Opinion
Education Opinion

Bad Teachers

By Walt Gardner — September 07, 2016 1 min read

There’s no question that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor in student learning. There’s also no question that there are some bad teachers (“Why firing bad teachers isn’t nearly as important as creating new ones,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 5). But before concluding that the best way of improving schools is to fire these admittedly dreadful teachers, let’s consider certain realities.

There are 3.2 million teachers in the nation’s 98,000 public schools who are responsible for educating 48.2 million students. In any population of that size, performance ranges from outstanding to deplorable. The familiar bell-shaped curve best illustrates the range. I think the best we can hope for is a redistribution of the curve, with far more teachers at the high end. I don’t think it’s ever possible to make stars out of all teachers any more than it’s possible to make icons out of all lawyers. Quality unavoidably varies when a population is large.

To reshape the curve, I stress the importance of early intervention and proper support for struggling teachers. These teachers can be identified in various ways: student complaints to their counselors, parent complaints to principals, and colleague observations. The key is to make it clear to the teacher that the process is not intended to be punitive.

Most teachers want to do the best job they possibly can. But they too often are prevented from doing so by factors poorly understood by outsiders. They often feel too embarrassed to ask for help, believing it is a sign of weakness. Or they may rationalize their ineffectiveness.

Even if all bad teachers could be fired at will, there is no assurance that their replacements would be any better. No employer bats 1.000 in hiring. Schools are no different. Teachers can have an advanced degree from an Ivy League university and still be totally ineffective in the classroom.

The percentage of bad teachers is estimated to be between 1 percent or 5 percent. Let’s try to help them improve before seeking to immediately fire them. Rehabilitation is far more cost-effective and fairer than punishment.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Branding your district matters. This webinar will provide you with practical tips and strategies to elevate your brand from three veteran professionals, each of whom has been directly responsible for building their own district’s brand.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school districts are using hybrid learning right now with varying degrees of success. Students and teachers are getting restless and frustrated with online learning, making curriculum engagement difficult and disjointed. While
Content provided by Samsung

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Principal-Elementary School
San Antonio, TX, US
Southwest Independent School District
Principal-Elementary School
San Antonio, TX, US
Southwest Independent School District
Principal-Elementary School
San Antonio, TX, US
Southwest Independent School District
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read