When should teachers lose their licenses?


I’ve been following – and blogging about – Tennessee’s efforts to measure teacher performance and link that performance to compensation and promotion. While I recognize that “the devil is in the details”, I’m inclined to favor such efforts, or at any rate to think that we should all we watching wat transpires in Tennessee closely.

Here’s what today’s Wall Street Journal reports. Sorry about the long quote, but I know that it’s often hard for non-subscribers to link to complete articles.

Many states have begun to link teachers’ pay to their effectiveness in the classroom. On Friday, Tennessee joined a handful that are taking the idea further: pull the license of teachers whose students consistently fail to improve.

“This is not about taking away teacher licenses, but about making sure our students have the best classroom teachers,” said Kevin Huffman, the state’s education commissioner.

The state board of education gave preliminary approval to the proposal in June. Amid debate in a telephone meeting on Friday, the board approved the measure 6-3, but delayed implementation by a year, to August 2015.

Fielding Rolston, chairman of state board of education, said the delay would give the state time to work through lingering concerns about using the state’s complicated formula for assessing teachers’ contributions to student achievement in license renewals.

“As you can appreciate, it’s not a straightforward formula,” he said. “I think it is the best measure that we have out there for value added by teacher.”

Over the past three years, many states have started linking teacher evaluations to test-score improvements and other measures of student performance. But only Rhode Island, Louisiana and Delaware have tied some teaching-license renewals to these evaluations, according to Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group that supports grading teachers on classroom effectiveness.

In many states, teachers renew their licenses after completing a number of professional development course-credit hours, or by earning a master’s degree.

But research has shown that, for the most part, neither boosts teacher effectiveness as measured by growth in student achievement, said Jane Hannaway, director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, a federally funded nonpartisan research center.

Under the new policy in Tennessee, teachers must show they are boosting student achievement or they would lose their teaching license.

For a third of K-12 educators, the measuring stick would be the standardized state exams given to students. The remaining teachers, such as those in art or physical education, would be judged on other measures, such as portfolios of student work.

Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, said her union group isn’t opposed to using student achievement as one factor in license renewal, but said the current plan gives too much weight to the state’s measure of student growth, which she described as “complicated and problematic.”

But Ms. Hannaway said states should focus on creating the best pool of teachers possible. “If there are teachers who look risky, you really don’t want students to bear that risk,” she said.

The licensing proposal is part of a broader effort by Mr. Huffman, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in 2011, to improve Tennessee public schools, whose students lag behind national averages on math and reading exams.

Tennessee tied evaluations to student test scores, did away with collective bargaining by teachers and made it harder for them to earn tenure. In June, the state adopted a policy requiring school districts to create teacher-pay plans less reliant on years of service and additional degrees, and more dependent on factors such as working in hard-to-staff schools and student test scores.

Andrea Brinker, a second-year teacher at Bellevue Middle School in Nashville, said the new plan should have been enacted years ago.

“Teachers expect their students to perform at the level of proficiency,” she said, “and, it may sound harsh, but teachers who cannot live up to that same accord should not be teaching.”

So what do you think?


  1. Howard Beale

    Some questions…

    Of course I doubt the pay will go up for teachers, right?

    Is there an accountability piece for parents and even the students?

    Would a teacher want very smart kids that might not necessarily improve? Or students that were say not so great but could improve? How about special education? Many students have a hard time learning concepts even if taught over and over. i would hate to be the teacher in the severe classroom in this scenario. Any plans for this or do we just fire these teachers and rehire over and over because the results aren’t likely to change?

    Do test scores really indicate any learning? Will teachers just teach to the test? How will lead this to creativity in the classroom?

    I think teaching is a bit more complicated than this. More stupid ideas from politicians.

    • Mary McConnell

      I share your skepticism of the evaluation paradigms, and agree that some subjects and students are more difficult to evaluate. Tennessee is actually trying to address this issue – note the portfolios, which is an approach I think you’d like.

      We can’t do much about parents, but good teachers work with parents (and, if necessary, around parents) better than less competent parents. Remember that the virtue of value-added measures is that they attempt to capture improvement from any base.

  2. Howard Beale

    Another twist in all of this is that kids do change from year to year. As one who has coached, no class of athletes is the same. Some classes have more talent, some classes come in with talent and no work ethic, some have less talent but will work hard. I think this applies to grades or classes of students where you will have an entire body of students that has less aptitude than a previous class. This means scores on tests could drop or go up simply because of the students. A teacher could look good one year and worse the next year simply because of the raw material she has bee dealt. To me this means any evaluative instrument (for pay) would have to consider these factors and be done at least for a three year period. Therefore, a much more accurate picture of any teacher’s skills takes place. Thus, to me it would stand to reason over the three years that yearly evaluations of administrators would be important to see what is actually happening in the classroom on a daily basis.

    Also, let’s say if an English teacher in secondary schools did get 90 percent of their students to pass any exam but the next year got 80. Both figures are relatively high. But does it suggest she had good students both years but is a bad teacher and her scores went down? Does it suggest she is actually a good teacher and the scores were based on the students and what skills they carried in to class (or maybe they just didn’t work as hard or maybe she had more male students than females but males lately don’t do as well in school or might not relate to her as well because she is a female teacher and the list of factors go on and on which is problematic in itself)? But let’s say another English teacher gets 50 of her students to pass and then jumps up to 60. Now who is the better teacher? To me it’s impossible to say but to me any trends could be spotted in maybe a three year MINIMUM period but through this period both teachers are evaluated the “old fashioned” way by their administrators. Of course the severe education teacher might have zero percentage pass and this happens over and over again so do we say no teaching is going on there (I might suggest for some special education classes they work on life skills and not worry about taking standardized tests but that’s me).

    Of course, you know my thoughts on test scores. But I will go further by saying they may be the most destructive thing to happen in education. They were created by political pressure that was amped up beyond reason. They were not the ideas of teachers themselves who know first-hand the problems, some of which I have listed but there are others. I think they are incidious because they have brought forth an extremely dangerous paradigm of educating our children where subjects are stressed and others are not, where creativity of teachers and learners is stifled, where these test results are used to browbeat schools and teachers bringing the morale levels of teachers to lower and lower levels. It also has created, along with low wages and other problems, a carousel of young inexperienced (mostly female) teachers to our schools. All of this is not good for students. Bottom line, tests need to die, educators must be trusted as professionals, administrators must do their jobs and graduation comes from a portfolio based method where students prove their learning. That is where parent and student accountability come in, because the parent must assist at a greater level their student to make sure they have a portfolio or evidence of their learning. But this is a radical idea but something they use in the business world, right? You make presentations in front of other professionals and show you know what you are talking about. This is the true-life learning and accountability that will transform our educational system in a good way, firing or denying raises to teachers because of test scores won’t.

    • Mary McConnell

      I think you know that I am less skeptical of test scores than you are; certainly I don’t find them a universally destructive force. But you raise good questions about the design of any value-added system. It’s critically important that scores be averaged over at least 3 years. Within that kind of time frame, I think changes in individual student performance would partly wash out. Just as some students would have an unusually bad year for reasons beyond a teacher’s control, others would presumably sometimes achieve gains for reasons other than good teaching. But over time, I think trends would be telling.

      And yes, I think more accountability IS the best way to increase teacher salaries in the long run.

  3. Suzie

    Most education reforms are good in theory, but don’t work very well. The major problem I see in many reforms is how people measure success. I haven’t heard of a single reform that doesn’t rely excessively on testing. Accountability is good, but success is not determined by how well students perform on standardized tests.

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