James V. Shuls

In my previous two posts (here and here), I highlighted the plight of Missouri’s education system. We are stuck in the middle in terms of academic achievement, and do not look to be improving very rapidly. Sticking with the status quo or even tinkering at the margins is unlikely to have any significant effect on improving our educational system. We need bold strategies that will allow Missouri schools to innovate and compete and Missouri students to thrive.

One of the challenges of our schools is attracting and retaining great teachers. Top-performing teachers generate learning gains almost double that of a teacher in the bottom 20 percent, equivalent to almost six months of learning (see study). Unfortunately, institutional rules and burdensome legislation make it difficult for schools to hire and retain great teachers or to remove low-performing ones. In fact, a recent study revealed schools retain teachers from the top and bottom at “strikingly similar rates.”

Part of the problem is schools treat teachers like they are interchangeable. In reality, teachers vary wildly in terms of performance and have markedly different opportunities based on their expertise.

Bold Solution 1:

Empower schools to attract and retain the best teachers and promote a system that equips schools to remediate or remove the worst.

Schools need to be able to hire the best person for the job, regardless of certification, and they should be equipped to pay each teacher what they are worth based on their performance and market options. To do this, schools need control over their compensation system, including the retirement package they offer to their employees. Additionally, schools must be able to identify and remediate or remove poorly performing teachers.  One way of doing this would be to actually evaluate teachers based on their performance and make tenure decisions based on their ability to impact student achievement (see here for an example).

Some teachers are great and some are not so great, some have a lot of other employment options and some do not. We need to be smart in how we staff schools and stop relying on an antiquated system that treats teachers as if they are all the same.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.