How Not to Hold Teachers Accountable
I love reforms like merit pay, flexibility in hiring and tenure, etc. I thought any idea that held teachers accountable would be fine — until I read this proposal. Scott McLeod of Dangerously Irrelevant suggests schools adopt this approach to weeding out bad teachers:
Every year fire the worst teacher in the school. If you don’t have a robust teacher evaluation system (or if you’re worried about administrator bias), do it like they do on Survivor: everyone gets a vote and the one with the most votes leaves the island. Administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents–everyone involved with the school gets a vote.
Yes, perennially bad teachers can be a problem, but this is not the way to deal with it.
First, this procedure is too rigid. Why fire exactly one teacher every year? If two teachers are terrible, they should both be fired. And some schools probably have a few teachers who would benefit from training or mentoring, but nobody who needs to be fired.
This plan would have a devastating effect on teacher morale and cooperation. Everyone would try to identify the one likeliest loser and give up on that person as soon as possible. Teachers would sabotage each other and point out their colleagues’ faults.
Furthermore, one vote each for all those people doesn’t make sense. A bad fourth-grade teacher won’t get voted out if the kindergartners and first-graders haven’t even met that person yet. And six-year-olds shouldn’t be making decisions about adults’ jobs.
As a consequence of kids voting, school would become a popularity contest. Teachers would be reluctant to discipline students or challenge them, lest they be voted out.
No district is considering this idea (I hope), but I still think it’s worthy of discussion here on Show-Me Daily because it illustrates how difficult it is for organizations to evolve and improve in the absence of market forces. Businesses that have to compete in the marketplace have no qualms about firing workers who aren’t doing their jobs. The flip side of that is, a business that has to compete would never be attracted to a crazy scheme to fire one person each year no matter what.
Public school districts have so much difficulty getting rid of bad teachers that voting someone “off the island” once a year may sound good in comparison. At least they would get rid of one bad teacher every year. The vote would also take pressure off administrators, who don’t want to be the ones to make controversial firing decisions.
If traditional public districts were less like islands and more integrated into a fluid market for education, they would have to adopt flexible rules for hiring and firing teachers. Bad teachers would be let go when necessary — unlike the current practice of keeping them until they retire, and unlike the Survivor scheme of firing one each June as a ritual.