Dismissing poor teachers is not “anti-teacher”

Eric A. Hanushek, whose research into the effects of teachers on student learning was featured in the movie Waiting for Superman, disputes the argument that efforts to make it possible to remove the worst teacher from our nation’s schools is somehow anti-teacher. He recently did so in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal.

The article is behind a paywall, but here are some key points he makes:

  • “No longer is education reform an issue of liberals vs. conservatives.” Good for children, and for our future.
  • “All sides” now accept the idea that teacher effectiveness is key to student learning.
  • “The typical teacher is both hard-working and effective. But if we could replace the bottom 5%-10% of teachers with an average teacher—not a superstar—we could dramatically improve student achievement. The U.S. could move from below average in international comparisons to near the top.”

By the way, you don’t have to be anti-union to want to change personnel rules in public schools. Consider the group Put Kid First Minneapolis.

  1. First, the credential of the people behind the group:
  2. They believe that teacher unions are good and necessary: “If you want to bust unions, find a different group. We believe unions can create a more just and equal world. In our perfect world, teachers would make more than lawyers and bankers, and, to achieve that, we’ll need collective bargaining.
  3. “We support teacher tenure as a form of due process.” See the link above.
  4. “We’re agnostic on merit pay.”
  5. “We oppose vouchers for a whole host of constitutional and good government reasons.”

So they’re not the kind of people who want to bust unions, implement a voucher program, implement merit pay, or eliminate tenure.

But they do see a need for changes:

  1. “We do not support teacher tenure as a life-time job guarantee, regardless of performance or what students need.”
  2. “Allow school leadership teams (the principals, plus teacher and parent representatives) the freedom to hire and retain the most dynamic, talented, licensed teachers they can find, regardless of seniority or whether those candidates currently work for the district.”
  3. Use value-added tests, classroom observations, and parent/student surveys to evaluate teachers, recognize good ones, and remove poor ones.
  4. Use hiring freedom (the second point) to let schools take race and ethnicity into account when hiring teachers. I’m not comfortable with this, though I can see their point.

The development of the group Put Kids First Minneapolis is evidence that Hanushek is right. Giving principals authority to hire and fire teachers–and then holding them accountable–is not the only shake-up that public schools receive. But it’s an essential element, without which we’ll be denying many children the right to a high-quality education.

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