Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Fire teachers as part of school turnaround?
Education Week posted two interesting articles that may be related.
One article gave the results of a poll in which 78% of Americans stated that it should be easier to fire teachers.
The other article stated that poor performing schools rarely are closed or turned around.
Many of the comments on the web site on the poor performing schools focused on poverty and the apparently insurmountable obstacle it creates. However, that is not what the information in the article suggests. It simply says that bad schools are disproportionately located in poorer areas. The article doesn't say that poverty is the cause of bad schools. Poverty certainly plays a part in th educational process, but many good schools have shown that poverty may negatively affect education, but it doesn't prevent it.
The connection between these two articles is that if it were easier to fire bad teachers, leaders could more easily turn around schools. It isn't the only factor, but it is the case that we need to find ways to make sure that good teachers are in the schools that are performing poorly. One way to do that is to fire bad leaders and hire good ones. Another way is to fire bad teachers and hire good ones.
I'm not suggesting that turning around a school is easy. I am suggesting that school leaders should have ever option available to them, including firing teachers that are not effective.
While I'm not sure that I agree, the survey about teachers was mixed in the answer to whether or not teachers make enough money. Slightly more than half of the respondents said they didn't, but another large proportion of Americans think that teachers are adequately paid. However, the overall message that teachers should be easier to fire sends the message that if teachers expect more pay, then they'll have to give up some job safety, at least in the eyes of most Americans.
It is interesting that many argue against incentive pay, saying that teachers are not in it for the money and that more money won't make teachers better. On the other hand, they'll argue that teachers should make more money. I agree with the first part. Teachers are, by and large, not in it for the money. I also agree the more money does not make a teacher teach better. This is exactly why I also agree that until teachers are held to high expectations or lose their jobs, it is not appropriate to argue for higher pay across the board. Instead of calling it incentive pay, let's call it appropriate pay for a job well done. I don't think we want to put a carrot in front of teachers. They aren't horses. We want to pay them what they are worth. A bad teacher is worth less than a good teacher. The bad teacher is provided an incentive to leave the profession voluntarily. If teachers are in it because they passionately want to educate children, but can't do it, then they ought to passionately pursue another career and leave education to those who can teach.
Turnaround will take effort and changed ideas, there can be no disagreement about that. Until we see teachers less as interchangeable cogs and more as more or less capable professionals, we can't really turn around schools. Teachers are an incredible piece of the solution to our educational dilemma, but only if leaders can and will ensure that bad teachers either are made into good teachers or made to leave the profession.