The President and Secretary deserve credit for advancing the teacher quality agenda–a tough thing for democrats to do.  Some of the credit for that goes to Jon Schnur and DFER.  Because we don’t have very good predictive techniques, it’s important to watch teachers in their first few years, keep the best, and ask 10-20% or so that don’t appear cut out for teaching to find a new job.  Historically, 99% of teachers have been granted lifetime employment.  The idiocy of this policy is finally coming to light.  Two examples follow.

NY Chancellor Joel Klein wrote a candid piece for the NY Daily Post which ran with the headline: Get Incompetent Teachers Off the Payroll:

The most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of his or her teachers. That’s why we are working so hard to ensure only our best educators are in front of the classroom.

But it is just as important that in the relatively few cases where teachers are found to be incompetent — or worse — we get them out of classrooms, and off the city’s payroll, as soon as possible.

Last year, the city spent approximately $30 million on the salaries of teachers who sat in reassignment centers doing nothing. We could save those millions by taking the following steps:

Remove employees from payroll while their cases proceed. When teachers are formally charged with misconduct or incompetence and there is probable cause to believe they are guilty, they should be taken off payroll pending the outcome of the charges. Exonerated teachers would receive back pay plus interest.

Adhere to prompt timelines for disciplinary action. State law and the teachers contract require hearings to take no more than 60 days to complete, but that deadline is never enforced and rarely met. We should mandate that hearings take place within 30 days after charges are filed, that they last no more than five days, and that arbitrators issue decisions within 24 hours.

Let full-time judges decide cases. We could greatly speed up the hearing process if teachers went before administrative-law judges. The arbitrators who currently oversee teacher cases hold hearings just five times a month, while administrative-law judges hear cases every business day.

No one starting from scratch would set up such a dysfunctional disciplinary system. The only people this system serves well are teachers no parent would willingly allow to educate their kids.

LA Weekly published a hard hitting piece called LAUSD’s Dance of the Lemons.  Whitney Tilson said, “It is as well-researched, devastating and totally infuriating as Steven Brill’s “Rubber Room” New Yorker article that was the single best ed reform article of 2009.” (Thanks to Whitney for pointing us to both.)


  1. Lots of interesting things going on in this area. Here’s more food for thought:
    There are a lot of political issues tangled up in this, but it merits some serious thought.

    Most research of program effectiveness shows that nearly anything can be “effective” if it is used by a good teacher (and in my experience, the reverse is true, even the best of programs are not effective with a bad teacher). Maybe we should spend less time and money on research studies on various programs and focus more on rewarding and attracting talented teachers and getting rid of those who shouldn’t be in the classroom.

    • I agree. Edu is all about execution; a weak model/curriculum well executed is better than a strong model/curriculum poorly executed. CMOs introduced execution as innovation–most have straightforward (usually old fashioned) model executed consistently.
      I visited a KIPP in Albany that hired new teachers in March and gave them a couple months head start; both parties had the opportunity to make sure it was a good fit before September.

  2. The most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of his or her teachers. That’s why we are working so hard to ensure only our best educators are in front of the classroom.

    No, it’s parents and socio-economic status. As soon as we stop blaming teachers for this the sooner we can begin to deal with the really important factors that impact a child’s education–poverty, health and crime.

    • Rowland Freyer’s analysis of HCZ suggests that a good school is the most powerful antidote to poverty that we know of. We don’t know how to solve poverty, but we do know how to open a good school.

  3. From page 6 of the Executive Summary:

    And yet, this study reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their TPS counterparts.

    Headlines are not always the best summary.

    • Two issues:
      1. there are 5000 charters, at least half are no better than traditional schools on traditional measures (parents still like them because they are responsive). Thats a shame and function of sloppy authorizing, but that has certainly changed-the pendulum swung hard to quality 2 years ago.
      2. most charters are new, so there were lots of first year charters that were compared to mature traditional schools; first year charter test scores are more a function of where kids came from than the new school they are attending.

  4. I COMPLETELY agree! I am teacher and it does have a bit to do with socio-economic status in your ratio of children in the classroom, but I have seen it with my own two eyes that there are some really bad teachers. Before the drop in the economy they were basically hiring anyone who had a bachelors degree in any subject and was willing to take a test in some subject area. This does not qualify a teacher! Also off the top of my head I cannot think of many other jobs that basically say “Hey kick back and relax you can stop caring about what your doing because you will not get fired. This is our future we are talking about and 70 year old teachers that can barely see and are still chasing 5 years olds because they cant fire them is Ridiculous!

  5. Like everything else in life, it’s your attitude which makes or breaks you. It’s not a fluke that certain cultures do not embrace a rigorous education as a way to move up and out of poverty, resulting in poor API scores, high drop out rates, and a cycle of poverty. Are you going to blame your dentist for getting a cavity if you keep eating candy and never brush? Stop blaming teachers, and let’s get everyone to take responsibility(students, teachers, and parents).

    • Don’t think I’m blaming teachers but would like to see sector get smarter about hiring, development, evaluation, and employment (ie more attractive career ladder); think that would be good for kids and teachers (at least 90% of them). Joel’s op-ed addresses the ridiculous condition in NYC that costs the system $100m to carry really bad teachers that nobody will hire. Since we’re not more sophisticated about hiring, districts need a little more flexibility to determine during the first few years if a teacher has the potential to promote student growth.


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