Teaching Profession Opinion

Did D.C. Fire the Right Number of Teachers?

By Justin Baeder — July 15, 2011 1 min read
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Bill Turque at the Washington Post reports today that the District of Columbia has fired more than 200 teachers as a result of negative evaluation ratings:

Those fired amount to nearly 6 percent of the 4,100 teachers in the city school system. They were dismissed for poor scores on the evaluation system known as IMPACT, which grades teachers on five 30-minute classroom observations and their compliance with nine broad standards. These include ability to express course content clearly, teach students with differing skill levels and manage time effectively. For some teachers, half of their appraisal is contingent on whether students meet predicted growth targets on standardized tests.

I predict lots and lots of anger over this...let’s check out Diane Ravitch on Twitter for a reaction:

Nope, she’s talking here about standardized testing’s impact on kids. But wait—could this be relevant to the question of firing educators? If nothing else, the bell curve shows us that some people (at the left end) are very, very poor performers.

As I said in one of my first EdWeek posts, I’m not opposed to a little bit of firing:

People who do their jobs poorly are supposed to be fired. This is how employment works, and education should be no exception. If people are terrible, they neither deserve their paychecks nor should they be allowed to continue to cause damage to those they serve. Education has a reputation problem related to performance, primarily because we hardly ever fire anyone. When bad people are allowed to stick around, they make everyone else look bad, undermining support for public education. When no one ever gets fired, it's easier for critics to paint with a broad brush and blame individuals—rather than more systemic factors—for educational failure.

Ravitch is absolutely right about the purpose of standardized testing, and she’s right to bemoan its effect on students (more on that in a future post). But what if we relate her comments to the educator workforce?

Not all educators should be retained in the profession indefinitely. Some people (principals included) should be fired because they’re harming children by continuing to do bad work at public expense.

Any evaluation system, including D.C.'s IMPACT, will make mistakes and mislabel some people. This is unfortunate, but the answer is to continually work to refine our evaluation systems, not to give up on the idea of evaluating people and firing the ineffective.

One reason I’m not all that worked up over the D.C. firings is that they’re based on five 30-minute observations, presumably by principals. If the firings were based entirely on test scores, I’d feel differently, but if both test scores and principal observations tell us that 6% of D.C. teachers are ineffective and should be fired, as an armchair observer, I’m inclined to agree.

If you disagree, what’s the right number? What percentage of teachers should be let go for poor performance? 1% annually? 2%? Would you want your child in the classroom of a teacher in the bottom 1%, or in the school of the worst principal in the district?

Some will respond that what I’ve said here is disrespectful of the teaching profession. I disagree. We need to hold ourselves accountable as a profession, to ensure that those who are doing their jobs well get the respect they deserve.

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The opinions expressed in On Performance 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.