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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 12/18/2010

Will firing 5-10 percent of teachers make us Finland?

By Valerie Strauss

The following was written by Matthew Di Carlo, senior fellow at the non-profit Albert Shanker Institute, located in Washington, D.C. This post originally appeared on the institute’s blog.

By Matthew Di Carlo
In the world of education policy, the following assertion has become ubiquitous: If we just fire the bottom 5-10 percent of teachers, our test scores will be at the level of the highest-performing nations, such as Finland. Michelle Rhee likes to make this claim. So does Bill Gates.

The source and sole support for this claim is a calculation by economist Eric Hanushek, which he sketches out roughly in a chapter of the edited volume Creating a New Teaching Profession (published by the Urban Institute). The chapter is called “Teacher Deselection” (“deselection” is a polite way of saying “firing”). Hanushek is a respected economist who has been researching education for over 30 years. He is willing to say some of the things that many other market-based reformers also believe, and say privately, but won’t always admit to in public.

So, would systematically firing large proportions of teachers every year based solely on their students’ test scores improve overall scores over time? Of course it would, at least to some degree. When you repeatedly select (or, in this case, deselect) on a measurable variable, even when the measurement is imperfect, you can usually change that outcome overall.

But anyone who says that firing the bottom 5-10 percent of teachers is all we have to do to boost our scores to Finland-like levels is selling magic beans—and not only because of cross-national poverty differences or the inherent limitations of most tests as valid measures of student learning (we’ll put these very real concerns aside for this post).

Before addressing the argument directly, it bears noting that this policy, even if it went down perfectly, would not be a quick fix. The simulation does not entail a one-time layoff. We would have to fire the “bottom” 5-10 percent of teachers permanently. Then, according to the calculation—and if everything went as planned—it would take around 10 years for U.S. test scores to rise to level of the world’s higher-performing nations.

It also seems improbable that we could ever legislate, design, and carry out such a policy on a large, nationwide scale, even if it had widespread support (which it doesn’t). Yet that’s what would be needed to produce the promised benefits (again, assuming everything went perfectly).

But what if we could do it? Would it work? As I said, there would almost certainly be some increase in overall test scores, at least in the short-term (whether or not that would signal proportional true improvement is a different matter entirely).

But would the gains be large and sustained? It’s always difficult to project the impact of an untried, drastic intervention like this, but I would argue probably not. In fact, there is a risk that this type of policy would end up hurting overall education performance in the long run, especially in higher-poverty, hard-to-staff schools and districts.

The presumed benefits of this proposal rely on several shaky assumptions, some of which would, if violated, carry negative consequences. One assumption, which I have discussed before, is that the replacement teachers will be of sufficient quality (on the whole) to produce at least average student test score gains. Hanushek’s calculation assumes that the replacements will do so (though, among other things, it’s unclear whether he uses the average gains for a first-year teacher, which are lower).

Currently, around 8-9 percent of teachers leave the profession every year, and this will probably increase as baby boomers retire. Maintaining the deselection might place substantial strain on the labor pool (of course, there would be some overlap – teachers who would be fired under the proposal would have left anyway).

In particular, high-poverty and other hard-to-staff schools—which already have problems finding good new teachers—would have to replace even more teachers every year, while choosing from an ever-narrowing applicant pool (it seems that much of California is in trouble right now). The assumption that the quality of replacements would remain stable is rather unsafe, and the calculation hinges on it.

Moreover, you can bet that many teachers, faced with the annual possibility of being fired based on test scores alone, would be even more likely to switch to higher-performing, lower-poverty schools (and/or schools that didn’t have the layoff policy). This would create additional, disruptive churn, as well as exacerbate the shortage of highly-qualified teachers in poorer schools and districts.

When all is said, it’s conceivable that, taking the firings, attrition, and switching into account, the total annual mobility rate for all teachers could approach 25 percent, and it would be much higher in poorer school districts (making these students bear a disproportionate burden for this unintended consequence). It’s hard to imagine a public education system that could function effectively under those circumstances, let alone thrive.

Remember also that a widespread test-based firing policy would almost certainly change the “type” of person who chooses to pursue teaching (or, for that matter, chooses to remain). I find it hard to believe that any top-notch applicant would be attracted to a low-paying profession because of a systematic layoff policy (see here for an alternative view). There’s no way to know, but my guess is that the opposite is true. If so, the policy’s projected benefits would be further mitigated.

The simulation also assumes that all the dismissed teachers would leave the profession permanently. Again, this seems highly unlikely, especially if replacements are in short supply. Rather, I would speculate that a significant proportion of dismissed teachers would get jobs in other districts. In doing so, they would seriously dilute the policy’s effects, while also creating needless turnover for schools.

Then there is the issue of error. Due to the well-known imprecision of value-added models, and the year-to-year fluctuation of teacher effects, many replacement teachers would be no better or worse than the fired teachers would have been (error will be particularly high among newer teachers, due to small samples).

There is something unethical about firing people based solely on measures that may be wrong due to nothing more than random statistical error, yet these mistakes would have to be tolerated, as collateral damage, in the name of productivity. But, if the replacement pool runs dry, there would also be practical consequences: we will have fired many solid teachers, whom we might have identified as such with more nuanced measures.

Finally, on a similar note, the quality of teachers who constitute the “bottom” 5-10 percent varies by location, and by poverty level (though not drastically). Imposing a widespread dismissal system would therefore result in the deselection of many teachers who would have done quite well in a different school or district. Firing these teachers solely to meet a quota is a harmful practice (again – especially if there are shortages).

In short, this proposal would be slow, risky, unfair, and it would require us to deliberately engineer test score gains for their own sake—in the most brutal manner possible. It would also be, I argue, unlikely to work, not to anywhere near the advertised degree.

Is this really our best option?

Hanushek doesn’t think so. Talking about the systematic firings, he notes, “In the long run, it would probably be superior…to develop systems that upgrade the overall effectiveness of teachers.” He points out, however, that these efforts have not been successful in the past. But have we really tried?

Instead of trying to fire our way to the high performance of Finland or anywhere else, why not try to emulate the policies that these nations actually employ? It seems very strange to shoot for the achievement levels of these nations by doing the exact opposite of what they do.

In any case, Gates, Rhee, et al. constantly repeat the “fire 5-10 percent” talking point, along with the promise of miracle results, because of its potent political message: all we have to do is fire bad teachers, and everything will be fixed. They use Hanushek’s calculation to provide an empirical basis for this message. They do not, however, seem at all attuned to the fact that the proposal is less an actual policy recommendation than a stylistic illustration of the wide variation in teacher effects.

Let’s stick with meaningful conversations about how to identify, improve, and, failing that, remove ineffective teachers. Test-based measures may have a role in the evaluation of both teachers and overall school performance, but not a dominant one, and certainly not an exclusive one.

Systematically firing large numbers of teachers based solely on test scores is an incredibly crude, blunt instrument, fraught with risk. We’re better than that.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | December 18, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Matthew Di Carlo, Parents, Research  | Tags:  assessing teachers, bill gates, eric hanushek, evaluating teachers, finland, michelle rhee, shankar blog, teachers  
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Comments

Ax to Di Carlo & Strauss: we can't just emulate the process to get the results of Finland. Finnish new-teacher recruits have outstanding verbal, quantitative, writing, and cultural skills. Ours, for the most part, do not have those qualifications.

Posted by: axolotl | December 18, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

A large part of the problem in education is the fact that we rely on myths, instead of facts. This article has focused on one of them: the myth of the "bad" teacher.

The truth is that, until this recession, urban districts have had a terrible time recruiting and retaining teachers. With extremely high turnover, many districts have been forced to hire almost anyone with minimum qualifications. Once these people were hired, it became the goal of the principal to keep the person if he or she just showed up and had "class control." Not too many administrators worried about much else beside "covering" the classrooms.


In addition to the above, not many talented college students elected to be inner-city teachers. The middle-class graduates of elite colleges eschewed these jobs, leaving them to working class students with lower SAT scores.

So the problem in K-12 education is not in
"teacher deselection" but in teacher selection and retention. With the baby boomers retiring, and the present teacher-bashing, I predict it will get worse, much worse.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | December 18, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Linda/RetiredTeacher has got it right, and
the 'Slash & Burn' notion of just firing the bottom 5-10 of teachers based on only questionable testing results is foolish, as this article articulates.

Further questions:

1. Why is there so little on the quality of principals in this whole 'let's reform Education' deal? Principals do the hiring, the oversight and set most of the policies. If too many ill-suited teachers are being hired or kept in place, either the principal has a problem, or (as in difficult schools), there is a short supply of qualified people.

2. Has it ever occurred to the Gates/Rhee crowd that some of the lesser 'academic teachers' in tough schools may have other things going for them? Particularly in the case of schools that have struggled for many years, and in terrible neighborhoods, even the poorest of teachers who is able to show up, give the children a sense of normalcy and teach them ANYTHING (regardless of truancy, poor nutrition), where the whole staff is demoralized.....even lesser lights have something to offer in what amounts to dire conditions.

Many people have no idea what it is like to teach in an inner city school where violence and heartbreak prevail. One teacher I know had all of her tires slashed, threats when she gave less than stellar grades, and numerous instances of pregnant girls who could not do their studies not just because of pregnancy but because they were being raped by their stepfathers. This all happened in her first year of teaching Middle School.
The teacher mentioned above was a brilliant scholar and very dedicated, but she was a walking, scared zombie that year.
Somehow she stayed, and learned the culture.

3. Why is there so little (apparently NONE) consideration given to students who do not do well on academic tests but have other skills, i.e. mechanics, carpentry, clerical, and some fine art areas? Many of these students are notorious for doing miserably in basic linguistic and some math
applications. To blame teachers for students with other than academic skills is pretty sad.

4. Why are we comparing ourselves to Finland? They are a small, homogeneous country that has the luxury of a relatively stable history and is surrounded by other European countries that are also small and comparatively homogeneous compared to the U.S.

I have no problem with weeding out truly inept teachers, but most teachers who last in the field have something going for them, because it is far from easy.

And I think we should learn all the lessons we can from Finland and other countries doing well, but to expect or even desire to be like Finland begs far too many questions.

What is important for children in the U.S.?

Priorities should not just revolve around business interests and short-term, ego-based philanthropy.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | December 18, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Stabbing at Northwestern High in PG? Lots more of that!

Bladensburg high...girl jumped by gang, held down, hair torn out of her head and set on fire. Thursday 16 dec 2010

Posted by: DiogenestheCynic | December 18, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, darling...would you let it go already? Please? Rhee has gone already, and so....you should let the teachers of DCPS breathe. Why are you adding salt to the wound? What do you hold against teachers so much when you write so unfavorably about DCPS?

What American teachers do not have a privilege of had they lived in Finland is the colossal amount of parental support and decreased amount of frivolous laws that protect certain populations. How would you fee, Valerie, if when you wrote this article I came to your comfy office and slapped you in the face and called you out of your name. Then, ever so calmly, I waled out of your office and faced no consequences. Then, I would expect you to stand up and walk into the room of 25 people and give a solid presentation of Cuban-American Relations as if nothing happened. Remember, you ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SHOW FEELINGS.

You will not find that students in other countries abuse their teachers and pride themselves in the nation's paper about it. What bothers me even more is that WP has the guts to brag and add media resonance to Rhee-isms, student abuse of teachers, and teacher bashing.

Valerie, darling, as a professional writer, find more compelling stories to cover about DCPS. Your hyperbole of DCPS' sky is falling is a story told many times that no one is willing to listen/read any more; it is tiring. Frankly, I must say, up until this year, I used to have my students read WP daily. Unilateral, yellow-journalism you tend to lean on to (Rhee-ism) swayed me to attract my students to other media choices of less yellow-journalistic tendencies and less hyperbolic characteristic (pro-DCPS teacher). Do you need ideas, sweetheart??? Is your editor on Paxil? This is really depressing.

At last...why are the teachers even compared to those in Finland? Different demographic groups; different norms; different mores. In short, Rhee, as usually, DOES NOT know her 'job'. Don't they need someone to ravage the Iranian government? She can do a great job doing just that for the UN. Do whatever, just stay out of education.

I cannot remember the last time WP has done an edifying story on DCPS great jobs. SHAME. I know you have to make sales; however, if yellow journalism is the price, I banish you from my classroom, my home, and ever from any references/research of any of my students' work.

Posted by: inickdc | December 18, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps we could say the same about dropping the lower 5-10% of students. Bet that would ferment some Fruit of the Looms.

We need to stop threatening everyone. It is non-productive. If you are going to fire someone...do it. Otherwise shut up and find a solution instead of a scape goat.

Posted by: jbeeler | December 18, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it is time to deselect, permanently deselect, all the busybodies and educational quacks that have contributed to this contrived crisis in the first place! Educational reform in one form or another has been going on for 30 years and it appears very little has been accomplished. Furthermore, teachers have been the focus since the 1984 TECAT teacher witch hunts in Texas. Bullies always pick on the weakest and teachers have the least control over their profession. In fact, a virtual idiot can have more influence over educational matters than teachers. That is why Michelle Rhee came to power.

Here is an interesting little tidbit about the most recent PISA scores that everyone is in a knot about. The United States is basically average which would be very alarming if we only taught children from Shanghai-China or even Finland. Actually the average score is incredible because the United States not only teaches children from Shanghai-China and Finland, but also nearly 200 other countries of which many are not included in these exercises of asininity. Our system is purely and entirely multicultural. There is absolutely no other country in the world that can come close to the results the United States produces in spite of the Bill Gates, George Bushes, Michelle Rhees and a host of other professional educational grifters. Think about it boys and girls. It is time to take back our house!

Posted by: jdman2 | December 18, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Firing 5-10 percent of teachers would just be the tip of the iceberg.

By all measures, those who major in education are the weakest college students. For at least a couple of generations we have been hiring the worst and dumbest out of college to be our teachers.

50% would be a better figure.

Of course, this is not possible - where would we get the replacements?

But we can start. A good first step would be to reject those with education majors for teaching above the 2nd or 3rd grade. Require real degrees in substantive fields of study, not pedagogy, for all but preschool and the earliest grades.

And yes, we will need to dramatically improve teacher pay. We just need to make sure that we do not waste higher pay on the deadwood now in our schools.

My fantasy is that the dullards who dominate our schools become lawyers and the creative people who now waste their abilities as lawyers become teachers. Only in our dreams.

Posted by: ronStrong | December 18, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Gates and Rhee are so lagging in any critical thinking skills that if it weren't so seriously dangerous to teachers, it would be laughable. Why doesn't t Rhee put her money where her mouth is and go and teach in a high poverty school if she thinks she can do better. Oh right, there's not the big bucks in teaching that there is going to be in her phony "education reform" scheme. And for those of you who are going to proclaim that she already did that and improved kids scores, I say "show me the money." She has absolutely no documentation to prove the bogus claims she states. She's a liar and a fake.

Posted by: chicogal | December 18, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

@ronStrong: It might surprise you to know that many teachers have "real" degrees. They get their education credentials in graduate programs or enter teaching as a second career. It might also surprise you that some of us "deadwood" actually graduated in the top of our college classes in competitive universities. Did it ever occur to you that some people like working with kids and actually want to teach? Many of us went into teaching for the long term and we continue to study and do research in an effort to improve our effectiveness in the classroom. This notion of "deadwood" when it comes to older teachers is unfounded and harmful. Of the colleagues I've worked with over the last 35 years, the deadwood happened to be a handful of teachers with less than 5 years experience, all of whom ended up quitting. The majority of my colleagues have been extremely hard working, caring individuals who deserve a lot more respect than people like you are willing to give.

Posted by: musiclady | December 18, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Forget about this clueless writer's opinions. We need to decertify public unions. Nationally, we need to kill collective bargaining for all public unions, scrap Davis-Bacon and all prevailing wage laws, mandate Right-to-Work laws, and do something to cleanup untenable public union pension promises, not just going forward, but existing benefits as well. This will happen eventually. Its sad to see so many Americans who have no understanding of what money is, or even basic economics.

Posted by: shred11 | December 18, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

I joined this website "123 Get Samples" and i got free stuff from it, it took about a week for me to receive? something i actually wanted so just join them and it is easy and free

Posted by: joanwright19 | December 18, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

musiclady,

I do think ronStrong has a point, though. There are too many secondary or upper elementary teachers who get their advanced degrees in education or curriculum as a means to move up on the pay scale. And there are so many questionable universities out there doling out these advanced degrees to make them all but meaningless. Secondary English or math or science or history teachers should be getting their advanced degrees in the subjects that they teach. It is no wonder there are people out there claiming that advanced degrees do not make significant growth in student learning.

I also agree with you, though. Too much hyper-generalizing occurs. Unfortunately, one bad teacher or one bad school casts long, biased shadows over the rest of the lot. I agree that teachers, as a whole, are getting a bad rap these days and that most teachers are doing their best to help kids learn.

Posted by: DHume1 | December 19, 2010 2:40 AM | Report abuse

The discussion centering on education reform is entirely myopic. There are too many variables that these so-called high profile education reformers are refusing to address.

Also, the politicians, largely responsible for shaping the laws that dictate what goes on in the classroom, over the years have not provided the resources to implement many of the laws, No Child Left Behind being the most recent failing. Very little is said about that in the discussion of education reform.

Additionally, children in urban setting come to school with so many social and personality problems these days that it is ludicrous to expect good teaching alone to overcome such barriers. What social programs are politicians introducing to address the root causes of students' hindrances to learning? Moreover, parents--particularly those of urban students (code word for students of color)-- need help, by way of informing them of their rights and educating them how to enforce those rights. Not all parents of these typically low-performing students lack interests in their well-being. However, Rhee, during her tenure in D. C. failed miserably when it involved addressing the needs of students' home lives, though she moved with ease in Ward 3 to do so (talk about a fraud!).

I teach a student who sleeps constantly in my class. I and the dedicated aide that accompanies him, spend a great deal of class time trying to keep him awake. I've resorted to making him stand up and walk around the classroom. He ultimately admitted to me that he stays up routinely until 2 a.m. in the morning watching a popular television show, which is problematic, because our classes convene at 7:45 in the morning. Thereafter, I called the parent and begged the parent to take the television out of the student's bedroom. When the sleeping continued, I asked him if he still had his television in his bedroom. He said yes. Well, there you have it. And this student and his mother are to determine the quality of my evaluation? Are you serious?

That was but one anecdote I could share about my daily experience as a public school teacher in an urban setting. Add to that, students who sat in the building under an administration who allowed a multitude of IEPs to lapse into out of compliance last year, students who come to school with their eyes glazed over and the faint smell of drugs lingering in the atmosphere, and others who silently endure abuse at home that we never could even fathom, and you have a more balanced view of what teachers in urban settings face regularly. Teachers are not magicians who can waive wands and have all of these educational "pre-existing conditions," disappear. It is immoral and illogical to buy into the Rhee/Gate's chant that scapegoats teachers accordingly.

Posted by: vscribe | December 19, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

DHume1: I agree with you about the graduate degrees but what you site isn't what I've seen in the 35 years I've taught. My colleagues generally have gotten their graduate degrees in Reading or ESOL, both of which make a lot of sense in the title I, extremely diverse school that we work in. Those that get degrees in curriculum and such generally do so as a means to getting out of the classroom and into administration. Most teachers want to take classes that actually help them do their jobs better. It's difficult to take classes while you are teaching and most people I know want to get some bang for the buck. My school system doesn't require a graduate degree but rather 30 credits of graduate study that pertain to one's job. That way you can choose classes that actually help you rather than taking required degree classes that are often of no value.

A few years ago, I took 30 graduate credits in a very specific method of music education that also included some specific music classes. That program literally changed my professional life and taking those classes has definitely increased my students' achievement and focused my instruction in such a way to minimize classroom management issues.

Graduate degrees/ classes can make a huge difference if they are chosen wisely.

Posted by: musiclady | December 19, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

inickdc darling, Valerie did not write this column. Matthew DiCarlo wrote this column. Valerie darling, please keep this column coming. You bring in a great diversity of writers with their opinions and it is delightful to be able to read all sides of the story. We may not agree with each posting but I enjoy tweaking my own thoughts on education. What I like most about The Answer Sheet is how Valerie is able to find so many people to submit their work on a daily basis. I am glad we live in an age where information can be shared instantly. The recent theme issue on effective educators in the ASCD Educational Leadership is an example of outdated journalism. Nothing in that issue spoke about effective teaching and was of no help in my work of helping teachers and being a better teacher myself. Again, for those who comment, be careful who you are attacking. Thanks Valerie.

Posted by: Ryan25 | December 19, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

If you want the best and brightest you will have to pay for it, as these two reports make plain:

http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/Social_Sector/our_practices/Education/Knowledge_Highlights/Closing_the_talent_gap.aspx

http://www.collegeboard.com/press/releases/110755.html

Shred11 gets just about every idea wrong, based on evidence:

Students whose teachers are unionized score better than those who aren't.

Collective bargaining states, on average, do much better than right to work states

It is hard to get top-third students from colleges to become teachers because they can do better outside of education. It is hard to see how reducing benefits will do anything on this front.

"It's sad to see so many Americans who have no understanding of what money is, or even basic economics." That seems like the perfect quote to describe your assertions!

Posted by: worldhistoryteacher | December 19, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Ryan25 you nailed it...freedom of speech...just like they would not have it in Finland???? What no???? Are you forbidding me? Attack...let seriously study semantics...Valerie is just one among many WP writers who has the affinity to turn the teachers of the DCPS into the role of villains. So, Ryan, whether it s Valerie or someone else, Mephistopheles or Faustus, I could care less, for as long as the balance of reporting in WP is not re-established to reflect the positive, constructive works teachers do EVERY DAY for 192 school days. Until then, Washington Post falls under the duplicitous mode of journalism with only one goal-to pitch sales off of stories with downcast topics of DCPS in education section.

No, Valerie, don't run this kind of pessimism in the public media. Uplift the youth of the contemporary America and show them that you have faith in them and their teachers. I remember driving my DCPS schools in the morning seeing piles of WP waiting for the teachers to pick them up for their classes. Nowadays, those piles are not there. They are not there not due to costs. I am certain that you can guess the implied reason.

Valerie, most of us burn the midnight oil EVERY NIGHT in lesson planning, grading papers, and emailing parents. Don't allow Rhee-isms to define who we are or use foreign definitions to compares us to because you choose not to find brighter side of DCPS. They are there. They are more obvious than you think, Ryan & Valerie.

So, Valerie, Di Carlo, Mephistopheles or Faustus...DC Region readers and taxpayers are looking for some encouragement. Do you have any encouraging news about DCPS? I suggest you call 10 schools. All 10 can give you arts integration programs you can attend and report on within 6 hours. Your editor may not like it, though.

Posted by: inickdc | December 19, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Ryan25 you nailed it...freedom of speech...just like they would not have it in Finland???? What no???? Are you forbidding me? Attack...let seriously study semantics...Valerie is just one among many WP writers who has the affinity to turn the teachers of the DCPS into the role of villains. So, Ryan, whether it s Valerie or someone else, Mephistopheles or Faustus, I could care less, for as long as the balance of reporting in WP is not re-established to reflect the positive, constructive works teachers do EVERY DAY for 192 school days. Until then, Washington Post falls under the duplicitous mode of journalism with only one goal-to pitch sales off of stories with downcast topics of DCPS in education section.

No, Valerie, don't run this kind of pessimism in the public media. Uplift the youth of the contemporary America and show them that you have faith in them and their teachers. I remember driving my DCPS schools in the morning seeing piles of WP waiting for the teachers to pick them up for their classes. Nowadays, those piles are not there. They are not there not due to costs. I am certain that you can guess the implied reason.

Valerie, most of us burn the midnight oil EVERY NIGHT in lesson planning, grading papers, and emailing parents. Don't allow Rhee-isms to define who we are or use foreign definitions to compares us to because you choose not to find brighter side of DCPS. They are there. They are more obvious than you think, Ryan & Valerie.

So, Valerie, Di Carlo, Mephistopheles or Faustus...DC Region readers and taxpayers are looking for some encouragement. Do you have any encouraging news about DCPS? I suggest you call 10 schools. All 10 can give you arts integration programs you can attend and report on within 6 hours. Your editor may not like it, though.

Posted by: inickdc | December 19, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

If schools make it a habit to fire teachers that produce low test scores - people are going to get smart and not enter teaching.

Posted by: jlp19 | December 19, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

DHume1--I agree completely with the first graf in yo 240am post.

However, the second takes an limp swipe at "generalization," spotting "one" subpar teacher in "one" school. In our Nation's Capital, I wish the subpar educator were just an odd anomaly of that small number.

Problem is, where "one" is tolerated and virulent unionista's are playing every conceivable type of card, there are usually many more. This is our case in the District, sad to say. And they are heavily defended.

The figure may well not be 50 percent, but it is not approaching zero. Look at a range around the midpoint.

The problem of replacement is huge, but is eased, as you and others say, if we look for substantive-subject degreed individuals rather than people who have just studied pedagogy.

Posted by: axolotl | December 19, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Any chance that the poor achievement levels of US students compared to those of the 10-15 nations who rank higher just might because the US has the shortest school day, school week and school year, plus a very self-indulgent population?

Any chance that it isn't the teachers' fault?

Posted by: Whittier5 | December 20, 2010 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Just wondering what makes Mr. Di Carlo believe that it's at all clear that scores would go up if the 'bottom' teachers were fired. My experience with standardized testing suggests that it would have little or no effect either way. You have to change kids, not teachers, to make scores rise very much. Or, of course, we could try getting away from the idiocy of standardized testing, a la Finland. They don't believe in it or use it, though they're happy to participate in silly international 'competitions.'

Anyone with a clue about US education realizes that we have such disparity between haves and have nots here that we're bound to have national average scores lower than those of many of the countries who are held up as 'exemplary.' But few, if any, of those have the poverty gap we do.

As for some of the union-bashing, public employee-bashing comments above, they are simply right-wing idiocy, echoing all the conventional 'wisdom' of Faux Snooze, et al.

When these same bloviators start calling for accountability for the 2% who hold the majority of the wealth in this country, I'll start taking them seriously. Until then, their 'common sense' notions of economics aren't worth five seconds' consideration.

Posted by: mikegold | December 20, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

Just wondering what makes Mr. Di Carlo believe that it's at all clear that scores would go up if the 'bottom' teachers were fired. My experience with standardized testing suggests that it would have little or no effect either way. You have to change kids, not teachers, to make scores rise very much. Or, of course, we could try getting away from the idiocy of standardized testing, a la Finland. They don't believe in it or use it, though they're happy to participate in silly international 'competitions.'

Anyone with a clue about US education realizes that we have such disparity between haves and have nots here that we're bound to have national average scores lower than those of many of the countries who are held up as 'exemplary.' But few, if any, of those have the poverty gap we do.

As for some of the union-bashing, public employee-bashing comments above, they are simply right-wing idiocy, echoing all the conventional 'wisdom' of Faux Snooze, et al.

When these same bloviators start calling for accountability for the 2% who hold the majority of the wealth in this country, I'll start taking them seriously. Until then, their 'common sense' notions of economics aren't worth five seconds' consideration.

Posted by: mikegold | December 20, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Just wondering what makes Mr. Di Carlo believe that it's at all clear that scores would go up if the 'bottom' teachers were fired. My experience with standardized testing suggests that it would have little or no effect either way. You have to change kids, not teachers, to make scores rise very much. Or, of course, we could try getting away from the idiocy of standardized testing, a la Finland. They don't believe in it or use it, though they're happy to participate in silly international 'competitions.'

Anyone with a clue about US education realizes that we have such disparity between haves and have nots here that we're bound to have national average scores lower than those of many of the countries who are held up as 'exemplary.' But few, if any, of those have the poverty gap we do.

As for some of the union-bashing, public employee-bashing comments above, they are simply right-wing idiocy, echoing all the conventional 'wisdom' of Faux Snooze, et al.

When these same bloviators start calling for accountability for the 2% who hold the majority of the wealth in this country, I'll start taking them seriously. Until then, their 'common sense' notions of economics aren't worth five seconds' consideration.

Posted by: mikegold | December 20, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

p.s.: To those who believe that Valerie Strauss is bashing teachers, perhaps they can cite chapter and verse. On my view, she's been a breath of fresh air in the POST and in the media in general during a time of all-too-willing, mindless attacks on public education and its employees.

Posted by: mikegold | December 20, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Check out the pretty graph here:

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/101219_pisa.htm

There is no crisis in American education. On the contrary, Americans tend to score near the top in the world for their racial/ethnic groups. Asian-Americans outscore almost all Asian countries. White Americans do better than every European country except Finland. Hispanics beat out most students in their countries of origin, and blacks blow aways their counterparts in any black nation. The overall placing of the United States is a function of demographics. If you want America to do better in the rankings, encourage more selective innigration. There really isn't much else that will make a difference.

Posted by: CharlesMcKay1 | December 20, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

No school to which American schools are constantly compared spend any time or money on interscholastic athletic programs. For American schools, apparently grooming future millionaires for the NBA and the NFL is a major part of their mission if priorities are measured in terms of time, money and the priority status that sports budgets reflect. Extracurriculars and Sports are privately funded clubs in Europe. This is never factored in when comparing per pupil expenditures, either. Comparing us to Finland by just about any measure is fraudulent.

Posted by: buckbuck11 | December 20, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

THANK YOU buckbuck11!! Your comment is similar to the one I left after reading an article on the Columbia Teacher's college page: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news/article.htm?id=7743

I am and have been a teacher mentor in a large urban school district. I have seen my share of teachers who should do something else. And I have told them so. No one wants poor teachers in classrooms. But how do we replace them?

This country does not respect education the way the top scoring countries do. We are more interested in basketball and boobs than lessons and learning. For many parents school is the babysitter or like buckbuck implied a way to the NBA.

And....ummm....is there a line of teachers just chomping at the bit to get into our schools? I haven't seen it. Oh...I know..Ms. Rhee and Mr. Gates are going to teach. Picture that!!!!

Posted by: TchrMom | December 20, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Matthew Di Carlo’s claim that Bill Gates “constantly” repeats the “fire 5-10 percent talking point, along with the promise of miracle results” is a completely false assertion. Bill’s message has never been that all we have to do is fire bad teachers, nor is it the focus of the work that his foundation supports—work that includes the full participation of teacher unions in several districts around the country.

In fact, Bill Gates recognizes that the biggest benefit of a teacher evaluation system is to improve the ability of all teachers by providing meaningful feedback. He often laments that teachers do not have an evaluation system that gives better feedback—that’s just not fair to the teachers.

In an interview with Randi Weingarten that appears today in Newsweek, he talks about how important it is for teachers to get useful feedback, to learn about best practices from other teachers, and to have a system that helps all teachers improve their practice. In a speech to the Council of Chief State School Officers last month, he said: “Our goal is to develop multiple measures of effective teaching that teachers design and endorse, that unions agree are fair, that don’t cost very much, and that help all teachers improve.”

In short, Matthew Di Carlo is simply wrong. Bill Gates does not believe that we can fire our way to improved teaching. He believes the best way to improve teaching is to ensure that there is a meaningful personnel system in place that takes into account the practices that lead to measurable student growth—not just test scores—and helps all teachers be better teachers.

-Chris Williams, Senior Communications Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Posted by: ChrisWilliamsBMGF | December 20, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

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