One theory of education that reformsters like to put forward is the idea that if we fire the right people, schools will get better.
We hear this refrain every time reformsters go after tenure and FILO (as they are currently doing in Pennsylvania) with the usual anecdotal evidence that [insert school district here] had to lay off [insert number here] fantastic young teachers because of that stupid FILO. First In, Last Out is bad, we are told, because it leads to firing the wrong people.
We should be firing the right people, the worst teachers. And you know, that might have some merit if we could reasonably identify the worst teachers. But that's a big If, a huge If, an If into which you could drop the Grand Canyon, the Rock of Gibraltar and my brother's 1953 Buick (which is, trust me, a huge vehicle) and that If would still have room to swing a herd of cats while running a marathon.
Reformsters are sure they've got a great secret sauce which combines diverse metrics from "How much money will you pay the College Board this year?" to VAM. It is hard to believe that we are seriously still talking about VAM despite the fact that it has been discredited by virtually everybody who understands how it works (or doesn't).
Bottom line: the reformster measures of teacher effectiveness suck. I will see your "young teachers who were laid off" and raise you "experienced great award-winning teachers who were given poor evaluations."
Over at EdWeek, Rick Hess (one of my favorite writers that I often disagree with) has been conducting a long-running and often fascinating conversation with John Thompson, and in the latest installment Thompson made the observation, "It's not hard to identify bad teaching. Hold educators accountable for
what they do or don't do. Fire bad teachers for their behavior and we'll
rid schools of 'ineffective' teachers."
I don't know if that's entirely true. Part of the challenge of teaching is that it involves two people (teacher, student) and so different combinations yield different results. I have been a very good teacher for some students, but I'm pretty sure I've been a terrible teacher for some others.
Nor do any of these evaluation approaches seriously look at the systemic issues; administration and building culture have the power to make an average teacher rise to greatness or sink to suckiness. And one of the problems with the reformy nonsense sweeping the nation and various states is that it creates a rules-bound climate in which teachers can't do a great job. The rising tide of resignations is essentially a whole batch of teachers saying, "In this climate, under these rules, I will be a lousy teacher, so I am firing myself."
Test-driven high stakes accountability, the kind of thing that results in eight-year-olds needing high-pressure test prep to avoid failing third grade-- this doesn't just allow bad teaching. It requires it. It demands it.
Not only that, but the current climate of education, the current status quo of test-driven cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all pseudo-teaching combined with other reformster nonsense is drying up the talent pool. In the midst of a teacher shortage, how will you replace all those supposedly bad teachers that you fired?
The private sector figured out that you can't fire your way to excellence years ago. Reformsters have decided that they will not only embrace management-by-firing, but they will create an educational system where teaching excellence is neither fostered nor recognized (and I don't mean "recognized" as in "given a testimonial" but that they literally do not know it when they see it).
Coaches do not create winning teams by humiliating and cutting the worst players. They foster excellence, they help the best get better and the mediocre get good, and they create an atmosphere where excellence is valued. They certainly do not create an atmosphere where all players must worry about being punished for some random factors beyond their control.
The people we most need to get rid of are not in classrooms-- they're in boardrooms and superintendent offices and state ed department suites and the US DOE. We need to fire the people who are intent on breaking down the American public education system by destroying the profession that makes it work (and I don't mean professional politicians). We do need to fire the right people.