Laying off the least effective teachers

Seniority determines teacner layoffs in most school districts. Laying off the least-effective teachers, instead of the newest hires, would let districts retain more and better teachers for the same budgetary savings, write University of Washington researchers Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald  in Education Next.

 Only 16 percent of Washington state teachers who received lay-off notices were in the least-effective category, the study concluded, comparing teachers for whom value-added scores could be generated.  Because the least-effective teachers are more senior and therefore earn higher pay, laying off 132 would save as much money as laying off 145 junior teachers.   

Furthermore, the least-effective group was 20 percent of a standard deviation lower in students’ math and reading achieve­ment then the least-senior group.

The magnitude of the difference is strik­ing, roughly equivalent to having a teacher who is at the 16th percentile of effectiveness rather than at the 50th percentile. This difference corresponds to roughly 2.5 to 3.5 months of student learning.

Black students are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers who are the first to be laid off, the study found.  Effectiveness-based layoffs spread the disruption more evenly.

Some districts protect teachers in high-need specialties: Math and science teachers are less vulnerable to layoffs than P.E. and health teachers, for example. But in 70 percent of the nation’ s largest school districts, seniority alone determines the order of layoffs, the study concluded.

 That’s just crazy.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. First, there is the problem of measuring teacher effectiveness.

    You can accurately measure such things as classroom control and popularity with student questionnaires, but measuring effectiveness is not that easy.

    In years when my prep period was when the class was given for advanced orchestra, I had those students in my English class. In those years, the test scores of my students were excellent. But that reflected scheduling, not my effectiveness.

    So, if layoffs are going to be based on effectiveness, it’s going to be arbitrary unless a good measurement tool is developed, which, to my knowledge, has never been done.

    Second, the seniority system is not simply based on the theory that experience makes for better teachers. That theory would be a chore to defend.

    The seniority system provides for job security and is a worker benefit.

    In the free market, if a benefit is eliminated, the quality of the potential workforce will decline.

    The seniority system can be eliminated, but that means you’ll have to raise salaries if you want to attract the same quality of instructors.

    What would my school look like if teachers just had yearly contracts?

    I don’t know, but here’s my guess.

    1. Teachers would arrive earlier and stay later.

    2. Gradeflation would skyrocket.

    3. Nobody would ever miss a yard duty assignment.

    4. Everybody would volunteer to chaperone every dance.

    5. Teachers would spend their lunch hours picking up trash.

    6. Teachers would enthusiastically agree with every suggestion the principal made and would laugh louder than usual at all of the principal’s jokes. E

    7. Teachers would spend more time worrying about playing the game to be rehired than they would focus on teaching effectively and inspiring their students.

    Get rid of seniority? OK. Try it. But how are you going to pay for it? And how are you going to like what it does to the culture of the school?

  2. CarolineSF says:

    And Joanne, don’t you think this should have been applied to newspaper staffs too? How would you gauge their effectiveness? Well, of course — reader popularity, as assessed by polls in the olden days or page views today.

    It’s true that reporters on the Casey Anthony beat would clearly be “most effective,” while reporters covering City Hall zoning hearings would be bounced immediately. Ann Landers and the entire sports section in, editorial page staff out. Obviously, zoning hearing coverage would be immediately dropped, and the op-ed pages revised into a celebrity gossip section.

  3. In the free market, if a benefit is eliminated, the quality of the potential workforce will decline.

    Or, it’s substituted for another benefit.

    Get rid of seniority? OK. Try it. But how are you going to pay for it? And how are you going to like what it does to the culture of the school?

    Getting rid of seniority can’t happen alone. Otherwise, it keeps teachers trapped within the contracts based on seniority. By the way, these contracts work to the advantage of the administrators and the unions, but *not* individual teachers.

    Put simply, in no other field of intellectual professionals (that I know of) do the professionals abide by rigid salary schedules. Salary negotiations are common in the private sector. They work. If you don’t offer me a fair compensation package, I don’t take the job. If the working conditions change for the worse, I’m free to walk and find work elsewhere.

    As for measuring effectiveness, it’s amazing how much defenders of the current system straw man what measurements of effectiveness look like in the real world. Like, well, this:

    And Joanne, don’t you think this should have been applied to newspaper staffs too? How would you gauge their effectiveness? Well, of course — reader popularity, as assessed by polls in the olden days or page views today.

    It’s true that reporters on the Casey Anthony beat would clearly be “most effective,” while reporters covering City Hall zoning hearings would be bounced immediately. Ann Landers and the entire sports section in, editorial page staff out. Obviously, zoning hearing coverage would be immediately dropped, and the op-ed pages revised into a celebrity gossip section.

  4. Put simply, in no other field of intellectual professionals (that I know of) do the professionals abide by rigid salary schedules.

    I agree, but when I think of going to a system where teachers negotiate their own salaries, I always come across the same stumbling block: the principal. A school is like a small family-run business, with one person having complete authority–except, in the current environment, the boss with complete authority can’t determine raises and salaries. Given how much favoritism is found in small businesses, that’s a constraint worth having. I don’t want principals having the power to set salaries. Full stop.

    If we could figure out a way for teachers to negotiate salaries and raises without the principal, then that would work. But at the end of the day, the controls we need to do this properly would be a huge hassle, and I’ve long since decided that when all is said and done, the current system is probably the best way to deal with it fairly.

  5. If we could figure out a way for teachers to negotiate salaries and raises without the principal, then that would work.

    It really is amazing the amount of learned helplessness on display when it comes to teachers v. administrators. Negotiations go both ways. In the real world, the employee has the power to say “No” or “I’m going to walk unless I get…”. I know, I’ve done it.

    Problem here is, most teachers work for a monopoly: the school district. The monopoly power school districts wield when dealing with students and families is also wielded when dealing with teachers. Until there were enough competition amongst schools for teachers that they had real choice about competition and working conditions, the problem of self-interested and capricious administrators remains.

    Making the monopoly problem worse is that teaching, unlike other fields where government has a monopoly in providing services (like the DMV or the Post Office) is a highly-specialized field that requires a lot of training. The cost of getting into the field means that people in the field are less likely to bolt out of the field if unsatisfied. In this way, it has some parallels with Firefighting or Law Enforcement.

    So, if you’re a teacher, and 9 out of 10 teaching jobs in your town come from the school district, what exact power do you have to negotiate? You’re dealing with a monopoly.

    Maybe, just maybe, the seniority system *is* the most fair system so long as public schools remain monopolies within their markets. A sad concession given the rank inefficiency of it, but yet another black mark against the public school monopoly system.

  6. Your first paragraph seems bizarrely at odds with the rest of your post, as you first announce that you have boldly quit a job that didn’t pay well enough–as if everyone, including teachers, haven’t done that before–and then basically concede my point.

    Since I can’t figure out which schizoid wrote what part, I will spell it out, even though half of you seems to realize this:

    Of course a teacher can walk. But so long as benefits and pension are locked to a district, walking becomes a big price to pay. It’s not like a large corporation, where employees have many options within the same company, a teacher would often have to leave an area entirely in order to get away from a boss and get more money.

    However, I wasn’t even thinking of that point. A principal with that kind of power is answerable to no one, and the taxpayers aren’t well served by the equivalent of a family-run business. The principal could not only be unfair, sexist, racist, or nepotist, but could also simply punish excellent teachers, who leave a district whether the taxpayers want it or not.

    Schools aren’t businesses, and the principal isn’t running his or her own little company. Teachers and everyone else loses in a world that allow teachers to negotiate their salaries with the head of the school, and corruption–something that now only plagues low income districts that treat schools as a jobs program–would be everywhere.

  7. Cal,

    Sorry, to be clear, the job I walked out on was an IT job, not a teaching one.

    This learned helplessness against the administration is part of what drove me away from teaching as a career, even though I enjoy the actual teaching part. The labor environment for teachers is unimaginably primitive by the standards out in the business world.

    However, I wasn’t even thinking of that point. A principal with that kind of power is answerable to no one, and the taxpayers aren’t well served by the equivalent of a family-run business. The principal could not only be unfair, sexist, racist, or nepotist, but could also simply punish excellent teachers, who leave a district whether the taxpayers want it or not.

    Go for the root cause here, Cal. Why are principals accountable to no one? Is it just the way it has to be, or does it have something to do with how the schools are structured?

    Schools aren’t businesses, and the principal isn’t running his or her own little company. Teachers and everyone else loses in a world that allow teachers to negotiate their salaries with the head of the school, and corruption–something that now only plagues low income districts that treat schools as a jobs program–would be everywhere.

    Goodness, is your view of humanity that cynical? Or is it just your fellow teachers? Really, if people were as corrupt as you state, *nothing* productive would happen in the private economy. The fact that you typed your comment on a computer produced by a private company proves otherwise.

    Actually, there’s an economic system that produced *exactly* the kind of graft you feared. It’s called communism. It might seem odd to people, but when the currency of the realm is cold, hard cash instead of political clout, people become more honest, not less.

    Public schools, not having to compete for paying customers, are dominated by political currency. Please those higher up the food chain, you are good. Don’t? You are bad. As you correctly point out, this may have no relationship to how well you serve the students. Those in power (principals, superintendants, etc.) are the central bank of the political currency. They can issue and recall it at will.

    In the private sector, this political currency problem comes up in large corporations as well. GM is a classic example here. Even before the bailout from Washington, GM was structured for the interests of those running it, not the shareholders. The company I left (which I have to leave nameless) was another. I left because my boss made it about pleasing him, not getting the job done right. He was dismissed shortly after when the extent of his games had been discovered.

    The way organizations defend against the political currency problem is by making sure that the activities taking place in the company have strong and measurable ties to both serving the customer well and the organization’s overall strategy. In the public schools’ monopolistic position, though, management’s focus on serving individual students takes a back seat to other consideration. Some teachers might slack, some might work their tails off to do the right thing, but management is worried about keeping its position secure. Teachers that help management do that are good teachers. Those that don’t, aren’t.

  8. CarolineSF says:

    Just for the record, you are misunderstanding the meaning of “straw man,” Quincy. I used an analogy, which isn’t the same thing. You’re free to label it a crappy analogy — though personally I think it’s quite apt to use an analogy from Joanne Jacobs’ own career history, since she gave an opinion in her original post. But it’s not a straw man.

  9. Caroline, I’m misunderstanding nothing. Quit being condescending.

    Your analogy sets up a conveniently extreme set of consequences for you to argue against, but is radically disconnected from reality. Institute certain metrics, then slavishly and unthinkingly follow those metrics to disastrously shallow news coverage! There can be no other way in a news room to determine effectiveness? No organization could ever be called upon to have goals other than the cheapest possible profit? No newspaper would ever feel it has a civic duty? Nor could it use discretion in balancing priorities? I highly doubt that.

    Therefore, I call it a what it is, a strawman. But it’s a crappy analogy, too, if you insist.

  10. Sorry, to be clear, the job I walked out on was an IT job, not a teaching one.

    What, you thought that wasn’t obvious? You reek of IT–undoubtedly the libertarian kind.

    Beyond that, it’s pretty clear you don’t understand what I’m pointing out, and that you aren’t capable of much more than platitudes. Try thinking for a change.

  11. Cal, wow. You’re a big know it all, aren’t you? “I’m so smart, therefore anyone who disagrees with me must be spouting platitudes and not thinking.” Grow the **** up, already. We GET it.

    You are really the worst sort of trash on the internet. Attempt to sound all intelligent, then throw a big, fat tantrum and start flinging insults when someone has the temerity to disagree with you.

    You care to try and argue against *anything* I’ve said, or will you simply keep throwing insults and prove you don’t have a damn point?

  12. Yes, Quincy, seniority is benefit, a part of compensation, and it could be replaced by a salary increase, but schools aren’t flush with money these days.

    Giving teachers job security is a way to save money. Take away the security and you have to pay more if you’re going to maintain the same quality of applicants.

    There was a school in New York that wanted good teachers but yet wanted to give them only yearly contracts. I think the numbers looked like this: Exceptionally good public school teachers with tenure were willing to consider leaving their $80K jobs when offered a year by year contract that paid $125K.

    The seniority system is flawed but it sure saves a lot of money.

    As for effectiveness and comparing a school with a newspaper, that makes for an interesting comparison.

    On the one hand, market forces made the Mercury News lose Steve Lopez, one of the most outstanding columnists of his generation. They didn’t pay him enough to stay.

    Yet during the Mercury’s heyday, they produced a great paper that was much, much better than it had to be. Here you had a paper with no competition that still pushed itself to be great. Why? It wasn’t the force of the market. The paper at that time happened to be staffed with talented people who set high personal standards and took pride in their work.

    However, over a period of time, with less money coming in, the outstanding talent drifted away, the paper became slimmer, and the quality sadly declined.

    Market forces are tricky, but over time, they usually have the final say.

  13. Yes, Quincy, seniority is benefit, a part of compensation, and it could be replaced by a salary increase, but schools aren’t flush with money these days.

    Giving teachers job security is a way to save money. Take away the security and you have to pay more if you’re going to maintain the same quality of applicants.

    You make a good point. Actually, that’s probably the strongest argument I’ve heard for accepting the flaws of the seniority system.

    Yet during the Mercury’s heyday, they produced a great paper that was much, much better than it had to be. Here you had a paper with no competition that still pushed itself to be great. Why? It wasn’t the force of the market. The paper at that time happened to be staffed with talented people who set high personal standards and took pride in their work.

    Without knowing who the competitors were in the South Bay at the time, I can’t really say one way or another on that. There may have been some perceived competition from the SF papers, but maybe not. Still, good leadership and talented staff putting out a top-quality product is a rare and beautiful thing in any sector.

    Though, I do wonder if the quality of the paper actually made it a stronger force in the market than it otherwise would’ve been. You’re about the 100th person I’ve talked to who sings the praises of the old Mercury News. The North Bay has a couple of newspapers serving regional markets, and neither ever attained the success or prestige of the Merc.

  14. Oh, and Robert, you have my thanks for responding rationally and having a discussion.

    (Caroline, also, though our discussions are a little more pointed.)

  15. Um, who’s throwing the temper tantrum, again?

    I’m so smart, therefore anyone who disagrees with me must be spouting platitudes and not thinking.

    Nope. It’s quite possible to disagree with me and not be spouting platitudes. Rare, but possible. I just don’t have much patience for platitudes.

    I tried explaining it to you twice. I have no objection to you disagreeing with me, but when you can’t even understand what I’m saying and then write a long post full of tedium, there’s not much point.

    Giving teachers job security is a way to save money. Take away the security and you have to pay more if you’re going to maintain the same quality of applicants.

    There’s a fair amount of truth to this, but I’d actually argue that you get a different type of personality by offering seniority instead of money. You would have to pay more, but you’d get an entirely different type of teacher–for better and worse.

    But in general, this also goes to my point. We could spend a whole bunch of time re-engineering the way teachers are paid so that they could negotiate their own salaries without giving undue power to the principal. We’d probably end up with a very different system, with teachers cutting deals with multiple schools and arranging block schedules to allow them to teach classes on different days, with schools competing madly for the best teachers, and everyone else signing 10 year contracts with built in raises that have to meet a schedule–and make no mistake, no low income school is going to get any All Star teachers.

    Ultimately, what we have now is about 90% of what we’ll end up realizing is the best option of what’s available anyway.

  16. A straw man argument involves distorting a proposal into something that is easier to refute or ridicule. It’s different from merely presenting something that is (arguably) a false analogy; a false analogy would more likely be characterized as a red herring.

    Here’s an example of a straw man:

    Jim: We need to test teachers to improve teacher quality.
    Sue: A better way to improve teacher quality would be to improve pay, and to attract more qualified candidates who presently earn more in other fields.
    Jim: Why are you rejecting the testing of teachers?

    Jim distorts Sue’s argument as rejecting the concept of testing teachers, then dismisses her argument based upon that distortion rather than responding to what she actually said.

    If you consider the exchange:

    Jim: We need to test teachers to improve their quality.
    Sue: It’s difficult to set suitable standards, and you can end up focusing on the wrong measures of quality. Consider what might happen in a newsroom if you confuse measures of popularity with measures of quality.

    Reasonable, right? A fair analogy.

    Jim: We need to test teachers to improve their quality.
    Sue: It’s impossible to measure quality in a newsroom.
    Jim: But until now we were talking about classrooms.

    That’s a red herring – an attempt to switch the subject under discussion to one that’s not relevant to the prior discussion.

    Jim: We need to test teachers to improve their quality.
    Sue: Why do you want to use arbitrary measures to assess teaching skills?
    Jim: I recognize that we can’t create a perfect testing regimen, but I actually am concerned about avoiding arbitrary measure and support performing the necessary work and research to create reliable measures of competence.

    That time we have a straw man from Sue.

  17. I bet if seniority wasn’t a factor than lots of veteran teachers would suddenly be declared ineffective.

    Of course, the real reason they would be declared so was b/c they cost more.

  18. Aaron, here’s the definition from Nizkor.org:

    The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

    Person A has position X.
    Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
    Person B attacks position Y.
    Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

    Based on this, let me present how I perceived the straw man:

    The authors of the study (persons A) advanced the position that laying off teachers based on effectiveness is more effective than laying them off based on seniority (position W). One of the premises of this position is that teacher effectiveness can be effectively measured (position X1). Another is that management is reasonable enough to make a decent decision based on the measurements (position X2).

    Caroline (person B) put forth the analogy of attempting to measure a newsroom. Within this analogy, she picked an overly-narrow type of measurement (position Y1, an identifiable distortion of position X1) and coupled it with unthinking management (position Y2, an identifiable distortion of position X2) so as to produce consequences so highly undesirable that no reasonable reader would want them to occur (the attack on positions Y1 and Y2).

    The end state of the argument was that positions W, X1, and X2 were flawed because the combination of positions Y1 and Y2 would produce bad results.

    I can’t agree that it is simply a bad analogy, because it’s not. Now that I look closely at it, it’s a good one. (Caroline, I apologize for calling it crappy earlier.) It’s an effective wrapper for a fallacious underlying argument. The parallels between the positions X1 and X2 advanced in the context of education and between Y1 and Y2 advanced in the context of the newsroom are clear enough that specific distortions could be identified.

    The analogy would effectively argue that W was false if someone were to prove that Y1 and Y2 were true in journalism and generalizable to education, because they would render the original premises of X1 and X2 untrue.

    Based on that long explanation of how I got there, let me state both I still believe the analogy contains straw men and is better rhetoric than I originally gave it credit for.

  19. Cal,

    Nope. It’s quite possible to disagree with me and not be spouting platitudes. Rare, but possible. I just don’t have much patience for platitudes.

    I tried explaining it to you twice. I have no objection to you disagreeing with me, but when you can’t even understand what I’m saying and then write a long post full of tedium, there’s not much point.

    Thanks for proving me absolutely correct about you. Much obliged.

    Now, in fairness, let me bullet point out the stuff you said so you can judge for yourself whether I understood or not (you may be surprised, if you can see through your own ego):

    Comment 1:

    - A school is like a small, family-run business. (Partly true, but schools are shielded by monopoly power not afforded to small businesses.)

    - Because a school is like a small business, the principal has complete authority. (True that the principal has near-complete authority. I argue that the causation you cite is incorrect and instead trace it to the monopoly power afforded public schools. Businesses as large as schools would *not* survive with fifty to several hundred employees reporting into a single manager. Only the shield of the monopoly position allows the inefficiency to continue. We disagree, doesn’t mean I don’t understand.)

    - It is good that the seniority system is in place to protect teachers from capricious principals wielding power in one-sided negotiations. (Based on the disagreement in the previous bullet, we obviously disagree on the causation here.)

    - Because principals are capricious and teachers have zero negotiating power against them, principals need to be excluded from the negotiating process. (There’s some truth to this one, but it lies in the inefficiently-flat organization of schools, not some intrinsic property of principals in general. This is a problem that could be addressed if there were motivation to.)

    —–

    My reply to this commented on the fact that the helplessness of teachers against principals was anomalous in the wider world (true) backed by the fact that I’ve actually been in a situation that I believe is generalizable to the wider world of employment. (I’m open to evidence to the contrary, btw.)

    Because I started with the position that the situation in education was anomalous, I targeted what I believe is the root cause: the monopoly position of public schools in education.

    —–

    Comment 2:

    - You miss my connection between the two parts of my reply. (In hindsight, I could’ve argued it better). Then you insult me. Yay.

    - Then you cite the high cost of exit from a school district (Again, from comment 1, we disagree on causation)

    - You go back on the hobby horse of the power wielded by principals (Tired refrain, we disagree on causation.)

    - You then make the wild assertion that allowing schools in their current structure would lead to widespread corruption with ZERO evidence to back it up. (At this point, my reason for disagreeing with this should not require restatement.)

    —–

    My reply consisted of a clarification of what kind of job I walked away from, lest *anyone* reading this think I was the outlier when it came to teaching.

    Then, I press my case on the monopoly angle again.

    Then, I question (rightly) your wild and unproven assertion about corruption. From there, I talk about my belief in the danger of political considerations within an organization.

    —–

    Comment 3:

    - Insult
    - Insult
    - Assumption of your own superiorty
    - Insult

    —–

    To be fair, my reply was a swipe at you. But frankly, you earned it.

    I could just as easily throw a tantrum and say I tried to explain it to you twice and you didn’t get, but I would be no more correct. We disagree on a point early on in the argument and didn’t resolve it… ended up talking past each other. I could have presented my case better. So could you, even though you’d never believe it.

    Now, maybe someday, in the far distant future, you could stopped being so obsessed with the size of your own intellect that you could debate someone without assuming you’re smarter than they are. It might open your eyes and your mind to some new ideas that are currently crowded out by your gloriously inflated sense of superiority.

    Then again, I don’t know why I am even bothering. You’ve clearly already assumed and stated you’re too good to listen to someone by me. Must be something about us little people who reek of IT, can’t help tilting at windmills.

  20. Richard Aubrey says:

    People who do the straw man thing know they’re doing the straw man thing. They don’t do it by accident and they don’t do it because it’s relevant. They do it because they know they don’t have an argument and so misstating somebody else’s argument is their best bet.
    Explaining to them that they’re doing the straw man thing is only useful in telling them they’ve been caught. Going on about it with explanations and so forth is a waste of time, and almost as useful to the straw-man pusher as the original straw man.

  21. In theory (and in practice in some occupations) seniority is not in conflict with letting ineffective employees go. It’s hard to reconcile these two things during a layoff situation; what works better is a more robust process for terminating bad employees in non-layoff situations, such that when the need for layoff arises, your’re not protecting ineffective employees (teachers) because they’re already gone. However, that way of operating puts more stress on both management and (if one is in place) the union: management because they have to have the guts to be constantly pushing ineffective teachers through the termination process, and the union because contracts have to be changed to allow for the process to work better.

  22. Quincy, when your argument necessitates inferring the meaning of both the original comment and the response in order to turn the analogy into a straw man, you’re, well, grasping at straws.

    Here’s an example of a straw man argument:

    Sue: It’s difficult to test teachers, and easy to emphasize the wrong factors in testing. Consider how choosing the wrong factors might distort the evaluation of reporters in a newsroom.
    Jim: You’re stating that because the wrong factors could be applied in a newsroom, nobody should want to test teachers.

  23. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Aubrey’s right: you’re not making a straw man argument unless you KNOW you’re making a straw man argument.

    Also: “Straw man” isn’t a technical fallacy — because it’s definition is primarily about the arguer’s intention, not their logic. “Straw man” is just a colloquial term referring to a broad category of fallacious arguments that can include any sort of misrepresentation of the opponent’s argument — including false analogies, if they’re knowingly made.

    In other words, Quincy, you were kind of insulting Caroline when you called her argument a “straw man” rather than merely inapposite.

    No go back to calling each other names so I can watch.

  24. All right, I can admit when I was wrong. :-)

  25. Why do so many idiots think that they should write MORE when they are pompous, tedious dolts? A good rule of thumb: if you fondly delude yourself that you’re Fisking, you’re a bore.

    Of course, the real reason they would be declared so was b/c they cost more.

    Exactly. But many reformers see it as that simple: change nothing about teacher pay except ending seniority protection in layoffs. Point out that this guarantees layoff of expensive teachers, and they snort “Well, if you’re not 20% better, why are they paying 20% more?”

    But that raises the inevitable problem that no one will be that much better. Cost will always trump. With the exception of the teachers who have some other skill (coaching, leading the champion debating team), principals will always let go of more expensive teachers.

    And in this case, the teachers have no control over making more money. They have to take the raises, they have to be paid by years and education. So they can’t opt to be paid slightly less, for example.

    Ah, not a problem, say reformers. That’s why you give principals the ability to negotiate salary.

    So in one fell swoop, these guys eliminate not only seniority but the method of getting raises, and turn the principal into a “boss” who singlehandedly, with no oversight, determines salaries. Not going to happen. Teachers wouldn’t tolerate it, simply because (as Quincy failed to understand), schools aren’t like businesses writ large, but a bit like small family-owned businesses, which are always small dictatorships. It will never happen.

    So take away seniority, you have to take away the way we do raises, and the minute that happens, the entire thing needs to be re-engineered. That re-engineering would be enormous and, ultimately, lead us back to something that looks an awful lot like what we have.

  26. So in one fell swoop, these guys eliminate not only seniority but the method of getting raises, and turn the principal into a “boss” who singlehandedly, with no oversight, determines salaries. Not going to happen. Teachers wouldn’t tolerate it, simply because (as Quincy failed to understand), schools aren’t like businesses writ large, but a bit like small family-owned businesses, which are always small dictatorships. It will never happen.

    Really, Cal? Still need to insist that I still didn’t get something I obviously got but disagree with? Are you that insecure? Hey, if it helps you sleep at to continue insisting I’m some sort of fool who doesn’t understand your high-minded ideas, fine. I really don’t give a crap.

    But your pathological need to assert your superiority to others is getting really ****ing old. And frankly, I don’t need to win a debate on the internet so much that I continue dealing with your self-aggrandizing, ferociously nasty attitude any more.

    I’m done.

  27. Cal,

    You write,

    “you get a different type of personality by offering seniority instead of money. You would have to pay more, but you’d get an entirely different type of teacher–for better and worse.”

    That’s a good point and it’s probably true.

    Evaluating the effectiveness of a restaurant is a lot easer that evaluating the effectiveness of a school.

    Bad restaurants go out of business, usually within the first year. Bad schools last forever.

    What’s a good school? Where students are happy and love attending; where teachers work hard, are smart, and caring; where test scores are high.

    Test scores are easy to measure. Student attitude can be measured to an extent. Teachers? That’s a lot more complicated.

    With restaurants, it doesn’t matter exactly what the problem is. If there’s a serious problem, it ceases to exist.

    If there’s a serious problem with a school, we can scratch our heads and theorize and point fingers, but the doors still open in late August.

    Business is a lot easier to understand and fix than public schooling.

  28. Exactly my point. And remember that the scale of schooling is huge.

    If I had to pick one thing to fix, it would be to increase state involvement in policing unfit teachers.

    So, for example, a teacher who shows up drunk or harasses students or who is constantly late or absent, whatever: the principal just documents it and sends it to the state. The state investigates, and if it’s true, the teacher loses his credential. No credential, no job. Then the teacher can deal with the state to get his credential back, and leave it outside the employment sector.

    Teachers should be required to take the subject matter qualifying tests every few years-no matter what, no grandfathering.

    If a principal feels a teacher is utterly incompetent, he should be able to flag it for state investigation. If the principal is being malicious, he should be nailed. If the teacher is genuinely incompetent, the state can pull the credential.

    Leave the principal to the basics, and force the state to pull credentials–which takes it entirely out of employment and thus out of the district’s cost center.

    Of course, right now the state is backlogged and uninterested in checking even the minimum of offenses, but if I were going to push for change, it’d be there, at the credentialing level.

    As far as defining a good school, it’s’ based entirely on student population or the school’s ability to control that population. IF the population’s okay, the school is okay. If the population is out of control and the school isn’t allowed to control it, then the school will be a problem.

  29. Maybe my experience is not a representative sampling, but in 36 years of teaching and 11 years as a parent of a child in the school system, I’ve only known of 2 teachers who were unfit. One was a science teacher who on a daily basis showed graphic pictures of abortions and claimed that only Jews performed abortions. She was actually given several chances to get her act together before she was let go. The other teacher had medical and psychological problems that probably made him unfit for any kind of employment.

    When I hear that a major problem with public schools is that we have a lot of unfit teachers, it makes me wonder. Where are these schools? They’re not in San Jose. Either that, or I’m not very perceptive.

    Mediocre teachers? I’ve seen a few. And there are several teachers I know of who have different teaching philosophies, but I’m not in position to say my way is best.

    So, I’m really baffled when I hear so much talk about unfit teachers.

    In California, anybody can write a letter to the state to complain about a teacher.

    A friend of mine got mad and used profanity when a student wasn’t behaving. The parent of the child wrote to the state to complain. A hearing was scheduled and my friend, who didn’t want to travel 200 miles to attend it, had his credential revoked for not showing up.

    The state can still revoke credentials and they can do it for just about any reason they see fit.

    But this was years ago. I don’t know if a backlog exists that makes that route useless. Could be.

    And though I’ve cluttered this blog with this view many, many times, it’s a myth that a district can’t fire a tenured teacher. If the school board has five members, all it takes is a vote of three members in closed session, tenure or no tenure. I’ve seen it happen, several times.

    It all depends on the district and the law firm they have on retainer.

    An abrupt dismissal of a tenured teacher on trumped up charges is easily done depending on the superintendent and the board. The teacher is gone in 24 hours.

    It would be done more often except for the fact that the resulting legal appeals cost a lot of money. In a district where the superintendent has no morals, a board that follows the superintendent’s wishes, and legal fees that are too far buried in the budget system for anybody to see, it is easily done.

    What usually happens is that the teacher is offered one to four years of salary to voluntarily resign. The fired teacher almost never returns.

    The only time when firing a tenured teacher is difficult is when it’s done for the reason of incompetence and when the district honestly follows legal procedures. Well, it’s more than difficult. It’s practically impossible.

    But firing a teacher for an act he didn’t do, all it takes is a principal who’s willing to lie for a superintendent in the kind of district I described. And the teacher is gone in 24 hours and doesn’t come back.

  30. Robert,

    I know you are a very smart commenter, and I like your comparison of schools and restaurants. I just think we might try to carry it a little farther.

    The bad restaurant goes out of business because it doesn’t attract enough customers at prices to keep the doors open. You’re right that the details don’t matter too much. Was the chef bad? Was parking inconvenient? Were the servers rude? Was management so ornery that good staff could not be retained? Who knows? The result is the restaurant failed. Customers found other CHOICES that they preferred. Next, someone else could start a restaurant at the same location and succeed. It does not need to improve on every aspect over the previous failure. It just needs to do enough things right to compare favorably to the other choices.

    I think a lot of that reasoning could work for schools, too, if they operated in an environment of CHOICES. Your description of a successful school would be one that would attract many customers by choice. Allow the schools that don’t attract customers to fail. For another school to succeed in its place does not require it to copy whatever a neighboring successful school is doing. Try being open more hours. Or try tightening discipline. Your fix does not have to work for everyone. It only needs to attract enough customers to stay in business.

    How do we relate this back to effectiveness vs. seniority? Let schools that try the different approaches compete. They may both survive, or one model may prove better. Even if committed to effectiveness, different ways of assessing this can compete against one another.

  31. . Customers found other CHOICES that they preferred.

    Parents aren’t customers. School isn’t a business. It’s not a privilege. It’s a right and a responsibility.

    Just to show you how screwed up the analogy is, consider that businesses have the right to refuse service to CUSTOMERS. Schools can’t. They can’t refuse disruptive students, they can’t refuse illegal students, they can’t refuse manifestly and profoundly incapable students.

    So if you want to make progress, stop thinking of parents as CUSTOMERS.

    Robert,

    I don’t think incompetent teachers are a huge problem. But there’s no question that they cost a lot of money to get rid of. I’m just saying that the problem should be laid at the state’s feet, not the district’s.

  32. Richard Aubrey says:

    When my daughter was in the eighth grade, her drunk math teacher was useless and my daughter was struggling. One Saturday morning, a friend of hers, who had a different eighth grade math teacher, came over and they spent about three hours on the subject. My daughter never had any further math trouble. Credentialed math teacher vs. eighth grade student: See a problem? This is the guy about whom, the principal said, “He’s got to retire sometime.”
    Robert’s “mediocre” includes a sprectum, at the low end of which telling the difference from them and ineffective losers becomes increasingly difficult.
    We had several other examples, but, with two kids going through k-12, we encountered more than two losers. Not to mention my wife’s colleagues over several decades of teaching which is another batch including some doozies.

  33. I remember seeing a piece not long ago about a principal’s talent in hiring determining a great deal about the school’s effectiveness. I found it true at the time (on a gut level) — and feel it is even truer now that I’m doing the hiring with my principal. It is a very intuitive process.

    In any case, that’s probably linked to nutjobs in the schools. If a principal can’t discern that sort of thing in an interview, the school is going to end up with more than its share. I’m with Robert and have run into relatively few in my career — and they’ve mostly been either pushed along or given assignments where they can’t do much damage.

    And yes, I have stories of bad teachers in high school, too. But I also had mostly great teachers working under strained conditions (the aftermath of prop 2 1/2 in MA).

    Mediocre teachers are a different problem. I think most would improve with a little bit of good coaching. We work in isolation, and it is hard to improve without feedback.

  34. I don’t think incompetent teachers are a huge problem.

    That says it all.

  35. Yes, it does. If incompetent teachers were a huge problem, most parents would not be happy with their schools.

    But regardless of the degree of the problem, moving the responsibility to the state would make it easier to fire teachers, with no union issues, so anyone short of an unthinking ideologue would realize I wasn’t proposing something that would help teachers.

  36. The myth that there are a lot of incompetent teachers and that it’s fundamental problem of the public school system is widely held and i wish I new why.

    It would make for an interesting study.

    It reminds me of the book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas.”

    – and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

    The school system is in critical need of reform. Placing blame where it doesn’t exist delays finding badly needed solutions.

  37. The myth that there are a lot of incompetent teachers and that it’s fundamental problem of the public school system is widely held and i wish I new why.

    Try Occam’s razor.

  38. Roger Sweeny says:

    The myth that there are a lot of incompetent teachers and that it’s fundamental problem of the public school system is widely held and i wish I new why.

    I agree that it’s a myth and I think we teachers are largely to blame for it. For years, we, or our unions, or our favorite politicians have said that we are professionals with special knowledge and skills, that good teachers can teach anyone, and that therefore we deserve to be well paid.

    But people see the statistics that lots of students don’t have nearly what they are supposed to have in the way of knowledge and skills. So who must be responsible? The “lousy teachers” who obviously haven’t done what the propaganda said all good teachers can do.

    If we were more honest about what we can and cannot do, we would be both paid less and blamed less.

  39. Richard Aubrey says:

    Robert.
    “myth” equals something few people believe. Then it’s claimed that many people believe it. Then the assertion that many people believe it is debunked because…it”s not true( which is why so few people believe it). Cheap newspaper column when you’re out of ideas.
    Saw a review of Kansas. The reviewer said that Frank got some of his salient facts wrong. Number of farms and their size is about the same, etc. Apparently, not voting the way Frank wants you to is irrational.
    Anyway, I know nobody who believes the “myth” that there are lots of incompetent teachers. They do believe, however, that even one is a cause for concern. Going around on this with teachers and educrats on this, I get the odd feeling they don’t know how parents see this. Yeah, you can get rid of an incompetent teacher in a year or two–after years of complaints–so what’s the problem? Problem is, the parents see their kid get a year of lousy education with no way to make it up. That seems to be too difficult for the edpros to grasp. Or maybe they know they can’t afford to admit they get it.
    Oh, yeah. Parents should lead an “avalanche”, as one teacher told me. You have to do that, she said, to overcome the institutional inertia. And resistance. And whatnot.
    And, she went on, how can you say such a thing when all, every single living soul in education, are hypercompetent and live only to improve, every day in every way?
    Fortunately, I was sitting down when this neck-snapper struck.

  40. Palinism is a current reminder that beliefs don’t have to be based on facts.

    I suspect the oft repeated falsehood that teacher incompetence is a major problem with schools today has it’s roots, not in fact, but in some kind of psychopathology.

    I suspect; I don’t know. That’s why I’d like to see a good study.

  41. SuperSub says:

    I think a lot of the confusion over teacher incompetence is its definition. Is it a teacher who verbally abuses students? Is it a teacher who comes to school under the influence of various substances? Is it a teacher who knows less about their subject than a standard high school grad? Is it a teacher who allows misbehavior because they cannot command the respect of the students? Is it a teacher whose entire curriculum is based completely upon packets or textbooks and does not care or know enough to go beyond them?

    Some individuals seem to set the “incompetence” bar so low that disqualify people from bagging groceries or taking orders at McDonald’s. There are plenty of incompetent teachers in the district that I teach in (and its a small one). If they were to be replaced by computer-based programs students would not suffer…in fact, some might even do better.

  42. Mark Roulo says:

    SuperSub: “I think a lot of the confusion over teacher incompetence is its definition.”

    Yes.

    Abuses students? Yep. Probably little disagreement.
    Drunk/stoned at school? Yep. Probably little disagreement.
    Ignorant in subject? Yep. Maybe more disagreement here in the earlier grades.
    Can’t control class room? Maybe … we *could* push this over to a dean of students.

    Etc …

    But … how about, “This teacher’s students, assuming some sort of fair/random distribution, learn less than most of the reference/equivalent kids in a given year (say 90% …)?” Basically, are the worst 10% of teachers at teaching competent? If so, how about the worst 5%? Or the worst 1%

    I’m not asking *HOW* we would measure this. But I suspect that where we should draw the cut line doesn’t have any consensus. And maybe there isn’t even any consensus that how much the kids learn compared to other/equivalent kids is even a valid metric when considering teacher competency.

  43. SuperSub, you might be right.

    Again, I have to admit that I’m drawing from my personal experience which might not be representative of the larger situation.

  44. Richard Aubrey says:

    Robert.
    Ref palinism. Interesting. You ought to try to recall how the elites have done. A fly-over school grad might not have the desired accent, but it would be hard to see how she could do worse. Of course, the desired accent is the important thing.
    And as for facts, most of the facts which were supposed to have been decisive regarding Palin were discovered…surprise, to be untrue. Others have been trumped by, among others, the current POTUS and VPOTUS.
    But sneering at Palin will get you some creds among the wannabes with little or no actual claim at practically anything at all.