UPDATED: Oops, You're fired!

If you read a lot of corporate education reform "studies" as we do, there's one common theme running through most of them. Much like Mitt Romney, they would really like to fire people, teachers specifically.

The rate at which they want to fire teachers varies, some only want to fire 1 in 20, others would really prefer to fire 1 in 5. The Governor himself would like nothing more than to fire some teachers too (though taking his axe to the states education budget is already doing the heavy lifting)

"We pay good teachers more, but I'm going to suggest that we hold all teachers accountable. Teachers who can't teach shouldn't be in the classroom. ... If we've got teachers who can't do the job there's no excuse for leaving them in the classroom."

The latest round of this fad came in a much ballyhooed study, with front page New York Times treatment.

The New York Times published an article on a new National Bureau of Economic Research study on the long-term effects of high value-added teachers on their students
After a discussion on the costs of keeping a minimally effective teacher, one of the authors, John N. Friedman, remarks, “the message is to fire people sooner rather than later.” His co-author, Raj Chetty, goes further: “Of course there are going to be mistakes—teachers who get fired who do not deserve to get fired.”

That's an uncharacteristic moment of truth. In the desire to fire lots of teachers using unproven data models and evaluation rubrics, there's going to be some collateral damage. Sure you may have spent tens of thousands of dollars, and years of your life earning your degrees so you can pursue your passion, but if some secret proprietary data model says you've got to go, well, them's the breaks, and besides, there's always some casino dealer TFA recruit with 5 weeks of training to ride to the rescue on their white horse.

Nobody want's to see chronically bad teachers in the classroom, but why don't these corporate backed studies and reforms first turn to employing policies to improve struggling teachers abilities, instead of immediately reaching for the ejector cord? Where are the think tank studies on what an effective intervention program would look like? Where's the money for professional development? The Governor, in his own words says he wants to pay good teachers more, when is that going to happen? It's all stick and no carrot.

Who would want to work in a profession that treats its workforce in such a callous and arbitrary manner?

When it comes to increasing the effectiveness of the teacher workforce, school districts should first give an ineffective teacher a chance and the necessary supports to improve. If the teacher does not improve, the district should fire her. But if a teacher can be fired—or believes that she could be— due to a statistical error, the impact on the quality of teaching workforce could be disastrous. Why would a bright young professional choose a career where she could be the mistake?

That's a big important question. It's also a question we have an answer to. Michelle Rhee's legacy of firing "ineffective teachers" is now in plain view, and the view isn't pretty

If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Washington Post reporter Bill Turque's analysis of Michelle Rhee's legacy one year after she left the D.C. public schools. Turque writes about the "churn and burn" in the D.C. teacher corps since the introduction of the controversial new IMPACT teacher evaluation and merit pay system: One-third of all teachers on the payroll in September 2007 no longer work for the district, and inexperienced teachers are more clustered than ever in low-income schools and neighborhoods. We know this is problematic because DC's own data shows that 22 percent of teachers with six to 10 years of experience are rated "highly effective," compared to just 12 percent of teachers with less than six years experience.

Policies the describe the need to fire lots of people will have a significant, negative, first order effect on the entire workforce. In the end, perhaps like Mitt Romney, those proposing such solutions just like to fire people.


Speaking of liking to fire people. Wow

Super Who?

Michele Rhee is famous, or in a growing number of eyes, infamous, for implementing a corporate education reform agenda in Washington DC's schools. A significant part of her plan, as it is with corporate education reformers, was to fire teachers. Lots and lots of teachers.

NEWSWEEK did a cover story a few months ago asking why we can't fire bad teachers. Today Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee proved that you can, announcing plans to fire 300 of the district’s 4,000 teachers based on poor performance or licensing issues.

Another 729 teachers will be notified that they have been identified as "minimally effective," according to a new evaluation system Rhee put into effect, meaning that they will not get their scheduled step raise and will have only one year to take advantage of professional-development resources to pull up their performance score or face firing next year. If most of those teachers fail to significantly bump up their performance, the D.C. system could see as many as a quarter of its teachers fired within two years, a prospect Rhee described as "daunting."

We'll sidestep the observation that many have that it's "difficult to fire teachers", when this story demonstrates it was pretty easy to fire 6% of the DC schools teachers in one fell swoops and put another 20% on the chopping block. Instead, let's see what all this firing brought the district. In an Op-Ed this weekend, in the Washington Post, Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, and former Rhee booster, mentioned the newly release NAEP scores for the district

The bad news, however, is that graduation rates are still low, and achievement gaps between the rich and poor sections of town remain vast. Despite the NAEP achievement gains, scores are still among the lowest in the nation’s major city school systems. An analysis by my organization also indicates that the D.C. public schools score well below what one would expect statistically, compared with other cities with similar poverty, language, race, disability and family characteristics. Students show unusual difficulty reading and interpreting texts, evaluating and critiquing information, identifying appropriate measurement instruments, and solving problems involving geometric shapes. There is much more work to be done.

Yes. Rhee fired a lot of teachers, ending their careers - for literally nothing.