Sara Mead writes at Ed Week about teacher legislation, especially new policies allowing “ineffective” teachers to be canned, or at least to be laid off first:
But what about teachers who are rated “Needs Improvement” [the second lowest category] –but never actually improve? Under many of these laws, a teacher could remain in the “needs improvement” category for his or her entire career.
Is this a good policy? Or should these teachers be given some window of time in which to improve or find something else to do? I’m not sure, but it’s a question worth asking, particularly as we gain more experience and see how these systems actually play out in practice. (Indiana is an exception, allowing for dismissal of teachers who receive an “ineffective” or “needs improvement” rating in 3 out of 5 years)
I could argue that essentially no teachers are truly ineffective, that the question is simply a matter of how strong that effect is, and in what direction. I could argue further that no teacher is perfect, and that thus every teacher should fall into the “needs improvement” category. But that’s a semantic quibble over poorly chosen category labels.
Let us set that aside aside, and also, for the moment, set aside my previously stated concerns about standardized tests and their use in evaluating teachers. I’m prepared to grant that there are good teachers and bad teachers (though the problem of bad teachers seems massively exaggerated in the policy debate). I’m prepared to grant that good teachers can be distinguished from worse teachers, and that there really are teachers who “need improvement.” Let’s assume we have ways to identify those teachers.
Should a teacher who is judged to persistently “need improvement” for many years be fired? Unless those laws come with funding to provide in-service training to those lagging teachers, and mentoring and review from master teachers, and paid prep time to rework lesson plans and practice and develop new skills, I don’t see how we can expect those teachers to improve to any significant degree. Assuming that we’ve got the tools to accurately identify teachers who need some help, that identification has to be matched with some sort of actual help, if we’re going to attach penalties. The same is true, of course, for teachers rated “ineffective.”
Highly motivated, passionate teachers go out of their way to find training opportunities, and will attend unpaid trainings, pay their own way to conferences, and do their prep work whenever they can fit it around their work schedule and their family life. The teachers who need the most help are, I’d wager, the least likely to seek out these sorts of opportunities or to invest this sort of time. If the goal is simply to fire teachers, then the sorts of policies Mead is discussing will work fine. If the goal is to actually improve the quality of teachers, it sounds like a big part is missing.