Progressives now acknowledge some of the key failures in public education but what solutions they propose to fix them may only exacerbate the problem. “It is well documented that teachers are rarely dismissed,” Robin Chait writes in a report published by the Center for American Progress (CAP). “National estimates from the 2007-08 Schools and Staffing Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education find that school districts dismiss on average only 1.4 percent of tenured teachers each year and .7 percent of probationary teachers for poor performance.”
“A number of indicators suggest that the percent of teachers dismissed is relatively low compared to the percent who should be dismissed.” Chait is the Associate Director for Teacher Quality at CAP.
“Teachers and principals report in several national surveys that they believe there are ineffective teachers teaching in their schools,” Chait writes. “In a recent survey of a nationally representative sample of teachers conducted by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates, 59 percent of teachers reported that there were a few teachers in their building who ‘fail to do a good job and are simply going through the motions’ and 18 percent of teachers reported there were more than a few.”
“Similarly, the New Teacher Project conducted a recent study of evaluation practices in 12 districts entitled ‘The Widget Effect’ and found that 81 percent of administrators and 58 percent of teachers reported there was a tenured teacher in their school who delivers poor instruction.” Chait herself was once a third grade teacher in Washington, D. C. and worked at the U. S. Department of Education.
At the CAP event on March 10, 2010, where Chait presented her findings, Jessica Cunningham who founded the KIPP charter school, said of her own experience teaching fourth grade in D. C. public schools, “I wasn’t very good and I met expectations every year.”
“Finally, a Public Agenda survey found that while overall, principals and superintendents were very satisfied with their teaching staff, more than 7 in 10 reported that making it easier to fire bad teachers, even those with tenure, would be a very effective method of improving teaching quality,” Chait wrote in the CAP report.
Their presence is more than just dead weight on the payroll and Chait did not even look at those dismissed for criminal misconduct. “There are a number of rough estimates of what this actually means for student achievement,” Chait notes. “For example, researchers from the Brookings Institution conducted an analysis of data from the Los Angeles public schools and projected that dismissing the bottom quartile of teachers in the district, based on value-added estimates during their first year of teaching, would result in a net increase in student test scores gains of 1.2 percentage points annually across the district.”
“This gain would be significant over time.”
For example, “Researcher Eric Hanushek from Stanford University finds that removing the bottom 6 to 10 percent of teachers would lead to a gain in student achievement that is the equivalent of improving the performance of students in the United States to the level of Canada’s students (from 29th to 7th) on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment in mathematics test over a 13-year period,” Chait points out.
Moreover, all of the available evidence seems to show that bad teaching disproportionately affects the poor, Chait argues. “A recent analysis of longitudinal student data in Florida and North Carolina suggests that the least effective teachers in high-poverty schools are significantly lower performing than the least effective teachers in low-poverty schools,” she reveals in the March 2010 report which is entitled “Removing Chronically Ineffective Teachers: Barriers and Opportunities.”
“And national data indicate that teacher dismissal rates for poor performance were higher in the highest poverty districts than in the lowest-poverty districts (2.9 percent for tenured teachers and 1 percent for probationary teachers in the highest poverty quartile compared to 2.2 percent for tenured teachers and .6 percent of probationary teachers in the lowest-poverty quartile)” As for what to do about it, Chait suggests peer review and better training and evaluation without showing how that differs from what is in place now or, what it will cost and who will direct it.
At the CAP event, Sen. Michael Bennet, a former school superintendent, suggested, “Don’t compare this year’s 4th graders with last year’s but see how this year’s fourth graders did when they were in third, second and first grade.” For whose benefit?
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.