Another bite at firing teachers

Well, I figured my last post (on firing teachers) would draw some comments, and it did.

Some readers contend that it is not in fact difficult to fire incompetent teachers; others disagree. My own guess, based on the comments, my own research, and some limited observation, is that good administrators can manage the task … but the bureaucratic hassle deters many from making the attempt.

I was a little surprised that no one really commented on the idea of giving experienced teachers 3-5 year contracts, as opposed to tenure. Any thoughts?

Where we’re all in agreement, it seems to me, is that finding high quality replacements for fired teachers is a bigger problem than weeding out incompetence.

Many of you will answer that higher pay is the only solution. That’s an attractive argument in Utah, where teacher pay is especially low. But state budget shortfalls, high private sector unemployment and stagnant private sector wages all stand in the way of pay increases. So, frankly, does the continued focus on decreasing class size.

Here are some “fast facts” from the U.S. Department of Education:

For public schools, the number of pupils per teacher–that is, the pupil/teacher ratio–declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985. After 1985, the public school pupil/teacher ratio continued to decline, reaching 17.2 in 1989. After a period of relative stability during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, the ratio declined from 17.3 in 1995 to 16.0 in 2000. Decreases have continued since then, and the public school pupil/teacher ratio was 15.3 in 2008.

The number of public school teachers has increased by a larger percentage than the number of public school students over the past 10 years, resulting in declines in the pupil/teacher ratio. In the fall of 2010, there were a projected 15.6 public school pupils per teacher, compared with 16.0 public school pupils per teacher 10 years earlier.

The average salary for public school teachers in 2009—10 was $55,350, about 3 percent higher than in 1990—91, after adjustment for inflation. The salaries of public school teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation since 1990—91.

And here’s another excerpt from the Rick Hess article that I quoted from in my last post:

“Our massive, three-decade national experiment in class-size reduction has exacerbated the challenge of finding enough effective teachers. There are other options. Researchers Martin West and Ludger Woessmann have pointed out that several nations that perform impressively on international assessments, including South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan, boast average middle-school class sizes of more than 35 students per teacher.

To improve schooling, the U.S. has adopted the peculiar policy of hiring ever more teachers and asking them each to do the same job in roughly the same way. This dilutes the talent pool while spreading training and salaries over ever more bodies. As Chester Finn wryly observed in Troublemaker, the U.S. has opted to “invest in many more teachers rather than abler ones. … No wonder teaching salaries have barely kept pace with inflation, despite escalating education budgets.” Since the early 1970s, growth in the teaching force has outstripped growth in student enrollment by 50 percent. In this decade, as states overextended their commitments during the real estate boom, the ranks of teachers grew at nearly twice the rate of student enrollment. If policymakers had maintained the same overall teacher-to-student ratio since the 1970s, we would need 1 million fewer teachers, training could be focused on a smaller and more able population, and average teacher pay would be close to $75,000 per year.”

What do you think? Should we rethink our commitment to reducing class size, and focus on hiring and retaining a smaller number of better teachers?

Here’s the government website

And here, again, is the link to Rick Hess’s 2009 article, “How to Get the Teachers We Want.”

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