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Now We Know How To “Fix” Schools — Fire 80% Of All New Teachers


In May, Newsweek came out with a cover story proclaiming that “the key to saving American Education was…we must fire bad teachers” (see my post, Did You Know That THE Key To Saving American Education Is Firing Bad Teachers?).

Now, a study has come-out claiming to quantify how many “bad teachers” there are — it says 80% of all new teachers need to be fired after two years probation.

The study, done by two professors (one from Dartmouth and the other from Columbia) actually comes right out and says that.

An article in Slate Magazine (which is generally one of my favorite online reads) supports the study with the headline Clean Out Your Desk: Is firing (a lot of) teachers the only way to improve public schools?

Written by a professor of economics (who, as far as I can tell, has had no experience working in or with K-12 schools), the article is the latest attack on teachers that omits any evidence or suggestion of other ways to improve education. There is no mention of improving curriculum and there is one line about the possibility of improving professional development.

There is, however lots of praise for Teach For America and New York City’s charter schools. Of course, his praise for charter schools is based on a year-old study that doesn’t take into account that the recent collapse in test scores in that city was even more pronounced in charter schools.

At the end of the presentation given by one of the authors of the study, he says “there may be practical reasons limiting success of this strategy.”

Ya’ think?

But “practicality” is just one reason it wouldn’t work. It’s a flawed analysis of schools, of the people who work there, and of the students who attend them.

Perhaps, one of these days, the people who spend so much time attacking teachers might consider consider listening to us, instead.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Here, here! Larry.

    When I first started teaching (I was 32) a seasoned teacher (system Teacher of the Year 3 times, State runner-up twice) told me that what made a teacher a good teacher was 10 years of teaching.

    I scoffed at that idea. Now that I’m in year 16, I see his wisdom. I spoke to him about it a couple years ago, and he changed his mind. “What makes a good teacher is 20 years,” and he winked when he said it.

    He has been retired from the classroom for 6 or 7 years. He works for our regional EdTech Center, training teachers how to implement technology in their classrooms.

    His point is simply a good teacher knows that you never stop improving, is humble enough to admit that they still need to improve, and is motivated enough to learn on their own.

    My fear is that reports like “fire 80% of the new teachers” and any other “fire the teachers wholesale” is that the opportunity to get better is being removed from the equation. But then again, it could simply be a financial issue – an school improvement is simply a smoke screen for reducing expenses in education. We all know the biggest expenditure is teacher salary, so keep the teachers at under 5 years, and taxes can be reduced. Now that’s fiscal responsibility, huh. 😉

  2. My vote is “smoke screen”. Though you’d think if we’re actually trying to improve education and save money, far less of it would be spent on companies, consultants or “experts” who have no expertise in education…

  3. I think your post is right on target too. We should beware of economists bearing any kinds of education studies, particularly those with no education background. It doesn’t mean we can’t hear what they have to say; we just need to consider the source. Too often they use business models and business thinking to analyze education environments, and most educator have learned that kind of thinking is fallacious.

  4. These geniuses left out another problem with dismissing 80% of new teachers. My teaching credential cost me 4 years of college, 1+ years in a credential program, two years of teacher development equivalent to masters degree work, and nearly a school year of unpaid “internship” as a student teacher.

    Do they think ANY intelligent person in their right mind would do all that for a low-paid, low-respect career in which they only have a 20% chance of NOT being fired (not just laid off, but FIRED) after two years?

    It follows that only idiots would go into teaching. So much for effective teachers.

  5. As a veteran teacher (granted, in a private school), I understand the allergic reaction to every suggestion from outside of the education that the solution to any school problem is to fire vast numbers of teachers. Sensationalist proposals such as Newsweek’s or this latest approach clearly miss the mark.

    However, let’s take a look at it from the other side. Given the strengths of teachers’ unions, there are many, many districts in this country where fewer than 1% of teachers lose their jobs in a given year. Can the same be said of any other industry? Is it realistic that 99% of teachers are worth keeping? Every school has it great teachers, every school has its good teachers – and every school has its teachers that should probably be moved along. Taking the position that problems in schooling are the fault of everything BUT bad teachers is about as irresponsible as saying that the issue is ONLY bad teachers.

    Larry – I would love to hear you address this point in a more balanced way. Let’s remember the big picture – we are expected to provide a certain product (an education) to paying customers, and to the extent that we fail to do so we are expected to be held accountable. While we probably owe it to any struggling teacher to offer them some degree of assistance, we also owe it to our students to admit when a teacher is not making progress.

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