This week’s Newsweek magazine included three lead articles entitled Why we can’t get rid of failing teachers?, Schoolyard Brawl, and Blackboard Jungle. The next day, Teacher Magazine featured an online discussion related to these articles entitled Is Firing Bad Teachers the Answer? The discussion on the Teacher Magazine website encouraged readers to share their opinions based on this brief introduction:
The cover story in the current issue of Newsweek proclaims that, in order to improve schools, “we must fire bad teachers.” The story points to research showing that teacher quality is the most important factor in student success, and then argues that, for a variety of reasons – union obstructionism foremost among them – the teaching profession on the whole has languished in recent years, particularly in low-income schools. It cites the recently planned mass firings at Central Falls High in Rhode Island as “a notable breakthrough” in coming to terms with this issue, adding that “if more truly bad teachers were let go,” the good ones would get more respect and a “boost in status that comes with higher standards.”What’s your view? Is firing bad teachers the key to improving schools? Would it ultimately bolster the teaching profession? Why shouldn’t ineffective teachers be fired – or why aren’t they more often?
And through all of this there is a blaming of teachers and principals. Newsweekhas managed to epitomize this with a cover story highlighted by the phrase “we must fire bad teachers.” Apart from the amazingly ill informed editorial-like stories, highlighted by a truly stupid look at classroom management challenges that any halfway capable teacher trainer would pick apart in an instant, the cover and story add to the growing public attack on teachers. This was only exacerbated when Obama and Duncan supported the Rhode Island move. That support from the President is unconscionable.If we know nothing else from research in social and clinical psychology, we know that attacking does not increase motivation, it increases defensiveness. Teacher organizations do need to take more responsibility for the quality of teaching, but this isn’t the way to get there. And an open war between teacher organizations, teachers, and policy makers will be a lose-lose with the biggest losers being the kids.The President should call an educational summit meeting. It should include Ravitch, Darling-Hammond, other top educators, and teacher organization leaders. It may be too late to totally revise his announced policies but it is not too late to shape their implementation, providing greater flexibility.Most importantly, the President should take the initiative in rebuilding bridges with teachers. He has the strength of character to not let pride stand in the way and this must be done.
- leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen
- devise a truly national curriculum that sets out what children in every grade should be learning
- expect charter schools to educate the kids who need help the most, not to compete with public schools
- pay teachers a fair wage for their work, not “merit pay” based on deeply flawed and unreliable test scores
- encourage family involvement in education from an early age