The Shanker Institute's Matt Di Carlo had a great post last week breaking down a recent study by economist Brian Jacob on how principals fire (or don't fire) teachers in Chicago Public Schools. The news that firings correlate with lower effectiveness is nice to hear. But the headline is that, given more flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody:
Given more flexibility, principals still mostly don't fire anybody.
Jacob found that, despite the new policy allowing principals to dismiss probationary teachers at will, a rather high proportion of them didn’t do so. During each year between 2004-05 and 2006-07, principals in around 30-40 percent of Chicago schools chose not to dismiss a single probationary teacher. Further, this phenomenon was not at all limited to “high-performing” and/or low-poverty schools, where one might expect to find a stable, well-trained teaching force. For instance, in 2005, 35 percent of the “lowest-performing” schools (the bottom 25 percent) chose not to dismiss any probationary teachers, as compared with 54 percent of the school with the highest absolute achievement levels (the proportions were similar when school performance was measured in terms of value-added).
In other words, when principals were given free rein to fire for any reason, with virtually no documentation or effort, a significant proportion chose not to use this power even once.
This is quite a challenge to those who believe union obstructionism or onerous due process are the primary obstacles to moving poor teachers out of the profession. Those are worthwhile things to fight, where they are truly an impediment to improving the work force, but
One of Mike’s failed predictions for 2011 – that Michelle Rhee would embrace paycheck protection as part of her ed reform agenda – is still a worthy idea for StudentsFirst and other education advocacy organizations in 2012. These laws require members of teacher unions to give their express consent for the union to use their dues to make political contributions.
Teachers do not speak with one voice on political issues, even when it comes to K-12 policy. The “new normal” of tough budgets exposes how the incentives of newer teachers differ from more experienced ones, and new organizations like Educators 4 Excellence (which just opened an LA chapter) fight for a political voice for them that is independent of the union establishment. Last election, the Ohio Education Association actually attacked the husband of one its members in vicious television ads, using the teacher’s own dues to finance them.
Teacher unions are among the most powerful political actors in America on a wide range of issues (just ask Terry Moe, Paul Peterson, or Mike Antonucci). It’s not a given that that should be so, however, or that union intervention in partisan elections is always (or even often) good for teachers as a whole. Rhee and other education reformers would do well to add paycheck protection to their toolkit of reforms to increase parent power over education policy – and protect the rights of teachers to spend their paychecks on political issues they believe in, not on the agenda of labor leaders.
Teacher pay is back in the news, with a good roundup of opinion on the New York Times' Room for Debate page. We hear the usual comparisons between teachers and other workers — and some unusual ones (teachers vs. bartenders?).
The problem seems to be how we allocate resources, not how much money is available.
All the contributors miss a point that hits principals and superintendents the hardest, however: If a good teacher walks out the door to work in another district, or another profession entirely, because his manager doesn't have the flexibility to pay him more (and potentially pay a less-effective colleague less in order to balance the staff budget), something is screwed up about teacher pay. Given how much money we spend on K-12 education in America, and how quickly budgets have grown compared to modest enrollment growth, the problem seems to be how we allocate resources, not how much money is available.
Note that this is not about building bigger and better state- or district-wide formulas as some education reformers prefer. Value-added models are great tools for principals to evaluate their teachers, but there's no reason to believe they're a silver bullet. Subjective measures like attitude and teamwork matter, after all, and principals shouldn't necessarily have their hands tied on how they use objective, test-based measures.
The credentialism and bias toward seniority preferred by teacher unions isn't helpful, either. A principal who is losing an amazing fifth-year teacher who only has a BA doesn't care what the salary scale says she can pay; she wants to retain her star
Rhode Island's teacher pension system is a mess. The annual cost of the retirement system has doubled since 2003 and will likely double again by 2013. Education Sector has released a report today looking at state treasurer Gina Raimondo's plan to stabilize the pension fund by switching to a hybrid plan and spreading the fiscal pain among taxpayers, retirees, current employees, and new workers.
Ed Sector's analysis hits the important high points of the crisis in teacher pensions: this is a crucial education policy issue (because it's eating up needed funds that no longer reach the classroom), that existing defined-benefit pensions mistreat the majority of teachers in favor of a select few, and that reforms ought to share the pain among stakeholders rather than soak new teachers.
The writers (rightly) single out Illinois as a bad example that Rhode Island and other states should avoid. As I noted a few weeks ago, the "reform" there essentially amounts to theft from all new teachers. The RI plan is going to be painful for a lot of people, but it's smarter and fairer.
Go check out the report. I know it's Friday, but it's a quick read. The folks at Ed Sector have done a great job of making this technical subject approachable and interesting.
? Chris Tessone
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.