Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Will Bad Teachers Quit for 10K?

Yet another off-the-wall idea, courtesy of the local newspaper. Apparently an anti-union group (The Center for Union Facts) is starting an odd kind of contest in an attempt to stir up conversation about how hard it is to fire bad teachers. The contest? Nominate the worst teacher you know and the center will pick the 10 best entries (or, I guess, worst) and offer them $10,000 to quit. They'll also write about them on their website.

Now the idea of offering severance pay to make it easier to get rid of some bad apples might be a good one, but I'm not sure if they're actually expecting somebody to both quit their job and let their name and misdeeds be exposed for a paltry 10K. I'm sure there are at least 10 awful teachers in the country, but I don't think this is an effective way to get rid of them. To be fair, I don't think the center does either -- they pretty much say that it's a stunt designed to start a national conversation.

What worries me more, however, is the premise behind the idea. While I absolutely agree that bad teachers cause problems in schools, I'm not convinced that there are any more bad teachers than there are bad lawyers or pastors or mechanics. It's odd that teaching gets held to a higher standard in this regard and not in others. I'm also constantly amazed that unions get 100% of the blame for bad teachers -- the narrative being that everybody has their hand tied because unions make it impossible to fire teachers. Is it difficult to fire a teacher? Absolutely, especially one with tenure. Maybe it's harder than need be, but it should be difficult to fire somebody -- particularly in a position where politics can get involved.

Furthermore, I've never understood why it's only the union's fault that a bad teacher doesn't get better or get fired. Isn't it the principal's job to evaluate their teachers? How do principals manage to escape all blame for this? I've never tried to fire a teacher, so I might be wrong, but I think this whole "impossible to fire a teacher" thing is overblown; is it really "impossible," or is it just difficult enough to deter action? Even if it were impossible to fire a tenured teacher, I've seen no evidence that tenure is being used as a screening process. Perhaps if principals or, if they're too busy, somebody else did a better job of evaluating teachers before awarding tenure then there wouldn't be so many bad apples. Part of the reason that the tenure process works (at least a little bit) better at the college level has to be that tenure is somewhat difficult to get; one is thoroughly evaluated by their peers on a number of criteria before being awarded tenure.

The center says they want a national conversation, so here are my two cents:
-Propose a more realistic use of severance pay
-Stop blaming unions for everything
-Hold somebody accountable for evaluating teachers
-Make tenure review a more meaningful process

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