Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Good teachers want competent colleagues, not lifetime job security

Good teachers want competent colleagues, not lifetime job security:

Last week at AEI, Campbell Brown presented on the New York lawsuit seeking to reform teacher tenure laws that make it close to impossible to remove ineffective teachers. One of the most-tweeted questions during her presentation was: won’t reducing teacher job security make it harder to attract good people into the profession?

This is a common concern about reforming laws governing teacher tenure. Proponents of the current system argue that job security is crucial to compensate for the teaching profession’s low pay and difficult working conditions. So, as this argument goes, reducing job security will backfire by making make it even more difficult to draw talented new people into teaching and to keep those already on the job. As Jessie Rothstein wrote recently in the New York Times, “decisions about firing teachers are inherently about trade-offs: It is important to dismiss ineffective teachers, but also to attract and retain effective teachers.”

But is ironclad job protection for bad teachers really necessary to recruit and retain good teachers? The answer is no. In fact, it has the opposite effect. While it’s obvious that students don’t want incompetent teachers, perhaps less obvious is that teachers don’t want them either.

First, incompetent teachers negatively impact the dominant aspect of teachers’ professional life: their classroom. Because teaching is highly sequential work, kids’ readiness to learn in second grade depends greatly on the performance of the first grade teacher; kids’ readiness to learn in the third grade depends greatly on the performance of both the first and second grade teachers; and so on.

At the same time, almost half of the teachers in a 2013 Scholastic/Gates Foundation survey feel students come into their classroom unprepared for on-grade-level work. While this lack of preparation is the result of many factors, the quality of children’s previous teachers is critical. As one teacher explained in a 2012 Education Sector survey, “Teachers pay the greatest price for incompetent teachers. Year after year [other teachers] pick up the slack.” In fact, 91% of the new teachers surveyed said they believe the teachers union should make it easier to remove ineffective teachers.

Second, survey research repeatedly shows that teachers don’t enter teaching to get a lifetime job guarantee; they enter teaching to help children succeed. According to the Scholastic/Gates Foundation survey, for example, 85% of teachers went into teaching to make a difference in children’s lives. These teachers want competent co-workers who are helping kids, not incompetent ones who are only marking time until retirement.

People go into teaching, like any profession, hoping to do well. But those who find that the classroom isn’t the right fit should leave or be removed, not transferred into an ever-growing pool of ineffective teachers who receive extraordinary job protections to “make the profession more attractive.”

Providing lifetime jobs to incompetent people sorely compromises the respect that the teaching profession deserves. And, especially in highly interdependent work settings like schools, ensuring competent colleagues makes the profession more attractive, not less so.

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