Houston may fire teachers for low scores

Houston Superintendent Terry Grier wants the right to fire teachers based on students’ test scores, reports the Houston Chronicle. The school board will vote Thursday on the proposal.

HISD already uses a statistical analysis of student test scores to decide which teachers get performance bonuses. That same complex formula now would be used to highlight ineffective teachers.

The so-called value-added method measures whether a teacher’s students scored better or worse than expected on standardized tests. The formula, developed by North Carolina statistician William Sanders, projects how each child should score based on that child’s past performance.

Three or four years of data would be required to conclude that a teacher was ineffective, said Grier. Teachers would be given a chance to improve before being fired.

Currently, teachers can be fired for “a significant lack of student progress attributable to the educator.” But it’s not easy.

A Dallas teacher who was terminated for poor student achievement won back her job in 2008 after appealing to state Education Commissioner Robert Scott, who said her school’s environment was to blame.

Gayle Fallon, the teachers’ union president, argues the value-added method is too complex. In addition, value-added data is not available for all teachers.

Yesterday AFT President Randi Weingarten endorsed value-added analysis to judge teachers’ effectiveness.

Via Education Next Blog.

About Joanne


  1. Why only teachers? How about firing the educators who pick curriculae on the basis of low scores? How about firing school administration staff who interrupt class teaching time so much as to lower test scores? How about firing politicians who vote for laws requiring more items in a curriculum than any teacher not equipped with superpowers could properly cover in a year? How about district leaders who don’t do proper maintenance on the buildings in question?

    I’m with the Dallas teacher on this.

  2. Independent George says:

    Tracy W – I agree regarding the distribution of responsibility, but I don’t think that should affect the ability of the school to hire/fire its employees. The issue is labor mobility as a whole.

    I think it would be more effective if individual schools were free to hire/fire teachers at their discretion, and teachers were free to move about the school system and negotiate their own contracts. Let teachers be free to walk if they don’t like the leadership in their school, and let schools have to make retention a priority.

    I’m basically advocating free agency.

  3. So Tracey, you think if teachers ought to be held accountable for performance so should the other professionals?


    By the way, get the implication? No one’s accountable for performance now which is the way a lot of people would prefer it stay. I don’t think that’s going to happen but how quickly we move from the current extreme of professional skills being irrelevant to professional skills being pivotal remains to be seen.

    Fifteen minutes from now wouldn’t be too soon for me.

  4. I tried to use cut and paste to quote Weingarten, but to paraphrase she said that we propose the evalauations, including test scores, be used by expert evaluators and peer reviewers and administrators. That sounds like The Grand Bargain.

    I would never submit to a system where results from VAMs were assumed to be valid for evaluation purposes and placed in the hands of administrators alone. I’m hoping Houston and other teachers will invest whatever is necessary to fight their system to the end. I’m assuming that appeals judges, at least, will reinstate those teachers. If not, there will be an exodus from neighborhood schools with the most challenging conditions.

    Maybe that’s what will happen and districts who abuse the leverage of RttT will find themselves in a Battle of Verdun, and hopefully those school leaders will be fired for their bad judgment. Others will work collaboratively with the unions.

  5. Ponderosa says:

    I think unions should be busted and that schools should hire a new crop of young, pliable teachers. Force them to work 60 hours a week until they burn out, lose their youthful energy, and get too expensive. Then fire them and get some fresh blood. This will raise test scores.

  6. CarolineSF says:

    That’s already happening in lots of charter schools, Ponderosa! Joanne Jacobs described it herself in her book about Downtown College Prep (yes, I have read it), and the book “Teachers Have it Easy” described the same situation at San Francisco’s one-touted, now faded Leadership Charter High School. (The book highlighted one star teacher, who quit to go into real estate.) This scenario famously occurs at the acclaimed KIPP schools too.

    I think you are probably being sarcastic, but the charter world is taking this strategy seriously and has embraced it.

  7. How about throwing parents in the slammer for tolerating underperforming offspring?

  8. Just 60?

  9. Rating teachers by student test scores and getting them fired is part of the new “Race to the Top” program from the Department of Education. This is the same program that is pushing a national standards and testing. I read about it recently in the Atlantic Monthly.


    I’m glad that somebody wants to mathematically quantify why and when a teacher can be fired. It will be harder for unions to defend them with the facts in front of the parents.

  10. I think that it is the environment in which kids learn in that is the most important. I do think teachers should be held accountable for their students but I do not think this is the right way. Are the Principals being held responsible?

  11. I know this is heresy, but I believe in the 40 hour work week. For everybody. Our society is out-of-whack because the employed work too much, neglecting home life, eating right, community, civic involvement, hobbies, personal cultivation, friendships, exercise, visits to national parks, etc. Meanwhile, more and more of us have NO work. The situation is unhealthy. Europe is wiser. I go tromping around the beautiful wild areas of California and find Germans –with their five+ weeks of vacation –outnumber Americans.

    I’ve seen too many English teachers let paper-grading devour their lives. Put your foot down, dang it, and say it’s not right. If the community wants lots of writing and careful written comments, let them hire twice the number of teachers and give everyone 3-4 hours a day to grade. But unless we stand together and demand it, it’ll never happen. I know in the non-unionized private realm this strategy would be impossible, sadly.

  12. I know a teacher who 2 years ago had 100% of her students pass the Math TAKS (Texas) test. Last year a new you-must-use-this-and-only-this curriculum was mandated. 17% of her students pass.

    Politicians, and many others, would now claim she is not a good teacher, while there is no accountability for those who mandated an awful curriculum.

  13. The standardized test scores for my Alg 2 students used to tower over those of the other teachers at my school, and my school used to tower over the rest of the district.

    Last year we got a new textbook/curriculum. My scores are even with the school’s, which are even with the district’s. And it’s not because everyone’s scores went up.

    I’m now wishing I’d kept a copy of that old textbook.

  14. So, do we have agreement that everyone who pulls a paycheck ought to measure up or no on should?

    For the record, I chose Door Number One.

  15. Kevin Smith says:

    I find it funny they used the NC statistical model, since I work in NC and can tell you it is primarily bunk.

    Here in NC the statistical projection for how a student will do in High School Science is based on middle school math scores (since there is no science testing in NC prior to high school). Well a student’s ability to understand the relatively simple math curriculum for the eighth grade (not even what I remember as the Pre-Algebra I took in sixth grade) has little relationship to how well they will understand complex biological processes in Biology. In fact the NC biology curriculum has almost zero math in it.

  16. Kevin Smith says:

    The other big issue here could also be the effect it has on the subject areas people chose to teach. In NC all teachers in the school get the same bonus if the End Of Course (EOC) test scores meet ($750) or exceed ($1500) the Expected Growth. Well in elementary and middle school they only test certain grades for reading and math. In high school they only test Biology, Physical Science, Chemistry, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, US History, Civics, and English I. At a staff meeting one day a couple years ago the principal asked all EOC teachers to stand up…..16 out of 102 teachers stood up. They work hard so everyone can get a bonus. If we start this Houston model do we make those people the only ones who can get fired if the kids don’t improve enough?

  17. They work hard so everyone can get a bonus. If we start this Houston model do we make those people the only ones who can get fired if the kids don’t improve enough?

    Wow Kevin, that’s a very interesting point. Classes without testing that year would be exempt from this pressure. Also, it’s hard to pinpoint the problem teachers when students take high school exit testing which covers a variety of stubjects.

    Mike in Texas’s point is very important too, that curriculum can make an enormous difference in teacher performance. If curriculum is the problem, then, like Darren points out, should at least in the average range of the other teachers on staff. A bad teacher, would show with both good and bad curriculum.

    I believe these problems will be worked out over time.

  18. We only have 2 EOC exams now. More were to be rolled out, but the recession has spared us (testing is expensive). So, AYP for our district rests on the backs of less than 10 teachers at the secondary level (about 8% of our staff). For a couple of weeks in April, a handful of us are losing our hair, while the rest of the building is completely unaffected.

  19. Cranberry says:

    In this debate, I’m just a parent in another state, so I don’t have “skin in the game,” other than my status as a citizen of this country who has a vested interest in an educated workforce. However, this policy seems to add test scores to a list of reasons for contract non-renewal:

    “The proposal would allow HISD not to renew a teacher’s contract because of “insufficient academic growth as reflected by value-added scores.”

    Grier said the district would give teachers the chance to improve before ousting them and would rely on multiple, likely three or four, years of data.

    The district’s current policy includes 33 reasons that could lead to nonrenewal of a teacher’s contract, none of which specifically mention student test scores. Teachers can be ousted for “a significant lack of student progress attributable to the educator.””

  20. Kevin Smith says:

    Lightly Seasoned are you in NC?


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