Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Firing the Right People

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.


  1. I agree- made some of the same points myself. But you do it better :) http://badassteachers.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-teacherstudent-fit-by-janna-i-was.html

  2. I love your blog. Every word. But don't worry, after all the teachers are gone they will replace us with people who have had a few weeks of training - along with computers.

  3. I'm going to continue stating this simple fact. Teachers are scared to speak out, and our current crop of administrators are far from being "Educational Leaders."I've never worked for a decent Superintendent..they were just highly paid bureaucrats who started the year literally screaming at the faculty because we were obviously a bunch of lazy loser teachers who had some questions (an awesome new teacher, who was also a graduate of our school, started to cry during one of our stellar superintendent's opening day Scream Fests, and I just looked at her and said "Ignore her honey". I SO wanted to raise my hand and ask the Superintendent "Do you need a Xanax?" That wonderful teacher left on a maternity and never came back. And I had ONE decent Principal...I think I'm on my 8th. Not because he liked me or agreed with me...but because he respected my opinion, even if it differed from his. Now that we've gone all Corporate, I cannot even have a normal conversation with the current crop of failed teachers who became administrators and acquired not only SIDS (Self Importance Disorder) but an uncanny ability to FORGET what it's like to actually work with kids. Every single one of my daughters' administrators I have either taught, worked alongside as a teacher, or educated their children...but talking to them now is like speaking to aliens. The same is true at my school. Which brings me to at least a bit of Peter's amazing blog. I love teaching kids. I know how to do my job, and I am my own worst critic when I miss the mark. But I cannot continue to be scared that my career is on the line because I do not write an untested canned Standard" on my white board before every class or have some ridiculous administrator determine whether I've met my SMART Goals (By the end of April, 70% percent of my students will be Proficient in their responses to Prompts, which will be administered twice during each cycle using the Rubrics provided by the Keys To Literacy and artifacts will be provided blah blah bullshit blah.) Anyone else had enough?