goal is to improve the quality of American education.

We can’t fire our way to excellence.

It’s not that simple.

We need to change the recruitment of teachers. Entry standards should be set much higher. Before they are hired, prospective teachers should have at least a year of study and training, in addition to their undergraduate degree in academic studies. Once teachers are in the classroom, they should get support from mentors. If new teachers had better working conditions and consistent support, there would be less turnover. Instead of focusing on “deselecting” teachers, we should concentrate instead on recruiting better qualified people into the profession and making sure that new teachers have a fair chance to improve and succeed.

We should do whatever is necessary to raise the status of the teaching profession and make it truly professional so as to stop the current revolving door policy of high attrition and turnover. A policy of “deselection” will create needless turnover among teachers who might have become great teachers had they only been given the help they needed.

Unlike university work, where scholars often work alone, teaching is a collaborative enterprise – teachers share what they know with colleagues and often work with other teachers. Morale matters. The real purpose of evaluations by supervisors and peers should be to foster improvement among teachers, not “deselect” them.

The fact that Rick supports efforts to improve and support current teachers is exactly what makes his “5-10 percent” talking point so perplexing. Rick’s simulation shows only that teachers vary widely in how they affect math scores. By itself, this is not evidence that “deselection” will produce huge results.

Rick uses this argument often and without clarification. He fails to explain that its promised benefits are hypothetical and highly unlikely to hold up in real world implementation. He has allowed himself to become associated with a simplistic, uni-dimensional approach that belies his knowledge and actual beliefs. The endless repetition of his argument has convinced some people that all we need to do is “deselect,” and we’ll be Finland in ten years. This is unlikely, to say the least.

As it happens, I just returned from a week in Finland, where I visited schools and talked to teachers, principals, and university researchers. Finland did not rise to the top of international performance in reading, mathematics, and science by “deselecting” teachers. Entry into teacher education programs is highly competitive. Teaching is a respected profession. Every teacher must have a masters’ degree. There is very little attrition, very little turnover, and certainly no “deselection” of teachers. Finland administers no standardized tests until the end of secondary schooling; it trusts its teachers’ judgments about student progress. They are professionals, after all.

Finland improved its performance by long-term, intelligent action: by a steady investment in the recruitment, support, and retention of teachers. We should do the same.

104 Responses to “Second Response From Diane Ravitch”

  1. Stuart Buck Says:

    Still no apology to Rick Hanushek for misrepresenting his point of view . . .

    “Finland did not rise to the top of international performance in reading, mathematics, and science by “deselecting” teachers. Entry into teacher education programs is highly competitive.”

    You obviously think that Finland’s teachers are much smarter and more accomplished than our teachers. So what would you do with all of the U.S. teachers who, as you imply, would never get a job in Finland in the first place? That’s the rub. You seem to think that we should just keep employing them (for possibly the next 30 years), while “helping” them become better.

    Where’s the evidence that your plan will work?

  2. daprofessor Says:

    Let me get this right, Ravitch says the fatal flaw in Hanushek’s argument is that he has no real world evidence for the policy he’s proposing that we adopt because the policy has never been adopted so we can’t actually observe in the real world how such a policy played out?

    Does anyone else find this just a bit silly? Economists HAVE to make predictions by modeling data all of the time! We would never make a single economic policy decision in any arena unless we relied on estimates derived from models of behavior that are not all encompassing. The reason Hanushek can’t do a perfect experiment here with “real data” is because Ravitch and her friends would never go for such a thing?

    If Ravitch et al are really interested in science and finding out the truth of whether Hanushek’s proposal would work in practice let’s randomly select 50 of the largest 100 school districts in the U.S. and “treat” 50 of them with Hanushek’s “fire the worst 10 percent” solution and then don’t do anything else to the other 50 percent.

    If everyone cares about what’s best for kids and “the research evidence” such a proposal should be agreed to in principal by everyone. I’m astounded when Ravitch writes”

    “Rick is a respected economist. When he tells policymakers that firing the “bottom 5-10 percent” of teachers would boost U.S. performance to that of high-achieving nations, they believe him. They think there is actual evidence that a systematic “deselection” policy will generate massive, miracle improvements over a relatively short period of time. But no such evidence exists.”

    In a word, duh! I’m sure Diane’s personal financial investor can’t also give her data on the performance of her mutual funds 5 years down the road either because the data exists. I doubt very much Diane doesn’t also expect that economist to make predictions based on the best models out there.

  3. evidence_anyone Says:

    Ravitch writes:

    “I agree with Rick that administrators should fire bad teachers. In fact, it happens all the time. Teachers are easily and routinely dismissed in their first three or four years. If there are incompetent teachers who have tenure, they should get a chance to improve, and, if they can’t or won’t improve, they should be dismissed, after a fair hearing.”

    My reaction:

    How can Ravitch say that teachers are easily and routinely dismissed all the time for poor performance. Not pedophilia, performance. Name me one school district that routinely exits 10 percent of teachers based on their classroom performance each year. There is no way she can do that. Hell, I’ll even take a peer reviewed study that shows as much in a respected journal.

  4. Paul Thomas Says:

    The scapegoating of teachers and the distraction about teacher quality are both used to keep most people from starting with the actual problems at the root of educational quality.

    I have never seen any argument that teacher quality is THE or one of the main problems with student outcomes. Overwhelmingly, THE problem includes the inequity in any child’s life OUTSIDE of school and then the inequity experienced once that child enters school.

    Hanushek’s work, whether intentional or not, is interjected into the reform debate carelessly. Ravitch always offers nuance, historical perspective, and reality—three things the new reformers want to ignore.

  5. madness Says:

    paul thomas,

    you can’t be as dumb as you sound.

    yes, hanushek and everyone on his side of this debate knows full well that poverty is a larger predictor of student learning outcomes than teacher quality.

    but teacher quality is:

    1) more under a policy-maker’s control
    2) the most important “school level” factor influencing learning outcomes
    3) a more economically efficient lever to fix

    what would your policy proposal be? just hand out 10,000 to a poor kid’s family every year hoping they would spend it wisely and end the cycle of poverty? i mean seriously you want to go war on poverty 2.0?

    the reason teacher effectiveness is seized on has nothing to do with scapegoating, it has to do with the fact that improving the instruction given to poor kids holds much more promise as a lever to eradicate poverty for this country longterm than does a bunch more 1960s style war on poverty programs that cost more and have proven inefficient.

  6. Attorney DC Says:

    Paul Thomas is right on the money: “The scapegoating of teachers and the distraction about teacher quality are both used to keep most people from starting with the actual problems at the root of educational quality. I have never seen any argument that teacher quality is THE or one of the main problems with student outcomes.”

    I would add that studies I have seen estimate that in-school factors account for only a small percentage of a child’s overall academic performance (less than 20%, I believe). I seem to remember reading these statistics in either books by Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom or, possibly, the Bell Curve. In any event, Paul Thomas is correct in that focusing all this attention on teacher quality is an ineffective approach (especially since easy to use and accurate measures of teacher quality do not exist).

  7. Mary MacKinnon Says:

    Finland leads for more than their teacher selection process. While that is a huge part of the formula, there is much more support to education than teachers. The other part of their formula is low poverty rates. Few children live in poverty. Families are supported with good health care stating before pregnancy, mom’s are paid to stay home, child care providers have masters in early childhood, and healthy habits are a bigger part of their culture including nutrition. The American magic pill doesn’t exist. It hasn’t work for obesity problem. It hasn’t worked for rage. We need to start thinking about people (students) in the bigger context in which they exist. We can’t “fix” one area, instead we need a comprehensive plan to eliminate poverty (through good jobs), promote healthy life styles, expect educational excellence, and promote national health. But that means economic health for all including reducing the fat of the top. Pointing fingers away from them, promotes our number 1 problem that has a strangle hold on every sector of this nation…unregulated greed.

  8. Herb Says:

    The problem with Hanushek’s argument is that it’s based on a statistical artifact that has limited basis in reality. This is actually the problem with a lot of Hanushek’s arguments. He runs beautiful and interesting econometric analyses but doesn’t bother to interpret them in the context of reality. In this case, he modeled value-added scores between US, Finnish and Canadian teachers and found that, as a group, the US sample would mirror the averages of the Canadian and Finnish samples if you lopped off the bottom 5-10%. All that means is that it’s possible to make that US sample look like those Finnish and Canadian samples by adjusting the average scores upward. What that doesn’t mean is that if you go into a particular school or school district and systematically fire teachers in the bottom 5-10% of value-added scores you’ll get huge improvement every time. There are too many other variables at play in those contexts that deliberately aren’t considered in those statistical analyses. Anyone with a foot in the real world would understand this.

    What folks like Hanushek need to do is take their data to practitioners and policymakers who actually work in and with schools and school districts and talk to them about what it could mean in terms of policy and practice. That’s the role of research (and I say this as a researcher myself). Economists and other academics almost always run into trouble when they try to turn their findings into policy prescriptions. That’s not their forte and it’s not their role, really. A few researchers are able to do both well, but it’s rare. (Ravitch is no exception here. Her insights are valuable, but the policy prescriptions she turns them into are often lacking.)

  9. Stuart Buck Says:

    “I would add that studies I have seen estimate that in-school factors account for only a small percentage of a child’s overall academic performance (less than 20%, I believe).”

    So what? This is an education blog, and you’re talking to a group of people who are interested in what goes on within schools. If the only thing you care about is poverty, then go hang out with sociologists who study poverty or people who work in soup kitchens or whatever, and try to figure out whatever issues they struggle with.

    But in a group of people that happens to be interested in schools, it isn’t helpful or relevant to always be saying, “The thing that you care about isn’t important, so you should really be talking about the thing that I think is more important.”

    I mean, do you show up for discussions about how to fix malaria in Africa to lecture them about how they should quit because AIDS is actually way more important? That’s fine to think that, but you can’t expect people to quit trying to address malaria just because it isn’t your number one topic.

  10. Rita S Says:

    My initial reaction is this. Dr. Ravitch accurately points out that Mr. Hanushek’s theory is a talking point — not a policy. As a talking point, it reflects an economist’s speculation.

    To quote from a respondent above: DAPROFESSOR

    ……Economists HAVE to make predictions by modeling data all of the time! We would never make a single economic policy decision in any arena unless we relied on estimates derived from models of behavior that are not all encompassing……….

    These predictions are speculative and nearly always financial in nature. As in a mutual fund, these economist’s predictions are risks. Some people take risks with their money using modeling data – nevertheless it is a “risk.” Mutual fund owners and stockholders are repeatedly told they venture into these arenas “at their own risks.” You can’t hold the economist to blame if you lose your shirt in the stock market based upon his predictions.

    To take an economist’s model and attempt to translate that to someone’s livelihood or to our children’s future is not a risk I’m willing to take as a parent or grandparent.

    Many economists have turned this nation upside down with inaccurate predictions encouraging people to take risks. I would never risk my livelihood nor my child’s future on an economist’s data model. That makes no sense.

    I’ve been involved as a parent volunteer in the school system for 15 yrs. I’ve seen the decline in the content thanks to failed NCLB policies and incessant focus on high stakes tests. I’ve seen good teachers leave because of the lack of respect and I’ve seen new teachers axed before they were vested (3 yrs).

    How do you explain the non-unionized teachers? You say it is impossible to fire a teacher yet you neglect to mention those who are not in the union.

    Last I looked FL’s teachers had less than 50% unionized.

    Again, Hanushek’s formula is a talking point not a policy. And it is simply not transferable to our nation’s public education system.

  11. madness Says:


    don’t bother. these people posting about poverty don’t understand research design. as others in the thread pointed out, they similarly don’t understand that policy-makers have more control over what goes on in a school building than what goes on at home. it’s hopeless with some of these people. they have probably never read roland fryer’s paper on the harlem children’s zone that finds the ancillary “supports” (non-school squishy stuff) had no causal impact on student learning, but that they high quality instruction in HCZ charters did have a huge impact.

    p.s. can we all stop using finland as a comparison point? finland is the size of minnesota for one. for another thing, finland does not have a gigantic country with huge poverty to the south of it that sends millions of illegals into finland each year. face it, the u.s. is different because millions of people in poverty WANT TO COME HERE. you can’t have an endless welfare state and open borders. that doesn’t work folks.

  12. GGW Says:

    Let me see if I can boil it down in a way both sides would agree to.

    1. Ravitch would raise standards for those who would like to become teachers. That is, forbid some people from becoming teachers based on their undergrad GPA, or SATs, or something. Correct? “Raise standards” means “block some people who don’t meet the new standards.”

    2. Hanushek would raise standards for people who are already teaching. That is, forbid some people from continuing to teach, based on observers and test scores showing them teaching badly.

    I prefer 2.

  13. daprofessor Says:


    economists aren’t the only ones that have to speculate. policy-makers don’t have access to rigorous randomized field experiments on these important questions because NEA/AFT and Ravitch’s crowd won’t let them!

    let’s try and be constructive/specific here:

    Let’s start with a population: 100 largest school districts in U.S.
    Let’s agree we have a problem: low student achievement, esp. among low-income kids
    Let’s say we have some folks pitching a solution call it solution X: fire the lowest performing 10 percent of teachers in a district

    Do we want to know whether solution X has a causal impact on improving the outcomes we care about: higher graduation rates? college completion rates among students in those districts?

    Solution to get us some “non speculative” knowledge since you don’t like that…

    Easy: Randomize the 100 districts. 50 are treated with the fire the lowest 10 percent, 50 are not and continue standard human resources practices.

    Observed outcomes in treatment districts – observed outcomes in control districts give you a causal estimate with *oh my god* real data!

    Now who here will go for this? Don’t you all care about science? Real knowledge?

  14. Jupiter Mom Says:

    Interesting that a poster (madness) talks about the Harlem Children’s Zone- a program that does focus on helping children access education despite their SES situation. And he goes on to talk about how the poor drive down ed scores in his PS.

    You cannot add when you are subtracting. It’s that simple. When you have to create programs like TFA to find teachers to fill classrooms, there is a problem. If you want to increase teacher quality- you need to increase the requirements and the pay. If teaching becomes a more desirable and prestigious job, you’ll have no problem with poor quality teachers. But, reducing job benefits and making it less secure for teachers will only create more problems. Mostly it will create the problem of a revolving door of teachers. This isn’t good for anyone.

  15. Diana Senechal Says:

    Yes, as an earlier commenter pointed out, economists have to make predictions, BUT the predictions have to pass muster. Hanushek’s do not. Diane is right ont that point.

    What’s wrong with the idea that if we fired the bottom 5-10 percent of teachers, student achievement in this country would rise to the level of Finland? Many problems have already mentioned, so I will bring up two more: (a) the inadequate curricula in our schools; and (b) the persistence of failure in human life.

    We talk so much about achievement but do not adequately address the question “achievement of what?” This explains, in part, why “literacy” scores are much more stubborn and difficult to raise than math scores. There is no such subject as literacy, and we are spinning our wheels trying to teach it. There is literature, grammar, rhetoric, composition. Teach those things, and you will see some gains. (Math curricula are far from perfect in this country–but at least, in comparison with literacy curricula, they have some sort of substance and sequence.)

    As for the persistence of failure, consider Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. The Underground Man (who is wrong about many things–he’s by no means by hero) notes that there is something more precious to humans than happiness, and this thing is free will. If presented with a formula for a perfect world, many of us would reject it for no other reason than to demonstrate that we were human and not an organ-stop. While the Underground Man contradicts himself and creates his own traps, he puts forth a profound truth here. There is a need in human nature for some sort of failure, some sort of rejection of a perfect world.

    Now, this does not mean that schools cannot get better or that students on the whole cannot do much better. They can. But to improve the schools, we must lift the level overall. Trying to get rid of failure will get us nowhere. It will come back to plague us. Finns have failure too. Look inside their schools, and I bet you’ll find many children who are having trouble with their studies. The difference is that the overall level is higher than here, and students at all levels get adequate help and challenge.

    Also–and this may sound counterintuitive–often students do poorly in school precisely because they are not being challenged enough. It is easier in some ways to learn difficult material than to learn easy material; the brain goes into full gear. Also, once the student tackles difficult subjects, failure becomes a natural part of the process. (No fear of a perfect world when we’ve got trigonometry problems to stump and intrigue us.)

    So, how to raise that overall level? For one thing, restore the integrity of the subjects. Teach literature, not reading comprehension. Teach mathematics in depth, not by hopping from topic to topic. Prepare teachers who are nimble thinkers–who enjoy thinking of a topic from this and that angle, who can anticipate questions and misunderstandings, and who enjoy thinking about the subject on their own.

    Pay attention to the subjects themselves, raise the level of challenge, learn to work intelligently with failure, and not only will our schools get better, but we will have a clearer understanding of what “achievement” means in the first place. Yes, teachers who really aren’t up to par will have to be let go, but that’s not what will make the schools improve. It’s our thought about the subjects, among other things, that will make the difference.

  16. Attorney DC Says:

    To Mr. Buck and others who question my concern with other factors that effect student performance:

    I worked as a teacher. In several different schools (rich and poor). In low-income schools (and some higher income schools), I saw most teachers trying very hard to teach students who came to school with serious emotional and behavior problems along with academic deficits. Most of these students also had problems with attendance, doing homework, in-school behavior and other problems.

    My point isn’t that we should simply throw our hands up and give up on these kids. It’s that focusing 99% of our energy on targeting teachers had not been shown to fix anything, and likely won’t fix anything. If you want to know my solution to academic performance problems among low-income, minority students, I would propound the following:

    1. Make serious efforts at curbing teenage pregnancy in the low-income, minority population. Children of low-income, single mothers do VERY poorly in school, on average. Why not attack the problem from the front end, rather than deal with the effects on the back end (at school).

    2. Make student behavior the number one concern at low-income schools. Principals and school districts should support teachers who try to enforce basic behavior standards. Having worked in low-income, minority schools, I’ve seen that student misbehavior (from refusing to follow directions to shouting and cursing at fellow students and teachers) SERIOUSLY impedes efforts of teachers to teach and SERIOUSLY impacts the fellow students in the class, making it almost impossible to get any learning done in these classrooms.

  17. madness Says:

    Jupiter you wrote:
    “Interesting that a poster (madness) talks about the Harlem Children’s Zone- a program that does focus on helping children access education despite their SES situation. And he goes on to talk about how the poor drive down ed scores in his PS.”

    I’d encourage you to read Dr. Fryer (one of the nation’s most respected Economists btw) research on HCZ. You can find the link here:

    Dr. Fryer finds CAUSAL evidence (remember this is a randomized study) that HCZ students succeed because of the HCZ instruction itself NOT THE ANCILLARY SERVICES which were available to all students in “the zone” not only the lotteried in students who got access to the charter school.

    Now, yes, I did point out that the U.S. deals with poverty as a problem. I don’t see how that makes my argument any less valid. I just asked posters to stop salivating over the Finland model since Finland is about the size of many U.S. states and also does not have half the world trying to emigrate to it for economic opportunity from third world countries. I would never say poverty doesn’t matter. What I would say is that effective teachers can overcome poverty in terms of VALUE ADDED gains. Value added gains have little to no correlation with raw levels of student achievement.

    Jupiter, you also wrote:

    “If you want to increase teacher quality- you need to increase the requirements and the pay. If teaching becomes a more desirable and prestigious job, you’ll have no problem with poor quality teachers. But, reducing job benefits and making it less secure for teachers will only create more problems. Mostly it will create the problem of a revolving door of teachers. This isn’t good for anyone.”

    I think we would agree that you have to make the job more prestigious, but that’s what TFA does. It makes it prestigious by making it selective. In American culture two things drive prestige (I would argue): money (compensation) and selectivity. TFA has used selectivity as a lever. You could also use money (as the mckinsey survey research suggests).

    Using job security is an awful idea. Survey after survey and research in human resources tells us that the brightest people (people with the best skill sets) want to be judged based on their performance and they do not want to work in organizations with colleagues who have job security that is unconnected to performance.

  18. Attorney DC Says:

    To follow up on my previous post above, with regard to the student discipline issue, I found that principals in many schools flatly refuse to assist teachers to enforce behavior rules and standards.

    Some principals actively act to overturn discipline that is meted out by teachers (for example, pressuring a teacher to cancel an after school detention when a parent or coach complains). Some principals tell all the teachers to “handle it” on their own and, for example, immediately return to the classroom any child who is sent to the office. In one low-income junior high school I worked in, the principal refused to hold school-wide detentions, telling the teachers that they should each stay after school to administer detention to any one student (which is completely ineffecient and creates a huge disincentive for teachers to assign detention).

    I would refer you to books like “Standing and Delivering” (written by Jaime Escalante’s former principal) which describe effective, school-wide strategies that can make large positive changes in the behavior of all the students in a school.

  19. Stuart Buck Says:

    Attorney — I agree with your two recommendations. Let’s do those things too.

    But it’s not either-or — either address teenage pregnancy or try to move the absolute worst teachers into another career. I really don’t understand the utter non sequiturs being suggested here: “Poverty and teenage pregnancy are really important; therefore, the worst teachers should keep their jobs and we’ll cross our fingers hoping that they get better.”

  20. Anthony Cody Says:

    Do the proponents of firing teachers as a systemic solution seriously assert that this has never been attempted in modern history, and thus is an untested and possibly worthy innovation? The American landscape is littered with schools that have been “restructured,” their staff reassigned, replaced by the supposedly superior teachers that were available. Funny thing is, this has rarely succeeded. The problem with Dr. Hanushek’s ideas is not that they have never been attempted. The problem is that they have never worked.

    It is remarkable how we allow “policy levers” to be constrained to things that may make a marginal difference at best, but have the advantage of costing taxpayers little. This is made absurd by the claims by Dr. Hanushek that his recommendations will yield such dramatic educational and economic improvements. The clamor over the supposedly widespread and calamitous bad teachers arrives just as we are plunged into a deeper economic crisis, and poverty has greatly worsened. How convenient for the top one percent that this issue is taken off the table by some researchers.

  21. daprofessor Says:

    “Do the proponents of firing teachers as a systemic solution seriously assert that this has never been attempted in modern history, and thus is an untested and possibly worthy innovation?”

    I would say that yes this would be a huge innovation. We’ve only had reasonably comprehensive student assessment data available in a majority of states since around 2000. We’ve only recently begun to link that data to individual teachers.

    To the best of my knowledge the only attempt to fire the lowest performing teachers leveraging off of this assessment data is from IMPACT in DC. And we all know what happened at places like Sousa Middle school that actually did that.

    You can’t compare “restructuring” which just means firing EVERYONE and making everyone reapply for jobs to Hanushek’s proposal which would require using measures to identify the weakest 10 percent and replace them with folks who aren’t in that range. Has not been done systematically in U.S. education.

    If you know that it has been, please contact NYTimes — you’d likely get a full spread story in the Sunday edition of the Mag with such a find. Ark of the Covenant stuff.

  22. Anthony Cody Says:

    And there we get to the cruel heart of this supposed reform. Teachers are only accountable for around 20% of the variation in test scores. So we are supposed to take a factor, in which 80% of the variation is beyond the teacher’s control, and make teachers 100% accountable for it. If you think this is a way to increase the caliber of people choosing to enter this profession, especially in our high poverty schools, you have got another think coming.

  23. daprofessor Says:

    the survey research begs to differ:

    top third talent wants merit pay, bigger front end salaries, and compensation based on performance. do you think all the hotshots who graduate from ivy league schools prefer jobs with seniority, pay divorced from performance, and industrial models of human resources? really? why do so many of our top third graduates flock to volatile professions like law and banking where many things beyond their control result in them getting the boot if they don’t perform?

  24. daprofessor Says:

    Also you’re WRONG when you write: Teachers are only accountable for around 20% of the variation in test scores.

    You’re mixing up test score growth with baseline student performance on tests. Yes 80 percent of baseline test score performance is based on socio-economic status of the student/family background, but there is little to no correlation between poverty and GROWTH.

  25. Anthony Cody Says:

    So here we go. We are engaged in a social engineering project, where we want to change the teaching profession from one that attracts primarily altruistic, idealistic, caring people, into one that takes would be lawyers and hedge fund managers and offers them instead the high risk, high rewards opportunities that come from educating hard knock inner city kids who are two or three years below grade level. Get them up to grade level and snag that $3000 bonus! This is a pipe dream if ever there was one.

  26. Attorney DC Says:

    To daprofessor: Actually, there is a relationship between poverty and academic growth. I believe it is true that in general, lower income students make less growth each year than higher income students. This isn’t surprising, given that (from what I’ve read) low-income and minority students are absent more often, change schools more frequently, and have less support at home, among other reasons.

  27. daprofessor Says:

    Attorney DC,

    That just isn’t factually correct.

    The EVAAS system created for value-added by Sanders has produced graph after graph in NC, TN, OH that show poverty has a WEAK to non-existent correlation with GROWTH in student proficiency. You can just google EVAAS and find the impressive charts in TN yourself.

    That’s the entire point of why growth models are a better approach than NCLB’s focus on raw scores. We can be more certain that school/teacher effects are driving growth rather than poverty. If anything it’s harder for rich and affluent kids to IMPROVE and raise their GROWTH because they are already scoring at the upper heights.

  28. daprofessor Says:

    for the record, i’ve not had one taker on my randomized experiment suggestion above! wow, we have a lot of folks invested in the status quo who nonetheless supposedly favor “science” and “what works” and “rigorous research evidence” yet no takers on randomly assigning hanushek’s policy as a treatment.

  29. Attorney DC Says:

    To daprofessor: I guess it depends in part in how you define “growth” with regard to student performance. I’ve seen studies that show, for example, that African-American students enter kindergarten scoring, on average, lower than other students and that they fall farther behind as the years progress. This would demonstrate to me that this group of students is ‘growing’ less each year than their peers are growing.

    However, if you define growth by saying that a student who scores in the 90th percentile on the 4th grade proficiency test does not ‘show growth’ unless that same student scores above 90th percentile on the fifth grade proficiency test (which measures the new skills learned in fifth grade), then, yes, I would agree that it may be hard to ‘show growth’ with high-performing kids. Depends on how you measure it.

    However, I’ve read that IMPACT scores on student growth are much lower in low-income DC schools than in the higher income DC schools, causing many more teachers in low-income schools to be rated lower on their performance evaluations. In the real world, it’s hard for low-income kids to improve significantly in a given school year.

  30. daprofessor Says:

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on what the research says about air-tight connection (or lack of connection) between value-added gains and poverty.

    However, I don’t think it’s stretching the best research on this subject to far to agree on the following facts:

    1. Some teachers and schools are, even with poverty factored in, much better at improving kids learning outcomes from where those kids came in to start (baseline performance)
    2. That improvement in academic learning that these top teachers/schools get for kids will matter significantly in their lives
    3. Because of 1 and 2 we should more or less settle on a human resources policy in public education that removes those teachers or shuts down those schools that consistently do worse (bottom 10 percent) on IMPROVING kids learning gains from where those kids started

    I just don’t think this is a very controversial policy position. Perhaps that’s why it’s not a surprise that three quarters of the American public told PDK in the latest annual survey that they thought teacher pay ought to be connected to gains in student learning outcomes….

  31. daprofessor Says:

    Anthony Cody you are downright disingenuous in debating these important issues.

    You write:

    “So here we go. We are engaged in a social engineering project, where we want to change the teaching profession from one that attracts primarily altruistic, idealistic, caring people, into one that takes would be lawyers and hedge fund managers and offers them instead the high risk, high rewards opportunities that come from educating hard knock inner city kids who are two or three years below grade level. Get them up to grade level and snag that $3000 bonus! This is a pipe dream if ever there was one.”

    First of all, the McKinsey research that I presented in my previous post does not suggest that it would be a sensible policy to simply try and get Wall Street types to flock into teaching for a few years to snag a $3,000 bonus.

    If you actually read what I wrote as well as the McKinsey report, what was said was this: according to top-third graduates, the things that would get them to go into teaching were:

    1) 20,000 better pay from the start (only risk averse second-income earners want to wait around and be paid based on breaths consumed)
    2) Minimum bonuses based on 20 percent of their top salary for high performance (that would mean if a starting salary under the +20k in pay noted in #1 were 55 or 65k, we’re talking about a performance based incentive of 10 grand for starting teachers and much much more over time.

    No one is talking about a pipe dream. What we’re talking about is ditching a compensation system that has long drawn people into the profession by dangling income security (slow and steady pay) and high benefits later in life RATHER than a dynamic compensation system that rewards innovation, market-based talent (STEM degrees vs. Phys Ed), and high risk high reward approaches to pay.

    We know full well that today’s best and brightest don’t want to work in a field that uses 20th century industrial model compensation. Today’s best and brightest are drawn to selective occupations that aggressively recruit talent and reward it with some serious cash. I’m sorry that it’s no longer 1950 and the Oakland School System can’t rely on getting Sandra Day O’Conner with her Stanford JD to go into teaching because she’s too feminine to hold down a real law job. Those days are long gone my friend.

  32. Mike Says:

    If wealth is not important then why do the wealthiest communities have the best results? Don’t hear any demands on improving teachers in those communities (or private schools). Why is that states with the strongest unions and presumably greater teacher protections have the best results on NAEP? It seems to me that the critics are opportunists seeking to profit by denying the real cause of poor results: poverty. Best example is Michelle Rhee. She reportedly earns $35,000 to $50,000 per speaking engagement. Failed as D.C. Chancellor, and her claimed successes as a teacher soundly debunked.

  33. daprofessor Says:


    Why don’t you take a college level statistics class before asking such stupid questions. Seriously? We’ve been engaged in an intense debate here over value-added gains on student assessment and you bring in baseline NAEP scores to make a point. Wow, I really think we need to move to appointed school boards. Presumably people out there are voting based on this sort of understanding of education reform!

  34. Mike Says:

    I guess anything that disputes your baseless arguments is stupid! Value added is stupid. These debates have been raging for many years and yet no improvement. I’ve seen new new approaches come and go and improvements fail to materialize. Quite frankly I’m sick and tired of self-proclaimed experts profiting professionally and/or financially from the intractable educational problems brought on by poverty. Wealth/Poverty have the clearest correlation to educational success in any study based on existing facts that I have ever seen. You might want to check some excellent articles on the Shanker blog.

  35. KYTeacher Says:


    You stated, per the McKinsey research, that the top third graduates would enter teaching if bonuses were provided connected to performance.

    How would performance be evaluated? Would this be through an evaluation process that would incorporate multiple measures? Or would performance be determined through test scores? If teacher performance were to be based upon test scores, then could this not encourage cheating, as was seen in Georgia? And what about those teachers of subjects that are not tested? Does this suggest that only select teachers are ever eligible for said bonuses?

    I’m not for or against this idea, but I do wonder as to the logistics of this ‘proposal’ that would be fair for all educators.

  36. daprofessor Says:

    @Mike… we’ll talk once you take a stats course, understand basic research design, and can offer citations to scholarly research that extend beyond a think tank named after the most famous teacher union president ever. Pardon me while I laugh a bit at that one.

    @NYTeacher: Top third graduates don’t seem much to care about having a system that is perfectly fair. No such system exists in the private sector, and yet, the best and brightest flock to the private sector for jobs that are lucrative, selective, and do not simply pay all employees for steps and lanes.

  37. Leonie Haimson Says:

    “If Ravitch et al are really interested in science and finding out the truth of whether Hanushek’s proposal would work in practice let’s randomly select 50 of the largest 100 school districts in the U.S. and “treat” 50 of them with Hanushek’s “fire the worst 10 percent” solution and then don’t do anything else to the other 50 percent.”

    Just 50 of the largest school districts?

    Another large-scale experiment with millions of kids lives! Experiment on your own kids; not on mine, thank you very much.

    Until we have a replicable, reliable and fair teacher evaluation system that has been proven to work) this is an idiotic idea.

  38. daprofessor Says:

    Oh Leonie,

    As if I didn’t anticipate someone would raise this objection. We could always try this treacherous “experiment” of firing the lowest-performing teachers in a randomly selected sample of the lowest-performing schools to assuage your sincere concerns about harming kids by firing educators who can’t move value-added growth year after year.

    I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? We’d accidentally disrupt the nirvana that are large urban school districts today that are clearly knocking the ball out of the park on educational outcomes for their poor kids of color?

  39. Mike Says:

    I’ll mention a simple actual classroom story that occurred to me about 15 years ago. I had a class of “repeaters” in economics. The majority of the students made little or no effort so I warned them that most of the class might fail. One student responded: you can’t do that! They will blame you! The student who made that statement had a very poor record but that much he knew. As long as the onus for learning is on teachers rather than students achievement will continue to decline. Poverty is the issue. If that is not resolved all this talk of value added etc is a distraction allowing some to profit handsomely.

  40. Mike Says:

    I guess some individual’s careers depend on bashing teachers since they probably have nothing else to bring to the table.

  41. daprofessor Says:

    We’re all very impressed by your N of 15. Next….

  42. Anthony Cody Says:

    Unfortunately, performance bonus schemes akin to this have been tried, and have not worked. From the Rand study released recently: “Teachers who receive cash incentives don’t prove to have more positive attitudes toward their work, nor do they yield better performing students, according to a study released today.” See

  43. Diana Senechal Says:

    The McKinsey researchers examined teacher recruitment and retention in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. They found many factors that make teaching an attractive profession in those countries: salary, job security, autonomy and trust, cultural respect, and more. Given their own findings, it’s odd that they or anyone would conclude that financial incentives should reign supreme. And there were things they should have investigated but didn’t–for instance, the intellectual and spiritual appeal of the profession.

    Look at the talented people in professions where the pay is decent but not stellar–the arts, humanities, teaching, scholarship, nonprofits, journalism, and more. What brings people to these professions? Not incompetence, but interest. The work has substance.

    But when the substance is driven out, when the work turns into busywork, people turn to professions that offer the combination of qualities that they seek.

  44. Mike Says:

    Oh and by the way. There have been several articles that have shown that paying teachers bonuses did not improve outcome. The vast majority of teachers I worked with did their best under often under very difficult circumstances regardless of pay levels. I believe Dianne Ravitch can refer you to articles about pay and performance in education.

  45. Margaret Says:

    I guess the experience of major league sports, GE, and most large law firms doesn’t count? We have decades of experience weeding out the lowest performers, all based a select number of performance measures that are applied universally to all the members of the class.

    I don’t see how the teaching force can achieve the status of professionalism they aspire to if they are not willing to acknowledge that their work requires a significant standard of performance and be willing to enforce that standard without apology.

  46. Mike Says:

    @daprofessor Seems you have a problem with anyone who disagrees with you.
    So easy to blame teachers under the veneer of scholarly research.

  47. Attorney DC Says:

    Mike: I appreciate your comments. Your example of the class from 15 years ago is scarily true today: Many students have now been conditioned to think that all failure is the fault of the teacher (both academic and behavioral failure). Principals and parents often support this notion. That is insane! If you blame teachers when high school students skip class or don’t study, the students will be the losers in the long run.

  48. Mike Says:

    @Attorney DC Thank you for saying this. It’s maddening to me to see what is happening to our public schools. I’m retired and tried to ignore it but still find myself getting involved in these discussions. These attacks on teachers cannot be helpful under any circumstances in my opinion.

  49. Mike Says:

    @Margaret That’s right, each ball player has to earn their place. Each student should be responsible for learning. A teacher can only teach but cannot “carve” knowledge into a disinterested student. Perhaps if EVERY high school had a rigorous entrance exam we would have much better outcomes, say like Stuyvesant HS in Manhattan, or Bronx HS of Science, or Brooklyn Tech HS. Of course expecting all students to rise to that challenge would be patently unfair to those growing up in poverty, broken home or even homelessness. But let’s continue the distraction from the real causes of failure…poverty…and continue to blame teachers which is much easier to deal with.

  50. daprofessor Says:

    @Anthony & @Mike who are critiquing the McKinsey-based suggestions for getting top third talent.

    You both note that the research on incentive based pay has found little to no change in student learning, yet there’s an easy response: These studies say nothing about changing teacher selection. adding a meager bonus onto current educator salaries and finding nothing in the way of improved performance among the students taught by those educators in no way represents what the McKinsey research is suggesting for a policy change. The idea is revamping teacher compensation writ large for the purpose of getting more able people into the profession, not to improve the crop of teachers who graduated from the bottom third in non-selective schools that are already there. That’s the problem with studies like the RAND one and the Vanderbilt study. I don’t at all deny that incentive pay won’t do a lick to boost current teacher performance on the whole. The idea is to radically overhaul the pay and evaluation systems so we get top third talent into the profession.

    Yes McKinsey looked at the correlation between how Finland and Korea approach education and what characteristics their educators have, but how is this more relevant than their actual survey of real American college students who are in the top of their class here in the U.S. but are telling us “NO” to teaching because of a lack of a compensation system that is based on productivity and meager starting salaries. Of course, you can’t have a profession that offers no autonomy. I would agree with that. But I’ll gladly give autonomy to our teachers when we finally have top third talent and not directional U students filling our classrooms. Top third talent say they want performance pay.

  51. john thompson Says:

    Here’s my take:

    The link reveals my original title, but I toned it down.

  52. Diana Senechal Says:

    It’s a bit trickier than that. College students are not telling us “NO” for the reasons you cite. The top four job attributes that matter to them, according to the survey, are quality of co-workers, prestige, challenge, and high-quality training. Yes, the greatest gap between their perceptions of teaching and perceptions of their chosen professions are greatest along “financial dimensions,” but that doesn’t mean they hold financial matters highest. Also, remember that this is a a study of their perceptions, which are not necessarily accurate. These are college students who haven’t even entered the work force yet.

    So, is there reason to improve the image of the teaching profession? Absolutely. But that’s a fake gesture unless you improve the substance. And money is only part of that.

  53. Mike Says:

    I’m one of those who graduated early 70′s (before grade inflation) in top 10% from college. Most of the teachers I worked were highly competent, scholarly, and interested in teaching despite the pay. More than a few took pay cuts (lawyers no less) to become teachers. It should be more difficult to become a teacher however. For example: In NYC you can teach for up to 5 years without a masters degree. If you fail to get the masters after 5 years your out. If you are not qualified to teach without a masters after 5 years how on earth can someone teach without a masters the first 5 years? Teachers don’t make these rules, politicians do. In my opinion oneway to improve teaching is to eliminate the “education” courses and ensure that teachers have an advanced degree in the area they will be teaching.

  54. Chris Smyr Says:

    Yes, “knownothingism” describes your piece well, John. I enjoyed the part where you again claimed that Hanushek was “name calling” when he described the many red herrings contained in Ravitch’s argument. You do realize he’s not actually calling Diane a fish, right?

  55. C. Smith Says:

    What do you do with a student who perfers to work as opposed to completing assigned reading and writing because she needs to work as much as she can before she takes off work and school to get her boob job in December?

    This just one reason why a single test score for high school students as an indicator of teacher ability is not feasible. Ask any high school educator why it is not feasible? They can give you a million more.

  56. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Evidence Anyone:

    Diane Ravitch is correct. At least 10% of all teachers are routinely dismissed each year for poor performance.

    Go to a board meeting for the Long Beach Unified School District (CA) or any of the districts around it. Look at the Board agenda. You will see “Dismissals, Resignations, Retirements.” Because teachers have contracts, only people who break the law or abandon their jobs are fired. There are very few of these people and that’s the basis for the myth that a teacher can’t be fired. However, if you look closely at the “resignations” and “retirements” you will find that a good percentage of these teachers did not have their contracts renewed at the end of the year or (for tenured teachers) were asked or pressured to leave.

    I’m reluctant to name my old district but it is adjacent to Long Beach. I know for a fact that at least 10% (probably more) of the teachers who resigned or retired were asked to do so or were not offered another contract. Because of laws regarding personnel issues, it probably wouldn’t be easy to find out if “Miss Smith,” aged 47, really did “retire” or was asked to leave. Teachers and other employees know about the details behind these resignations, but the public does not. It is not legal to announce “Miss Smith was asked to resign because of many complaints from parents.”

    There are many myths in education right now and one that almost everyone accepts without question is the myth of the teacher who can’t be fired. Well, of course it isn’t true. And Diane Ravitch ought to know.

  57. Attorney DC Says:

    Linda: Thanks for shedding some light (from an insider’s perspective) on the firing and dismissals myths that abound. I too found (as a former teacher) that many poorly performing teachers simply left at the end of year (either because they were not enjoying their jobs or because they were pressured to do so by the administration). Very few teachers are actually fired mid-year (not surprisingly) but that doesn’t mean that these people keep teaching.

  58. pgteacher Says:

    @Mike Citing an example from 15 years ago in which you expected “You’re all going to fail!” to work shows how truly little you understand about urban education in the first place. Teachers in KIPP, Achievement First, and the other highly successful public and public charter schools (whose results have been supported time and time again by outside, independent analysis) are well aware that this is a failed strategy, which is why it’s never brought up. Just because your method didn’t work doesn’t mean that there aren’t methods out there that do, and using an example of a class that you taught is hardly a generalization to the rest of the classrooms in the country.

    If you’ve left the classroom, then I thank you for not subjecting any more students to silly threats like that.

  59. Kitty Says:

    You obviously think that Finland’s teachers are much smarter and more accomplished than our teachers. So what would you do with all of the U.S. teachers who, as you imply, would never get a job in Finland in the first place? That’s the rub. You seem to think that we should just keep employing them while “helping” them become better.

  60. Christina Lordeman Says:

    Dear Dr. Ravitch,

    I’m thrilled to see that you and I agree about the importance of dramatically raising entry standards for the teaching profession. I would really love to see you elaborate on these ideas – your vision of what teacher preparation should look like, and who we should recruit – on your blog if you haven’t already done so. Teacher prep doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it should get in the ed reform scene.

    What I still don’t understand about your stance is why you think deselecting very low performers is a hindrance, not a help, to improving standards in the teaching profession, and why you treat recruitment and deselection as if they were mutually exlusive. If we’re going to have the kind of highly competent, well-educated and well-trained teaching force that Finland has (according to your observations), shouldn’t we bring better people into the field AND take the really awful ones out? One can clearly infer from your article today that you do, indeed, believe there are many in the teaching profession who are not “up to par” – people who would never have made it (perhaps wouldn’t even have tried) if we had had higher standards like Finland. Of course it isn’t those teachers’ fault that they were allowed into a profession for which they shouldn’t have been deemed qualified, so we shouldn’t just be ruthless in firing all of them out of the blue after we’ve promised them life-long job security and benefits. But we have to draw a line somewhere, don’t we? If the only way to improve the quality of the teaching force is to do a better job of recruiting while just waiting for all the bad ones to retire, it’ll be 50 years before we get the teaching force this country needs.

    I also don’t understand why you think the nation’s worst teachers – especially ones that have tenure – deserve another chance to “get better.” If a teacher has been in the profession a decade or longer and is still seriously failing to teach, haven’t they wasted enough of children’s time and taxpayers’ money? Besides that, do you really think the ones at the very bottom – the ones who can barely read, write, and do arithmetic themselves – have a realistic chance of ever becoming good enough (or even motivated enough) to meet the standards we’re striving for?

    I don’t know the facts, but I think most people would disagree with you about the relative ease of firing ineffective tenured teachers. I also know how easily an untenured teacher’s career can be ruined if they’re fired for not being great straight out of ed school. This hardly seems fair; shouldn’t we expect more out of the “pros”?

    You also didn’t address the effect bad teachers have on good teachers’ morale. You talk about teaching as a “collaborative enterprise,” where “morale matters,” but you seem to assume that letting everyone keep their job even if they’re horrible at teaching is a morale booster. I spent a lot of time as a grad student working with very weak teachers, and it was draining and demoralizing. I never thought I could be so miserable in a school. Collaboration isn’t a morale booster when you have to collaborate with people who don’t care or who don’t know what they’re doing. I think morale among teachers would be much higher if everyone knew they were being held to the same high standards, and they could focus on helping each other maintain those high standards.

    I don’t disagree with your desire for a more professional teaching force; I just don’t see why eliminating really bad teachers shouldn’t be a natural part of that. Perhaps these conversations can be continued over at Bridging Differences?

    Christina Lordeman

  61. KatieO Says:

    All I have heard in this silly debate is the same old tired “research” being thrown around. I know I shouldn’t even bother commenting because everyone has already made up their minds.

    But still…I cannot help but think of my students, asleep right now in the psychiatric hospital where I work.

    I think about “T” who is in the foster care system, was badly abused until he was 9, and has such extreme behavior problems that he requires a 1:1 staff with him at all times. He can’t read well and still does basic addition and subtraction even though he’s in the 5th grade. But today, he saw some older kids learning square roots and he begged me to try and solve them too. And you know what? He figured it out!! He ran up to me so excited that he had accomplished this work that he gave me a great big hug.

    I think about “J”, also a ward of the state, living in a group home, who has gang affiliations and a history of school failure. I think about his astute and powerful comments in my class yesterday when someone brought up life in the inner-city. I sensed an anguish in his voice because he is such an intelligent young man and knows EXACTLY what a rotten hand he’s been dealt.

    I think about little “A”, who thinks he is thug-tastic, but is actually a scared little 10 year old boy. I saw the cracks in his armor today when he pulled me into his room to speak with his case worker saying “Ms. Katie, tell her I’m doing 8th grade work! Tell her how smart I am!” The smile on that boy’s face was priceless.

    None of Mr. Hanushek’s policies help MY kids. All I want for them is a teacher who CARES about them and gives them the chance to succeed. Test scores are nothing. International comparisons are nothing. What will help these children is not being talked about.

    Instead, we debate back and forth about evaluation processes, tenure, firing procedures, and speculations not based on reality.

    I’m sick of this. I want to talk about income inequality, lack of health care, and lack of mental health services. Even the best teachers cannot give my kids what they need.

    Sure I want good teachers in the classroom, but the classroom itself is broken. The only reason I can reach some of my kids is because I work outside the school system. I have no standardized tests hanging over my head, I have no scripted curriculum to follow, I am supported DIRECTLY in my classroom by 2-3 staff members at all times, I have a multi-disciplinary team of people working on every aspect of these children’s lives including social workers helping families, doctors addressing biological and brain issues, and counselors teaching direct social and coping skills. We even have a recreational therapist who guides kids through art and play, addressing the whole child.

    I have to go to bed now because I need rest to do a very very difficult job. At least I, unlike my colleagues in the schools, do not need to worry if tomorrow will be the day the firings begin. But do not expect me to stop fighting for what is right for my students. I will resist Hanushek and all those who take the spotlight off the very real issues at play in my students’ lives for as long as it takes.

  62. Mike Says:

    Nailed it!

  63. Mike Says:

    @pgteacher telling the students that they might fail if they refuse to make an effort is not a “method”. Obviously someone like yourself who resorts to personal insults to a posting you disagree with clearly shows I hit a sore spot. If you can’t carry on an adult conversation with different points of view then I certainly hope you are not in the classroom. Can’t imagine how you would treat students who might disagree with you. Regarding Kipps et al: Plenty of documentation reported that these charters avoid the most challenging students which the public schools cannot do. Also, on re-reading your post I saw how you cleverly changed the wording to “expecting to fail”. Not what I said. What I said was they “MIGHT” fail if they do no not make an effort. But then what can some expect of someone who can’t carry on an adult conversation with others with a different point of view?

  64. Mike Says:

    Found out why supporters of public school teachers get vilified on this thread. This site was founded by Andrew Rotherham who co-founded the Bellwether Education Partners. Their mission is to promote privatization. Here is the mission as stated on form 990 that all non-profits must file with the federal government:

    “To promote talent and leadership development, and to enhance and accelerate organization capacity for growth in the entrepreneurial education sector.”

    Bottom line in my opinion: It’s about money, profit, and jobs at the expense of public education

  65. john thompson Says:


    Do you think Hanushek is even aware of the difference between students on IEPs for learning disabilities as opposed to emotional or conduct disorders? Are any of his fellow economists aware of such a difference? Are they aware of what happens when there is a critical mass of traumatized kids in classrooms and schools? If so, have they ever tried to control for that difference? If they are aware of those issues, why haven’t we read about studies trying to take that into account?

  66. Attorney DC Says:

    Mike and KatieO and John Thompson all make very good points. Why don’t the ‘reformers’ listen to people like them (who have experience in the field) when evaluating new education policy proposals?

    Sometimes it seems like the people who are deciding education policy in this country have never been in a classroom (or at least have never been in a classroom in a low-income neighborhood). Mike and KatieO and John Thompson all make very good points. Why don’t the ‘reformers’ listen to people like them (who have experience in the field) when evaluating new education policy proposals?

    Sometimes it seems like the people who are deciding education policy in this country have never been in a classroom (or at least have never been in a classroom in a low-income neighborhood). Seriously: We wouldn’t let non-doctors dictate medical protocols or non-lawyers dictate legal protocols — why do we let non-educators dictate education policy?

  67. applesANDoranges Says:

    “Seriously: We wouldn’t let non-doctors dictate medical protocols or non-lawyers dictate legal protocols — why do we let non-educators dictate education policy?”

    Big difference in education policy which has to do with public schools which are agencies of government in a democracy than the medical and legal professions.

    Why? First of all, as agencies of government schools are democratic institutions which should respond to the policy preferences of the taxpayers and I think most would agree parents before they respond to the policy preferences of the employees in the system.

    Second, schooling is forced. You have to go to school and unless you want to pay out of your own pocket you have to go to a government run school. Conversely, we typically use the free market to regulate the quality of lawyers and doctors. Sure there are regulations, but by and large a doctor or a lawyer gain their clients through the free market process of reputation and supply/demand. Public schools are immune from such market forces.

  68. Stuart Buck Says:

    The last comment makes a good point. You can either have market accountability (lots of school choice) or governmental accountability (testing, standards, etc.), but it’s a non-starter to oppose both. If you oppose both, you’re basically saying that there should be a $600-billion-a-year industry that takes public dollars and is even given the power to force its services on 90% of kids, but it shouldn’t have to answer to anyone.

  69. KatieO Says:

    @johnthompson I don’t think any of the education “reformers” of the day have the slightest idea what our kids in the inner-city actually go through. What you said about “a critical mass of traumatized kids in classrooms and schools” is spot on. Our children are sick because of the conditions we let them grow up in. And the impact of this concentrated poverty and excessive violence is taking its toll on our schools. America should be ashamed.

    I recently was on Chicago’s NPR station speaking about the mental health of our kids:

    I’m not sure if what I was trying to communicate actually got through in the piece, but I wanted to say that you need a dedicated TEAM of experts to work with kids with mental health problems. Too often, schools are being left to deal with too many kids with too many problems (there’s that critical mass, you speak of…) all alone.

    Instead of helping these schools with these children, we overcrowd our classrooms full of kids with significant, and I mean truly debilitating, often undiagnosed problems. To add insult to injury, we understaff and underresource those same schools. Heck, we don’t even train some those teachers properly before giving them some of the hardest to educate students.

    So no, I will never agree to an evaluation system that inevitably will be primarily based on faulty test scores. I will not agree with firing 5-10% of my colleagues, because the playing field is too unfair. It is unfair for the kids and the staff alike.

    I am absolutely baffled and disgusted by people like Hanushek who clearly have no idea what teachers face from day to day, especially in these inner-city schools.

    Teachers have been doing what they can for years. It’s not enough and I want change too. But the rest of society has to step in and do its part.

  70. c. Smith Says:

    To get to the bottom line, greed by the corportist has come up with a ridculous but powerful mantra that teachers are the problem behind the failure to close the achievement gap. High stakes test results are the proof. And, corporate involvement is the cure. Wake up, America. The billions of dollars that float around public ed is just too enticing for corporatist to leave it alone to facilitate teaching and learning. There is money to be made, particulary off of the ancestors of slaves, Jim Crow victims, and those colonized by European speculators and carpetbaggers. History repeats itself for those that do not learn the first time. Manifest Destiny and the Calvinist Doctrine of entitlement are at play here. It does not matter who or what is the collateral damage. Until we fight the larger machine of explotative and racist capitalist greed, nothing we debate here matters.

  71. c. Smith Says:

    Opt out of high stakes testing. Shut down the vehicle used to foster profits.

  72. applesANDoranges Says:

    c smith nailed it! bill gates, eli broad, whitney tilson… all these guys were suffering financially prior to taking an interest in K-12 education reform. they had no money and so they concocted an amazing scheme to invest millions of their own money in “pretending to fix” public education. But what they really wanted to do was set up a trojan horse toward privatization so that they could invest in stocks like kaplan and pearson and make the fortunes that they never had.

    eyes rolling… (sarcasm alert)

  73. Stuart Buck Says:

    Oh, and they’re going to be making money from the “ancestors” of slaves, which must mean that they have a time machine hidden away somewhere. Goodness only knows what mischief they have in store with that.

  74. Art Says:

    Whoa! Source for the assertion that “At least 10% of all teachers are routinely dismissed each year for poor performance”? Counting people who resign as being pressured into resigning because of poor performance is quite a stretch.

  75. applesANDoranges Says:

    Art, how dare you ask a teacher who “worked in the trenches” for a reliable source that documents a phenomena they assert systematically in a generalizable fashion! The nerve of some “researchers” to ask for evidence of a fact or figure that goes beyond, “… In my home school district.” Yes, we get it, you teach in Lake Wobegon, everyone is above average and your district proves every fact you cite.

  76. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    I am not aware of any source that proves that about 10% or more of teachers are dismissed for poor performance but I know for a fact that many of the “at will” teachers do not have their contracts renewed during the first two years of employment. These people are never listed as “dismissals” and certainly not as “fired.” Rather they are “nonrenewed” or “resignations.” Tenured teachers are asked to leave and are listed as “resignations” or “retirements.” If they refuse, they are often given unpleasant assignments or harassed until they resign. I am not saying this is right, but it’s what I observed. In my many years of experience the only teachers and principals who were “fired” were people who broke the law, drank on the job, or abandoned their positions. As I said above, this is likely the source of the myth that a teacher can’t be fired.

    It would be interesting to know if anyone has done research on this topic. I’ll bet Diane Ravitch knows.

  77. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    To clarify:

    Most of the teachers who are listed as “resignations” or “retirements” are exactly that, but in my experience at least one out of ten of these people was asked to leave or did not have her contract renewed. Would other teachers agree with this?

  78. C. Smith Says:

    Maybe I spoke above the gentlemen’s heads. Let me clarify. The descendant’s of slaves and colonized indigenous people – black, brown, and yellow folks – most commonly called African Americans, West Indians, English and Spanish speaking Native Americans and or people of color, are the two subgroups that consistently score lower than their white counterparts on standardized achievement tests. We can add impoverished whites to the list as well. This phenomenon is called the “Achievement Gap.” Had it not been for these subgroups, America’s achievement on international standardized testing would be ranked in the top five. That could hardly be perceived as a problem or a failing school system.

    The failure to close the achievement gap has been used over and over by the “corporate reformers” as the reason America’s public school system is a failure. Instead of tackling the inherent problem of racism and poverty in America and its major impact on academic success, it is easier to blame school teachers for this unfortunate condition and to implement reforms that include more testing, elimination of salary scales and the tying of teacher pay to test scores. This frees up money and makes money for a select few. The elimination of the barriers to public education money to foster private profit is tantamount to what happened with the mortgage and banking industry.

    Unfortunately, the selfish desire to exploit these sub-groups still supersedes any desire to help overcome terrible social ills that has permeated the fabric of all American institutions past, present, and probably future.

    I could go into all the evidence, but I challenge you to do a little fact finding of your own. Start with the American Legislative Exchange Council. Continue with the article located at the following website:

  79. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    “Second, schooling is forced. You have to go to school and unless you want to pay out of your own pocket you have to go to a government run school. “
    You can home school with materials from the public library or the public schools.
    Of course, considering taxes pay for schools and libraries and all pay taxes, home schoolers pay out of pocket.

  80. Chris Smyr Says:


    Getting past the troubling trend that you consistently base nearly everything you write on what you “know for a fact” and other personal experiences, you have yet to conjure up even anecdotal evidence supporting the claim that “at least 10% of all teachers are routinely dismissed each year for poor performance.” Were this actually happening, it would be the only thing Ravitch needed to have written for her rebuttal to Hanushek (of course, with accompanying citations supporting the claim).


    Perhaps the gentleman ought to realize that disaggregating the data, and then discarding what looks bad, to get the results he wants to see is not really a convincing strategy, and neither is any version of “but if we threw out the blacks and Hispanics…” an acceptable rejoinder. The comparison of only our white students to other more homogeneous student bodies doubles as a marginalization of minorities and as a sleight of statistics: throw out the bottom tail end of our performing students under the faulty assumption that this “normalizes” the numbers and act astonished that we’ve now caught up to other nations who haven’t done the same.

    Furthermore, the persistence of achievement gaps does NOT indicate that poverty is the ultimate barrier to higher student achievement, nor does it imply that the end of poverty is a necessary and sufficient condition as we work toward closing these gaps.

  81. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris, if you read my posts again, you’ll see that I made it clear that I was basing my opinion on personal experience. Yes, I “know for a fact” that at least one out of ten (maybe more) of the resignations and retirements in my district were people whose contracts were not renewed or were asked to resign, but I was clear that I do not know how widespread this is. That’s why I asked other teachers for their input.

    Are there any professionals (speech therapists, librarians, salaried doctors, university professors) who are “fired” for poor performance, or are these people just asked to leave (privately) or “nonrenewed?” A close friend of mine was told that he wouldn’t get tenure at his university and was allowed to resign a year before his time was up. In this way he was free to apply for a job elsewhere without anyone knowing that he was essentially dismissed.

    The real problem here is that many people look upon teachers (mainly women) as the equivalents of clerks in a shop that can be easily dismissed. Well, they are not and never will be. The fact that teachers are viewed this way in our country is probably the main reason we have the problem of recruiting and retaining talented people.

    It’s clear from the many posts that we all want qualified teachers in our classrooms. If you agree with this, please support rigorous standards for entry into the profession (no “waivers”) as well as respect and fair treatment for the teachers we have (no evaluation based on one ten-dollar test that is neither secure nor valid). Thank you.

  82. Chris Smyr Says:

    10% of the district? How many teachers is that? Do you know them all personally? Are you 100% certain their contracts weren’t renewed specifically because of poor performance as judged by a formal evaluation process? Have you witnessed this happening for more than a year? I’m just saying, even by your standards for “evidence” this is kind of a stretch.

    Also, your friend at a university attempted to earn a very different sort of tenure than your friends in public schools, so think up a better example.

    ***”The real problem here is that many people look upon teachers (mainly women) as the equivalents of clerks in a shop that can be easily dismissed.”

    The bigger problem, I think, is that in response to my questioning you about your style of “facts”, you write a long response including more of them, like the quote above.

  83. Chris Smyr Says:

    Forgot to add, but I agree with Art when he said, “Counting people who resign as being pressured into resigning because of poor performance is quite a stretch.” If you weren’t to include these teachers, what would your stated % drop down to with just teachers whose contracts weren’t renewed?

  84. Stuart Buck Says:

    Neither Diane Ravitch nor any of her surrogates seem to be able to answer the question posed in my first comment in this thread.

  85. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Stuart, I can’t answer for Diane Ravitch, but I’ll answer for myself:

    I don’t believe it’s that difficult to identify an ineffective teacher. As a reading specialist who went from room to room, I could tell who was really good and who was not. Of course I don’t wish to see the ineffective teachers keep their jobs. Does anyone? What I am against is evaluating them on the basis of a cheap “whole class” test that has neither security nor validity. Almost all testing experts agree that these tests should not be used for high stakes decisions. This is what I would favor:

    Another professional (teacher or administrator) who is thoroughly familiar with the progress of every child in the class;

    A team of professionals (teachers and administrators) who would evaluate the work of a teacher before making “high stakes” decisions regarding retention and promotion.

    Like most teachers, I am not against evaluation and dismissal. I’m against evaluation by a single, inexpensive group test. Aren’t you?

    Chris: I know I’m wasting my time, but I’ll answer you:

    I attended almost all the board meetings at my old district and did know the reasons behind almost all resignations and retirements. No one was publicly classified as “dismissed” or “fired.” No, I am not 100% certain.

    My comment about schoolteachers (mainly women) would come under the heading of “opinion.”

    Sorry, but I don’t see the difference between the college professor and the teacher, except that the former has one of the most prestigious job in the United States and the latter has much lower prestige. Almost all professionals that I know (engineers, computer consultants, lawyers, accountants etc.) are told privately that they will not be asked to stay with a firm or institution. When they are “fired” it’s usually because of embezzlement or some other crime or serious infraction (drinking on the job) as it is for teachers. Here’s another example from education:

    A principal of ten years experience was not liked by the board of education. The superintendent told him privately that his contract would not be renewed and gave him the opportunity to seek another position before he was asked to leave. This man is now the principal in another district.

    To make it clear to you, I am expressing my OPINIONS based on my experiences. Whether my examples are widespread or not, I don’t know. Do you?

  86. Mike Says:

    By the way, why do many Asian-American students do so well in the same “failing” public schools staffed with “incompetent” teachers? I’ve had many classes where the Asian students would get a 95 or better on exams, often using language translators, while non Asian students would get 25-40 on same exams. This is true for EVERY teacher I’ve spoken to over the years. Perhaps the following is one explanation: During open school nights when parents come to visit their teachers, it was not uncommon for the non Asian-American parent to ask the teacher why his/her child failed. When an Asian American parent visited it was not uncommon to glare at their child for only getting a 95. And, the Asian-American parents never deigned to question the teacher’s judgement in my experience.

  87. Chris Smyr Says:


    You always think you’re wasting your time when asked to explain yourself, and I’ll never understand why. I think it’s more in line of “wasting time” to make lots of claims with little factual basis on an online forum, actually.

    You didn’t answer most of my questions addressed to you. Instead, several “almost”s and a mention that you weren’t certain of the anecdotal evidence you used to support your claim. Hmm.

    ***”Sorry, but I don’t see the difference between the college professor and the teacher”

    Really? Your university friend never described the trials and tribulations of getting tenure? The big hint would have been that he/she didn’t get it….

    ***”When [engineers, computer consultants, lawyers, accountants etc.] are “fired” it’s usually because of embezzlement or some other crime or serious infraction”

    You’re kidding, right? Those workers would love to have the job protections in place for tenured teachers, especially considering the high unemployment rates in science and tech.

    ***”I am expressing my OPINIONS based on my experiences.”

    Yes, I know, thus the inherent lack of utility in your comments when you make far-reaching claims concerning teacher accountability and the plight of teachers everywhere.

  88. C. Smith Says:

    @ Chris – I agree. Poverty is not the biggest barrier. Most will not admit it, but racism is the most powerful influence on academic success in public schools. My experience and research has caused me to come to that conclusion. Culturally biased exams – that tell more about individual experience than intelligence or how well a teacher teaches – says it all. Cultural groups such as Asians, who by behavior standards, study more and for longer hours than any other cultural/ethnic group are certainly going to prevail when it comes to that sort of testing. They sublimate creative aptitude and ethnicity in doing so, as of which they have acknowledged and are trying to figure out what to do about it. People of color are typically collective entities. The group is more important than the individual. Social connections and relationships take priority over all else. Individual pursuit is sublimated, and often experience is jaded by subliminal and often blatant messages of “you are inferior.”

    When black children are acculturated in communities with few blacks, there is no difference in achievement. Growing up in one such community, I can attest to the fact that the messages of inferiority are few. Once I moved to an urban environment, I got a terrible wake up call.

    The attempt to integrate schools never resolved the inherent racism in America. Until it is gone, there will be an achievement gap. Since capitalism is so dependent on it -sublimation and exploitation, only a sea change of economics will eradicate this problem. In the mean time, the exploitation of the achievement gap will continue to assist certain folks in getting rich and to cause others (teachers, for example) to lose their middle class status or to remain poor.

  89. Chris Smyr Says:

    C. Smith:

    Of the possible examples of racism in education to cite, you chose: “Cultural groups such as Asians, who by behavior standards, study more and for longer hours than any other cultural/ethnic group are certainly going to prevail when it comes to that sort of testing.”

    Studying more, and thereby doing better on academic tests, is a form of racism against other groups that on average do not study as much? Really? I understand why analysis of base scores here may be flawed, but why would it be impossible to measure academic growth of students, Asian-American or otherwise, as one indicator of school effectiveness?

    The claim you make next, that “[Asians] sublimate creative aptitude and ethnicity” by studying more, is pointedly absurd. There might be arguments to make that in certain Asian countries public education has focused too little on supporting creativity, but can you justify why a focus on either studying more or “creative aptitude and ethnicity” should *not* be considered a false dilemma?

    The most important point, I think, is that you agree that “poverty is not the biggest barrier.” Whether you believe it or not, the goal of improving schools and school policy so as to one day eliminate all forms of racism, implicit and explicit, that still linger within our schools is a driving force for many ed reformers out there (and look at that– it’s possible to read that word without scare quotes!). Teach For America is a great example of this.

  90. LaborLawyer Says:

    Ravitch implicitly agrees that, in order to improve our schools, the main focus should be on improving teacher quality — she differs from Hanushek regarding how to improve teacher quality (training/recruiting/support for Ravitch vs. deselection for Hanushek).

    However, it seems extremely unlikely that teacher quality is the main problem with our schools. Most of our suburban schools are doing reasonably well; most of our inner-city schools are basket cases. In order to argue that improving teacher quality is the key to improving our schools, you have to argue that suburban teachers are, on average, pretty good and that inner-city teachers are, on average, basket cases. Granted — working conditions are better in the suburban schools than in the inner city and therefore suburban schools have an advantage in recruiting/retaining higher quality teachers, but it is unlikely that the average suburban teacher is tremendously better than the average inner-city teacher, particularly given the large number of Teach for America high achievers who have poured into the inner-city schools during the last 15 years. Also, notwithstanding the media focus on inner-city schools and teacher discharges in recent years, we have not seen a flood of insider tell-all books or articles by veteran teachers arguing that their suburban colleagues are much stronger teachers than their inner-city colleagues.

    It’s much more likely that, as some commenters here suggest indirectly, issues other than teacher quality are the main problems in our schools, particularly our inner-city schools.

    Based on conversations with many veteran teachers as well as personal classroom observations, I think that the main problems (arguably within the schools’ control) in our schools, particularly our inner-city schools, are: 1) student behavior problems — chronic absenteeism, chronic tardiness, and minor but endemic classroom misconduct — that constantly disrupt instruction; and 2) students reading far below grade — a problem that makes effective academic instruction almost impossible, particularly where the class also includes students reading at grade level.

    School reformers could more profitably focus attention on these problems, rather than teacher quality.

  91. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:


    I have a question for you:

    When I was teaching I kept very careful records of student progress. Most of my evaluations were what are called “teacher-made” but others were the benchmark tests that come at the end of chapters in all subjects. I also kept samples of student writing because they show growth in many areas (reasoning, general knowledge, vocabulary, grammar, spelling etc.). Here’s my question:

    If a teacher kept careful records as I did and asked other people to witness this testing (teachers, principal, parents) could these results be used to contest low scores on standardized tests? In other words, if a teacher received a bad evaluation based on standardized tests could she challenge this in court using her own testing as evidence? Thank you.

  92. c. Smith Says:

    @ Chris. The referencing of Asian culture was in regards to their willingness to assimilate into Euro-centric culture and the willingness to sublimate creative aptitude for the more mechanized learning that is generally assessed with standardized testing. This problematic for their cultural inventiveness and has of recent given them cause for concern. It is not a form of racism. However, what is racism is what is continually done to non-whites on a daily basis via media, property values, established beauty standards, the judicial system, etc. The book titled Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Degruy give a wonderful and researched based analysis on it.

    After years of emotional and physical abuse coupled with no real generational healing, black folk have developed coping mechaninism that create resilency and social dysfunction. Generations of being denied the opportunity to learn to read, years of physical and emotional abuse has resulted in the walking wounded. The dysfuntion played out in the current school system is one of plantation politics and a plantation social hierachy. The community never achieves stability due to the continual breakdown and shuffling about of staff. Funding is often missing in action. And the desire to read is negated by the promotion of cultual icons that are of the opposing communnity and were often the oppressor. History lessons are Euro-centric in focus and literary heroes are most often white. Just like the police that continually harrasses outside the school doors.

    Chris, do you thnk racism is a detrimental to academic success for blacks and Latinos of color? Please excuse typos. Iam on my phone.

  93. Sarah Pratt Says:

    Diane is certainly right about our need to improve recruitment, selection, training and retention of teachers. No arguments there.

    However, Diane didn’t address Eric’s point about the most ineffective teachers being obvious to everyone in the community.

    Walk into (almost) any school in the country. Ask the parents, students, teaching and non-teaching staff to name the 2-3 teachers who are the most ineffective. Which teachers are difficult to work with? Which teachers despise all professional development, no matter what? Which teachers do families actively try to avoid having them teach their kids? It’s no secret, and it’s not mean or unfair to dismiss those teachers.

    And just for an example: If ONE extremely ineffective secondary teacher teaches for 30 years with 150+ students each year, she’s affected over 4,500 students. Can we really take the risk of allowing students to learn virtually nothing in even 1 subject for 1 year? What if the course is algebra, and because of this teacher, the student isn’t ready for high school and drops out because he has to repeat the course?

    (I have not taken the time to read all 90+ comments ahead of mine, so I apologize if this point was already discussed.)

  94. Attorney DC Says:

    Sarah Pratt: I don’t think that it’s “obvious” to everyone who the most ineffective teachers are, because the definition of effective is not a universal constant. In my experience (as both a former teacher and in my years as a student), there are teachers all over the spectrum with regard to multiple variables: (1) subject matter knowledge; (2) classroom management skills; (3) energy & enthusiasm; (4) willingness to work overtime or on extracurricular activities; (5) kindness and compassion; and many other issues as well.

    It’s very hard to say that a highly intelligent teacher with poor classroom management skills is a better teacher than one with great classroom management skills but a mediocre grasp of the subject, or that a very kind teacher who encourages students to stay in school (who might otherwise drop out) is better than a teacher who is strict and unfriendly, but whose students cover more material each year.

    In addition, teachers are usually evaluated within their specific course and student assignments. However, these assignments are not constant throughout the school, nor are they randomly assigned. For example, one teacher may have 5 periods of honors history classes and another teacher may have 1-2 periods each of three different subjects to teach during the same semester. The teacher with only one subject to teach will almost certainly have better lesson plans than the teacher who has to plan for 3 different classes each day — but it would be inappropriate to judge him as the “better teacher” since the comparison is not equal.

  95. Attorney DC Says:

    I also want to note that I agree with LaborLawyer’s point (above) that the intense focus on “teacher quality” is misplaced. From my experience working in a number of different schools, the major factor that separates low-income, minority schools and higher-income, mostly white and Asian schools is the students, not the teachers.

    There are VAST differences in family income, parental education levels, English language proficiency, student behavior, cultural attitudes and many other issues when we compare a typical inner city school to a typical middle class school. The differences between their teachers, in comparison, is negligible.

  96. Mike Says:

    It’s interesting to read the different points of view between those who teach/taught and non-teacher “experts”. I am a retired teacher and thoroughly side with teachers and their supporters. Sarah Pratt states that even one bad teacher has major consequences. To say that children with a bad teacher will learn nothing for a year in that class is ridiculous. I’ve seen students claim teachers are bad because they insisted on high standards such as doing homework and passing exams!

  97. PUBLIC_schools Says:


    I support PUBLIC schools. What does that mean to me? It means that public schools and the policies that govern them ought to reflect that preferences of the majority of the public. If you check out the latest PDK poll (2011) you’ll find that the vast majority of the public favors:

    Teacher pay being linked at least in part to growth in student learning

    LIFO policies that make seniority dictate replacements ought to take a back seat to principal evaluation of teachers.

    I don’t really thing this “divide” between teachers and non-teachers is what matters. Every time a conservative pro-voucher advocate tries to argue that parental choice is a good thing, critics retort that they are ruining PUBLIC education which is all about DEMOCRACY!

    Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You can’t be in favor of democratically controlled public schools and then try and say the policies that govern schools should prioritize teachers’ (employee) opinions and not what the majority of the public wants for policies.

  98. Attorney DC Says:

    I agree with Mike (above). I don’t think that non-teachers really understand all the factors that are involved in schools, teaching, and student performance. It may sound simple and easy to just “fire the bad teachers” but this current fad in education reform ignores two big problems:

    (1) It is difficult (if not impossible) to accurately determine which teachers are the “bottom 5-10%” that everyone wants to terminate; and

    (2) Teachers are only one factor (and a relatively small factor at that) in overall student academic achievement.

  99. PUBLIC_schools Says:

    Attorney DC:

    What do you say to the response that the public’s policy priorities (those paying taxes to fund public school teacher jobs) ought to have their policy preferences prioritized in a DEMOCRATIC system of PUBLIC schooling?

  100. Mike Says:

    Even in a Democracy experts should be respected, treated as professionals and trusted to do the right thing in general. If you want a stable professional staff to teach you can’t expect teachers to work for relatively low pay without job security. I went up a against two principals who were bullies to mask their incompetence. The first principal was forced to resign and the second lost in arbitration. Were it not for seniority and tenure protections I would not have dared to challenge them. Again, I won in both cases. Public opinion isn’t necessarily the best way manage operations. Texas School Board removed teaching Jefferson as important to the founding of the nation because he supported separation of church and state. Does that make it right? California uses extreme democracy (referenda) on many of it’s financial regulations. California is a mess financially. Thirty years ago its public schools were among the best in the nation, today among the worst because of excessive public involvement in financial matters. Majority of the public believes in creationism over evolution! So far the experts have managed to keep it reasonably sane against tide of public opinion.

  101. Attorney DC Says:

    To Public Schools: I certainly agree that the public (i.e., tax payers and parents of school children) should have input into the schools that their children attend. However, I don’t agree that the general public’s casual opinions about these matters should be held up above the information we receive from statisticians, policy analysts, teachers, principals and other people who have first hand insight into education, especially when people’s jobs are on the line.

    For example, I pay taxes, and my taxes help pay for policemen. I know a little about police work from my experience as an attorney and from general knowledge (TV, newspapers, etc.). However, I don’t think that I should be trusted to determine the appropriate evaluation procedures used in a police department to evaluate the rookie policemen, because, while I have some limited knowledge of the field (and my tax dollars contribute to the expenses of the department), I’m not a policeman.

  102. LaborLawyer Says:

    Linda/Retired Teacher —

    You asked about whether a teacher who faced discharge based on low standardized test scores could successfully challenge the discharge by introducing non-standardized-test-score evidence showing that the students had made significant progress.

    As with most legal issues, the answer is “yes, but”.

    A critical threshhold issue would be whether the union contract and/or civil service regs precluded a teacher from challenging the evaluation and/or the discharge based on the evaluation. The presumption would be that a teacher could challenge both the evaluation and the discharge based on the evaluation; it would take fairly explicit language in the union contract or the civil service regs to waive/preclude the teacher’s rights in this regard; however, explicit language could waive/preclude the teacher’s rights.

    A second issue (if the teacher were covered by a union contract) would be whether the union was willing to take the discharge to arbitration. Most union contracts give the union, not the employee, control over the decision to go to arbitration and also provide that arbitration is the only way an employee can challenge a discharge. Therefore, if the union decided not to take the discharge to arbitration and the teacher tried to file his/her own lawsuit challenging the discharge, the school system could probably get the lawsuit dismissed without reaching the merits on the ground that the teacher’s exclusive remedy was through arbitration. (Sometimes civil service regs limit this arbitration-is-exclusive-remedy rule.)

    If neither of these issues prevents the teacher from challenging the discharge, it seems to me that the teacher should be able to introduce the type of evidence you describe at arbitration or in court to challenge the discharge. How much weight the arbitrator or the judge would give the evidence would probably depend on how persuasive the evidence was as well as how the arbitrator/judge felt generally about the issue of using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. If I were representing the teacher, in addition to the type of evidence you describe, I would try to also introduce evidence (statistics and/or expert testimony) showing the many non-teacher-controlled variables that impact student test scores as well as other evidence impeaching the reliability of student test scores as a measure of teacher quality (i.e., how student test scores do not correlate highly with principal evaluations + how the same teacher might have high value-added scores one year and low value-added scores the next year). An arbitrator/judge would probably accept the standardized test scores as meeting the employer’s burden of proving just cause for discharge and would put the burden of proving that the standardized test scores were inaccurate/unreliable on the teacher — that is, the teacher would have to prove the scores were inaccurate/unreliable; the employer would not have to prove the scores were accurate/reliable.

    Pehaps Attorney DC has some thoughts re this question?

  103. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:


    Thank you for taking the time to answer me.

    Teachers are being terribly mistreated at this time and I’m hoping they’ll get relief from the courts. If I weren’t so old (70 in December), I’d go to law school just for the purpose of defending teachers. I’m glad you are in a position to do it. And AttorneyDC has the added advantage of being an experienced teacher, in sharp contrast to almost all of the “reformers.”

  104. Brian Ford Says:

    LaborLawyer was right when he said it seems extremely unlikely that teacher quality is the main problem with our schools. ”
    Prima Facie evidence:
    “Most of our suburban schools are doing reasonably well; most of our inner-city schools are basket cases. In order to argue that improving teacher quality is the key to improving our schools, you have to argue that suburban teachers are, on average, pretty good and that inner-city teachers are, on average, basket cases.”

    But there is a further contradiction among those who say that we should recognize the economic value of good teaching, ie. that it increases lifetime earnings (See, for example, the recent Chetty study)

    The contradiction: no attempt is being made to increase overall compensation, only to REDISTRIBUTE compensation. Arne Duncan calls
    for respect for teachers and says they should be paid $130,000, but he is doing nothing to make this happen. Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch and Mike Bloomberg want to fire 25 to 50% of the teachers, give those salaries
    to the good to great teachers who will then have larger classes. (Yeah, like the retained teachers will ever get that.)

    And we don’t have a crisis in teacher quality. Even Eric Hanushek says he quality of the average teacher is really quite good. But this seems to get lost in the noise about Finland:
    So bringing up Finland, if we could replace the bottom five to eight percent of our teachers in terms of effectiveness with just an average teacher — and an average teacher is quite good in our schools — if we could replace the bottom five to eight percent with an average teacher, our national achievement would rise to the level of Finland.(EH on Diane Rehms show)

    Not only is the average teacher ‘quite good, but in defending his position regarding active deselection, Hanushek writes, that this does not apply to “teachers en masse . . . but a small number are dreadful. . . . The typical teacher is both hard-working and effective [but] a small proportion of teachers at the bottom is dragging down our schools. . . . replace the bottom 5%-10% of teachers with an average teacher–not a superstar–we could dramatically improve student achievement.”

    Myself, I think most of those are already weeded out and I don’t think we should put in place an evaluation system that will have a chilling effect on creativity.

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