Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Dismissed" "Fired" "Counseled" What Difference Does It Make?

When Rick Hess decides to hold forth on the Vergara verdict, he perpetuates the same narrow way of thinking that has clouded the debate on teacher competence for decades.
"First, I think the plaintiffs were clearly right on the merits. California's employment laws have made it ridiculously tough on school systems to do anything about lousy teachers. There are 275,000 teachers in California. Even if just one to three percent of teachers are lousy, as defense expert David Berliner estimated, one would expect 3,000 to 8,000 teachers to be dismissed each year for unsatisfactory performance. Instead, the average is just 2.2."
This "back-of-the-envelope" analysis is not uncommon, but it deserves no serious consideration. Schools and administrators don't act this way! They don't hire individuals, watch them perform for a couple years, then say to themselves, "Nope, he's lousy; guess I'll fire him." Not only is this not the case in public education, it's seldom the place anywhere. Employees who are not "working out" – whether we are talking bout public education, Wal*Mart or IBM – are usually gently and humanely urged to leave, counseled into other lines of work, or redeployed in some other manner rather than brutally "fired" – the very term conjures images of being consigned to the flames of Hell for wrong-doing.

Thousands upon thousands of pre-service teachers in training, probationary teachers, and even teachers on continuous contracts are diverted into other endeavors each year, and they leave with their self-respect in tact. To claim that California has something like 5,000 incompetent teachers and "dismisses" only 2 a year is an absurdity. (Just as, I might add, was some of the testimony for the plaintiffs' experts in Vergara.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

1 comment:

  1. also wouldn't the figures cited above assume 3-8% of teachers would have to be fired EACH year; not in total -- which I assume the 3-8% estimate of incompetent teachers would suggest?