A recurring theme in education commentary is that there are too many bad teachers -- largely because teachers are too hard to fire. The latest blurb on this topic comes from the Fordham blog and cites a statistic that only 1.9% of teachers with at least three years of experience were dismissed or didn't have their contract renewed due to poor performance. The leap to connecting the bevy of bad teachers to burdensome contract rules is, thus, easy to make. Before we can draw any firm conclusions, however, we'd need the following info:
How many teachers are actually "bad" enough that they should be fired?
This is, of course, subjective -- but we have to have some ballpark figure of how many people should be fired before we can determine that not enough are
How many teachers are fired in their first three years?
Ideally, tenure should be granted only to effective teachers -- meaning that the vast majority of less effective teachers would move on in the first few years
How many "bad" teachers leave voluntarily?
Efficacy is closely related to satisfaction in teaching, and it stands to reason that less satisfied teachers would be more likely to leave
How many "bad" teachers are counseled out rather than officially sanctioned?
Just because only a small number are actually fired doesn't mean that only those teachers are leaving the profession. Beyond those who leave voluntarily, I'm willing to bet that many more people are "counseled out" than are officially fired.
How hard is it to actually dismiss a teacher?
I hear a lot of complaints, but I'd like to know if it's really impossible or if it simply takes more effort than many are willing to put forth
What percentage of "bad" pre-tenure teachers are thoroughly reviewed by their principals?
If teachers are making it through the tenure process unscathed despite being ineffective, that doesn't strike me as their fault -- part of a principal's responsibility is to evaluate teachers, particularly novice teachers
How many teachers become "bad" after being granted tenure?
If principals thoroughly review beginning teachers and allow only the best to be tenured, but these teachers then burn out and stop trying then we might want to reevaluate the idea of tenure. On the other hand, it would also be worth considering why they burn out.
In short, citing a statistic about a low number of teachers being fired fails to fully describe the situation. It doesn't tell us how many people should leave, are leaving, or why they are/are not leaving.