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.