What does it mean to 'fix the system'?

David Cohen of the University of Michigan complains at the Shanker Institute blog that "niche reforms" like DC's (substantial) overhaul of its teacher evaluation and retention practices under Michelle Rhee are a distraction. Cohen dismisses IMPACT and similar reforms, saying we need to "fix the system" and build "infrastructure" instead.

Meanwhile, Newark Public Schools is under new management and is trying to end the "dance of the lemons," the practice by which bad teachers are shuffled from one poor-performing school to the next. Cami Anderson, the new district superintendent, has found that pulling these teachers out of the classroom is expensive in New Jersey:

[B]ecause of the state's tenure law, which guarantees a paycheck to teachers regardless of whether any principal wants to retain or hire them, Ms. Anderson's new policy will cost the district an extra $10 million to $15 million a year that will go to paying the teachers who are not able to find jobs within the district.

"In other words, by doing the right thing, we created a massive budget issue," she said. Newark schools have a $900 million budget and employ about 4,000 teachers.

Ten other states, including New York, have tenure laws that make it impossible to dismiss tenured teachers even when no principal wishes to hire them.

This puts the lie to David Cohen's argument. There is no amorphous education "system" that does not have teacher evaluation and retention at its core. Reforms like IMPACT in DC and benching bad teachers in Newark are systemic. And as Newark's experience proves, if you're missing a critical piece like being able to terminate a tenured educator for cause, the system keeps performing badly.

? Chris Tessone

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