Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You're Fired!

I am deeply troubled to read columns like this ("Improve education, fire bad teachers") -- both the title and the content -- from a reputable source like the Center for American Progress (CAP). Much as the likes of FOX News are in desperate need of balance and breadth of perspective, so is this column.

Where is the discussion about the need to support teachers to become more effective through improved preparation, stronger induction and mentoring, and job-embedded professional development? What about more than a throwaway line about the role of teacher evaluation systems to provide constructive feedback to help teachers identify strengths and weaknesses and help them become more effective?

I don't mean to pick on CAP too harshly, for some of its prior reports (such as this one) approached the teacher effectiveness issue more comprehensively and accurately. But if all we do is focus on firing teachers, without addressing other elements of teacher quality policy, we're going to dig ourselves into a hole that we'll never crawl out of. While stricter license and tenure requirements and more meaningful teacher evaluation systems might weed out truly ineffective teachers (a small minority), it won't do anything to help the vast majority teachers become more successful without a clear focus on individualized teacher development.

Another recent example of oversimplification and the repetitive 'teachers suck' mantra appeared on the pages of Newsweek masquerading as an actual news article. (I'm glad I canceled my subscription years ago.) The authors pontificated that, "Nothing, then, is more important than hiring good teachers and firing bad ones." Um, OK. Nothing, huh?

We need a broader vision here, folks, along the lines that the Obama Administration has articulated in its initial ESEA blueprint. It is not as simple as just firing more teachers. Columns like these do not convey the complexity and comprehensiveness of the policies, practices and implementation that is needed to truly improve teacher effectiveness across the board. They simplify the problem and cast the responsibility for educational failure solely on teachers.

Speaking of balance, here are more of my thoughts....

UPDATE: Eduwonk and Claus von Zastrow make good points on this issue -- as does Diane Ravitch (here and here). Bill Maher offers his own 'new rule, raising the important issue of parental involvement.

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