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 thoughts on “Second Response From Diane Ravitch

  1. Diana Senechal

    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.

  2. Mike

    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.

  3. Chris Smyr

    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?

  4. C. Smith

    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.

  5. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    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.

  6. Attorney DC

    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.

  7. pgteacher

    @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.

  8. Kitty

    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.

  9. Christina Lordeman

    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?

    Sincerely,
    Christina Lordeman

  10. KatieO

    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.

  11. Mike

    @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?

  12. Mike

    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

  13. john thompson

    KatieO,

    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?

  14. Attorney DC

    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?

  15. applesANDoranges

    “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.

  16. Stuart Buck

    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.

  17. KatieO

    @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: http://www.wbez.org/story/teaching-mentally-ill-children-delicate-balance-children-and-teachers-93503

    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.

  18. c. Smith

    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.

  19. applesANDoranges

    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)

  20. Stuart Buck

    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.

  21. Art

    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.

  22. applesANDoranges

    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.

  23. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    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.

  24. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    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?

  25. C. Smith

    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: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/article_dbf9b959-0c73-586c-97e7-6fca3a729b39.html#.TrD0zvBKsjQ.facebook

  26. PhillipMarlowe

    applesandbananas:
    “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.

  27. Chris Smyr

    Linda:

    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).

    C.Smith:

    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.

  28. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    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.

  29. Chris Smyr

    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.

  30. Chris Smyr

    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?

  31. Stuart Buck

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

  32. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    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?

  33. Mike

    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.

  34. Chris Smyr

    Linda:

    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.

  35. C. Smith

    @ 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.

  36. Chris Smyr

    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.

  37. LaborLawyer

    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.

  38. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    LaborLawyer:

    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.

  39. c. Smith

    @ 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.

  40. Sarah Pratt

    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.)

  41. Attorney DC

    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.

  42. Attorney DC

    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.

  43. Mike

    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!

  44. PUBLIC_schools

    Mike,

    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.

  45. Attorney DC

    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.

  46. PUBLIC_schools

    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?

  47. Mike

    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.

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