The Days You Wish You Had A Real Job

… a teacher’s true effectiveness should not be linked to a teacher’s right to renew his or her license.

the Washington Teachers’ Union, a letter to its members. [The Quick And The Ed]

I’m uninterested in resurrecting last month’s Million Comment March, or discussing She Who Must Not Be Named, or her policies, or their motivations, or their financiers (but if you absolutely must) I’m just curious what in the history of organized labor has led teachers’ unions to formally announce what amounts to a collective and colossal dereliction of duty.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I’m [almost] sure this isn’t what they meant, but I’m not sure that the license should be the method of controlling things: It seems like the license is meant to indicate that you can, at some level, teach. It doesn’t directly mean you’ll be effective.

    I’d see this as similar to a driver’s license. It says that I can drive, to some specification. I can use a turn signal, see a big red sign, push a lever, and turn a wheel. What it doesn’t say, however, is that I’m very good at it. Ignoring commercial driver’s licenses (which are aimed at safety, not effectiveness), a cab company should want more proof that I’m an effective driver than the fact that I have a license to drive.

    The other possible point would be that measuring effectiveness is an inexact science. However, I’ll let the aforementioned thread stand on its own there.

  2. Yeah, I’m not even sure what that means. It could be very good or very bad or very bad because it doesn’t mean anything or is just horrendously written.

    Hmm that’s 3:1 bad to good, so perhaps it is more likely on the bad side.

  3. Have you renewed your credential yet? I have done so 4 times now and it has gotten easier each time. The law had just changed when I got my credential and there was a small number of us renewing our credentials every 5 years. The paperwork was massive. As more teachers fell under this law of renewal every 5 years, each renewal required less and less. It’s now done online, with a credit card, and the Credentialing Commission no longer sends a paper credential (which is not a bad thing). You no longer have to swear on your mother’s life that you did the 150 hours of teacher development.

  4. The debate surrounding teacher protection is really tough b/c that statement is trying to protect teachers in really difficult situations. But it also protects the lazy dregs who show movies all day just the same.

    How can we fairly equate “teacher effectiveness” with the teachers at Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax co. VA, who get super wealthy motivated students going on to Ivy League colleges, with the teacher at Cardozo high w/ its 60% dropout rate and over 30 kids per class?

    The idea of making it peer reviewing similar to the medical profession seems to be the best way to place a metric for “effectiveness” on teachers.

  5. This is no dereliction of duty, Dan. The dereliction, not to mention the confusion, is solely yours.


    The very term is an insult to teachers everywhere. “Effective” at what? “Effective” at teaching? Based on what? How well students learned? There is no way to determine learning, as true learning comes from within, welling up out of the bosom of the youth, a bright light that shines in the darkness created by people like you, Dan, people who think that things liked “teaching” and “learning” can be evaluated in ways that speak of varying levels of value added to the knowledge and skill set of a young person.

    Next, you’ll want to create hierarchies, implying that certain types of knowledge (say, algebra), are more valuable than the type of self-actualization the true teachers instill in young people as a matter of course. Maybe a bunch of statiticians in an ivory tower somewhere could measure a difference in how “effective” you were teaching so-called “standards,” but of course, we should not celebrate your heinous insistance in teaching to the test, which we know is one of the easiest things ever, as evidenced by the staggering percent of students achieving proficiency across this great land.

    But it takes a true teacher, a true shaper of young minds, to foster a love of learning that must never fade, withstanding the mind-numbing standards assault of people like you, Dan, who goosestep toward Bethlehem, seeking to acknowledge differences between educators based on effectiveness, when the only real difference is the size of your heart.

    For shame, Dan.

  6. Kilian, I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic (I hope you are), but can you name another profession that encourages its members to eschew improvement?

    While I don’t believe the majority of my colleagues (or even a sizeable minority) are slacking off in their classrooms, for a professional association to ridicule the idea of teacher standards is worrisome.

  7. After giving this more thought that I ought to, it seems that what is going on here is that DC is an unusual case where essentially the same level of hierarchy is responsible for both licensing you and hiring you. They are usually separate state and local functions.

    So it appears that the district is trying to use licensing as a way to get around the contract. We can’t fire you, we’ll drop your license.

    In any actual state, this wouldn’t fly, because the state bureaucracy would be pissing everyone off firing local teachers by remote control. If the city and the state are the same, it is just a hack to get around the contract.

    You could argue that teachers should have to demonstrate student achievement performance to retain their license, but as far as I know it is not done that way anywhere in the US, so the burden would be on you to make a really good argument (in lieu of evidence, unless you have some) that this would be a better system. Specifically, better to delicense teachers from the capitol than fire them locally.

  8. Teaching effectiveness can be measured Killian. And it has been done by measuring the growth of ones knowledge and statistically factoring out the impact of the background. The Belgian government did this to evaluate several schools. Although this is possible it needs a statistical team and standardized test used in several schools.

    An other way to measure the effectiveness of a teacher is by letting his pupils, his principal and his colleagues evaluate him.

    It is not easy to evaluate teaching but to boldly say you shouldn’t even try is going to far.

  9. Peter
    Your comment stirred up some ideas here. I can see the grades 5 and 6 students being very flip or ingratiating in their eveluations of teachers. If the evaluation tool was turn sideways however with questions like,
    how do you think you did today?
    do you think you learned the key points? (be sure they always know what the key learning is – post it)
    are you still confused about some of the things we worked on?
    what could you or the teacher do to make this learning stick better for you and your peers?
    Questions along these lines will better evaluate the give and take process of teaching and learning and certainly inform instruction.

    Of course my class thinks I’m the best teacher in the world but then again 5 year olds will believe anything, won’t they!

  10. Dan, in light of the news that only 48% of California High Schools made AYP, I am curious as to where this topic leads your thinking. So let’s say 52% of teachers were fired for being “ineffective” based on exit exam results. Then what? I see this as a potential circular argument- did the schools not make AYP due to “ineffective” teachers or are the teachers only considered “ineffective” after the fact?

    OK, so the exit exams are not a perfect measure. What assessment is? How then would we gauge the effectiveness of California high school teachers? If we base licensure on effectiveness as defined by exit exams, who is left to teach California students? If licensure and effectiveness are not linked to AYP or exit exam results, then what determines effectiveness? All in all, it just leads me to wonder what legitimate improvement to the model would actually look like.

  11. @Jason, when I agitate for accountability, I’m not looking for something 1:1 like “if 50% or more of my students make AYP, I keep my job; if not, then I don’t.” We need to view those results through a model that calculates the value the teachers added to the other 52%. Until then, like I said in the old WTU thread:

    if those preconditions are met (accurate standards & fair assessment) why shouldn’t my results factor into my employment consequences? I feel a little weird that my supervisors (either dept. head or principal) haven’t sat me down and asked, okay, what is your plan here?

    If I know what I should be teaching, if I believe that the assessment of my teaching is accurate, and if I have no plan, direction, or desire to remediate my teaching, not only shouldn’t I be rewarded financially for my teaching – I shouldn’t be a teacher.

    @Tom, your clarification isn’t irrelevant, but I don’t feel any better that no state makes my effectiveness a condition of licensing (rather than district-level employment) and the WTU should feel no less shaming for declaring in such writing that it shouldn’t be a condition – the difference between passively accepting a mediocre condition and declaring outright that the condition should remain mediocre.

    @Ian, very sarcastic.

  12. @dan, I’m not in disagreement with the hypothetical conversation you mention with your department chair or principal. I am just struggling with how to accurately measure that added value within the world of oversimplified political answers. Not to be Captain Obvious, but the premise of NCLB is not anathema to what should be our mission. Once the non-educator public got involved in defining “effective” schools, it moved from realistic to foolish. To seriously suggest that measuring one disparate group of students against a different group of students the following year does not measure growth, however that became the definition of effective schools. I also struggle with the fact that each state’s measure of effectiveness is left to that state’s BOE. For example, California’s exit exams and Illinois’ use of the Prairie State Achievement Exam, which is really one day of ACT and one day of allegedly Work-related information, do not measure comparable items. Would an effective teacher in Illinois also be so in California or vice versa? So long as individual states determine the individual measures for assessment, I don’t know how we can reach a universal agreement that a link between “effectiveness” and employment is fair.

    As an elementary principal, I am having those conversations with my teachers about their plans. I am asking how they plan to individualize students’ learning while also implementing research-based instructional strategies. And, they are doing it. That does not mean that they all fit under the same measure; they’re not all exactly equally effective. Just as we advocate differentiation of instruction for students, don’t we need to do the same to help our teachers all improve? Where is that individuality built into the conversation in DC?

  13. Is there any profession where the licensee has to prove effectiveness to retain a license? Does a doctor have to prove that his patients leave more healthy than they come in to retain his license? Does a real estate agent have to prove that his clients make money off the deals he brokers? Does a lawyer have to prove that he wins cases?

    It is my understanding (if I’m wrong, let me know) that in each of these cases, once you get the license, the assumption is that to keep it you just have to stay broadly within the bounds of professional standards. Other parts of the system are expected to sort out better and worse performers. This is not an admission of mediocrity in any of these professions, it is simply the role of professional licensing systems. It is how they work.

    Note that if doctors could lose their license by having unhealthy patients, or lawyers from losing cases, it would be a disincentive to work in a clinic for the poor or elderly, or serve as a public defender or do pro bono defense work. Yes, in each case we could create very complex data systems that might give us better “growth” data in each case, but it would be expensive, intrusive, and create perverse incentives if not done exactly right. That it would work is simply a guess, and relative to other priorities, a waste of money.

    Also, remember that losing your license is a much, much more severe sanction than losing your job. Losing your license isn’t something where you’re going to sit down with your principal and talk about what you need to do better. It is about some paperwork you’re going to send in to a big office in the state capital, and they’re going to run it through their process and send you back a piece of paper. If you think putting more power in those kinds of systems is going to make teaching more professional and desirable, you’re mistaken.

  14. @Dan – I thought it was probably…

    @Tom Hoffman – The comparison to law and medicine is disingenuous. Once people find out a particular doctor is ineffective or has a high mortality rate among patients, or once people find out a lawyer loses a disproportionately high number of cases, they choose a different practitioner. There’s not really a need for the license board to get involved because the marketplace sorts it out.

    Can you do that in a school? I know in my school, students aren’t allowed to switch teachers for the same class, they can only drop a class for a different subject. There is a need for something other than the marketplace to step in, and if a teacher refuses to improve their own effectiveness, then, as Dan points out, they should not be a teacher.

  15. Ian,

    That is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SUBJECT. The question is LICENSURE. That is the topic. Should teachers be required to show evidence of performance to retain their license?

  16. Evaluation of effectiveness is very subjective. Here in the UK we are measured beyond belief, yet it still nigh on impossible to remove an ineffective teacher due to the length of time involved (look up bbc news education and roll your eyes).

    We have reached a point where we are graded unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good and outstanding for a series of individual lessons. We are told that satisfactory is no longer good enough. At last count there were 32 criteria to meet for good, including every student making progress during the lesson. Please ignore Jimmy whose mother died a week ago, he might not make progress. Fatima who is EAL and who we have no funds to support – ignore her too until my Arabic is good enough. Marcus who takes his 3 brothers to school each morning and misses 1/2 the lesson, better ignore him too. Oh yeah did I ention we are fully pastoral an “in loco parentis” here as well?

    We even have to justify end of Key Stage tests – oh Jimmy got a level 3 not 4 because… Fatima no level because…. Marcus only a 4 because… and you better explain it in an educationally valid way!

    Evaluation here is down to line managers, so better stay on speaking terms. I’d love a peer assessment system, I’d even welcome a weekly observation as part of this!

    As for 150 hours PD – bring it on! In the past 2 years I have had 12 hours commercial, 120 in-house (of which at least 40 hours were actually meetings).

    We have 99% fantastic teachers here whatever their official evaluation is. We also have 1% of dross who despite onerous complicated systems still manage to keep jobs. Be very carefull what you wish for American cousins, as it may in you dialect “come back to bite you in the ass”.

  17. Kilian’s post is enlightening.

    Licensing and evaluating teachers are two different orthogonal exercise.

    One licenses a prospective teacher by ensuring that they’ve successfully achieved the degree of proficiency in their training required to be effective teachers.

    Pulling a license means that something unethical, immoral, or unlawful has taken place, that the accused has had a fair, impartial hearing, and that they were found conclusively guilty of disqualifying themselves from teaching service.

    Evaluating teachers on the other hand means determining their raises, redirecting their assigned classes to take advantage of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, and so on. At the extreme, a process that suggests maybe they’d be better off either improving performance or moving on should exist as well. A perfectly competent teacher might be stuck with an incompetent administration.

    Which brings us to the other credentialing issue. Who evaluates the evaluators, the parents, the local yokels screaming about taxes, and so on. This is precisely where union protection is critical.

    The arguments that ‘bad’ teachers show slides all day ignores ‘bad’ teachers who help kids find themselves, help them learn forbidden knowledge (say, science), and are politically or religiously out of step with the latest round of inquisitions?

  18. Wow. It’s good to know that you all think about DC and DCPS, a la distance. I think sometimes we feel forgotten/ignored by the rest of the country (read: taxed w/o representation). I think sometimes urban teachers feel forgotten/ignored by their principals, superintendents, union bosses, parents, taxpayers, etc… I think sometimes the reality of a city that is transient by design makes it difficult to hold any one person or any one school fully accountable for the performance of any one child. This commentary is neither in defense, nor in opposition to merit pay/tying performance to licensure. It’s merely to say that community development, public service, and education in our nation’s capitol are very complex issues whose essence does not rest in The Wire Season 4 or West Wing.

  19. @Tom, I think you (1) misread the WTU memo and (2) misunderstand licensing.

    (1) The WTU doesn’t want effectiveness – or its opposite – linked to licensure at all. The line I quote isn’t equivalent to, “Teachers shouldn’t have to continuously submit evidence of their effectiveness to maintain their license,” a statement which I would support.

    (2) Doctors don’t lose licenses for losing patients. Neither do lawyers lose licenses for losing legal contests – the average lawyer loses 50% of her cases, after all – provided that neither of those negative job outcomes are due to professional incompetence. In that event – like Mike Nifong in the Duke lacrosse case – a peer review board determines whether a license is revoked, maintained, or placed under probation.

    Teaching has no such mechanism I’m aware of, at least not in California. California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing has a seven-member peer review board and a code they govern by [pdf], but nowhere amidst the definitions of substance abuse, diploma forgery, and sexual psychopathy, does it go near what it means to colossally blow it as an educator. The California Business and Practices Code for doctors is an interesting contrast in specificity.

    Your last line doesn’t really do it for me either. If, as a profession, we begin take this thing seriously, laying down broadly what it means to be a good teacher, and self-regulate, we can begin to rehabilitate our image issue, linking this job to the sort of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that’ll attract new educators and, um, retain current educators.

    California, incidentally, has already established teaching standards but they remain disconnected from our licensing commission, making them something like a bullet without a gun.

  20. A momentary Google of the Mike Nifong case tells me that he was disbarred for ethics violations, not incompetence. There is a big difference. You can lose your teaching license (probably everywhere) for ethics violations.

    Do you have a specific proposal for how you would like to see this done or are you just blowing smoke? Saying that you think effectiveness should be linked to licensure, but not specifying how isn’t very helpful. If teachers aren’t periodically providing evidence to renew their license, I don’t know it is happening.

  21. Saying that you think effectiveness should be linked to licensure, but not specifying how isn’t very helpful.

    I’d agree except I’m still trying to convince you that teachers who exhibit a pattern of incompetence should lose their license to teach. This job is a worthy public joke without that mechanism – without even a lenient, figurative version of that mechanism.

    We need to agree on standards for this profession and California’s will do for a start. Those standards even detail “Practice Not Consistent With Standard Expectations,” a bar which new teachers have to clear within two years but which veterans can freely disregard. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Induction Program need to sit down for coffee.

    I’d like to see this mechanism inspire self-remediation – probation over suspension, in other words. I’d like to see teachers keep their jobs but aim their work at something higher than their conviction that they are the best teacher they or anyone else will ever be. I’d like to see that mechanism triggered at a local level but I’ll accept state-level oversight until locals pull themselves out of their own mess.

  22. I don’t agree with the premise that the way to improve teaching/learning is with threats of losing licenses. This thread has already done a good job of explaining the pitfalls of that approach. I feel like a broken record sometimes, but we need to look at what places who are teaching effectively are doing. I can’t speak to if, how, or when they haul off and fire people, but I do know their approach to professional development is far more goal-oriented and effective. Since leaving my credentialing program, my PD experience has amounted to listening to “motivational” speeches and sitting through workshops that usually have little to do with teaching math effectively in high school. I receive very little guidance I can use or observation/critique of my practice; I mostly try stuff that sounds good and keep what works. My counterparts in Japan spend their PD time participating in lesson study that assures they’re delivering their prescribed content in the most effective way for the most kids. I don’t know what we have to do to incorporate it here. But if my choice is the status quo, or the constant threat of getting fired based on the results of some invalid test New York pays Pearson to slap together, I’ll take the status quo, thanks.

  23. But if my choice is the status quo, or the constant threat of getting fired based on the results of some invalid test New York pays Pearson to slap together, I’ll take the status quo, thanks.

    No no no. Nowhere in this thread have I gone anywhere near standardized test results. Let’s not prop up that straw man here.

    I’m not suggesting “the constant threat of getting fired” either. (“I’d like to see this mechanism inspire self-remediation – probation over suspension, in other words.”)

    I am saying that right now there is no incentive for good teaching and no disincentive for lousy teaching1. Someone explain to me how teachers will improve absent either of those. Here, and elsewhere, I have advocated both.

    [1] Except as a point of personal pride, a motivator which won’t attract certain desirable demographics to teaching and won’t keep me.

  24. I think it is pretty clear that the only reason we’re talking about taking away a teacher’s license (or “certification” as we say ’round here) is in lieu of firing them.

    In practice, anywhere other than possibly DC, to have the state try to determine which teachers are or are not competent or effective on an ongoing basis would be an expensive disaster. Whether it is desirable in principle is irrelevant. The processes you’d like to see need to be implemented locally, not at the state level.

  25. “How do you compel teachers to improve without extrinsic incentives for good teaching or disincentives for lousy teaching? I don’t get this.”

    @ddmeyer we’ve got to train & recruit teachers & education leaders who think about teaching as public service & not just as a “job.”

  26. Forget automatic triggers due to performance: it’s not a mystery at any school who is at the extreme lower end (the such-bad-teachers-they-should-lose-their-license). It’s just that (in general) there’s nothing principals can do about it.

    I hence consider coming up with an incentive for good teaching and a disincentive for lousy teaching a separate issue.

  27. @Tom: This is the last I’ll belabor the point but – whether it’s at the state or local level – there needs to be a mechanism for addressing grievance, a process which is not “ongoing,” a process which is case-by-case. And yeah, this process would be much less costly (and much more effective) at a local level but as long as organized educators don’t uncrank their vise-grip a few inches, this will not happen.

    I can’t believe how quickly I turn into my neocon parents on this one.

  28. @Vincent: I realize that’s the 140-char response you tweeted earlier, so can you elaborate? “Public service” sounds like “mission field work,” a model which doesn’t adapt itself fast enough for education.

    @Jason, fine, I’m interested in hearing you consider them separately.

  29. Given the parameters you’re describing, I agree with you, Dan. (Tom just had a heart attack.)

    I’ve seen some teachers in schools that had no business teaching kids. And the problem is that in many cases, they bounce from school to school… often time from bad school to worse school until they either find a place where they aren’t the worst problem or they find an admin who is so overwhelmed that they can’t find a way (or the time) to get rid of them.

    Every school has a way to rate a teacher unsatisfactory, which then has a long review process. Perhaps there should be a trigger for every teacher who is removed from a school for unsatisfactory performance, such that there is an investigation of whether or not the offense was so egregious as to make them lose their license with the state.

  30. Dan,
    FYI–Iowa Dept of Ed developed Teacher Standards about five years ago. Eight standards with FORTY-TWO “criteria” which fall under those standards. We are required every three years to demonstrate compentency for ALL FORTY-TWO criteria through the development of a professional portfolio. Honestly. although good “in theory”, it’s become yet ONE more hoop to jump through. (

    If the administrator evaluating ALL FORTY-TWO criteria in said portfolio (and having to go through ALL FORTY-TWO for EVERY faculty member) doesn’t really take the time to thoroughly examine each artifact and discuss it’s worthiness, what’s gained? A waste of time for teachers who are already constantly searching to improve, and a portfolio full of BS from those just doing it to get it done and trying to get it done by 3:45 so they can get out of the building.

    I feel your pain and frustration (wrote a blog about aliterate [able to read, but chosing not to] teachers that TEACH READING!–Can’t believe that is happening all over the country!!). What I’m wondering is what can we do to erradicate those half-hearted teachers BEFORE they get their license? How did those people even GET a license to work with young people in the FIRST place? What can we do to make sure those applying for the license are truly qualified??

    Hmmm… Seems to me to be more a problem of humanity, than just of education.

  31. Chris,

    I wouldn’t be against that kind of system — that gets the relationship between the state and local levels right. After you lose your job, you might lose your license.

    I can, however, see the subsequent post on The Quick and the Ed:

    Pennsylvania’s year old system for de-certifying teachers has rooted out… 8 incompetent teachers in the whole state. Problem solved!

    The underlying problem is that no matter what the rules, principals have to carefully weigh how much time, energy and political capital they want to devote to getting rid of lousy teachers. Raising the stakes by adding decertification to the mix will only increase the pressure to not try to get rid of a teacher. I just don’t see more bureacracy solving the problem.

    Is there a way in PA to get a record of where applicants have taught before without relying on the applicant’s references? Wouldn’t something like that be sufficient and less intrusive?


    Actually, there is a similar system here in Rhode Island, and having experienced it, I can’t really imagine using it to weed out bad teachers. It is more busy work than evaluation. But you either need something like that, or test scores. Or you’re elevating issues like Chris describes, but I think Dan’s concern is that these things aren’t being handled locally in the first place.

  32. OK So, What about this. A teacher is removed from her position for whatever reasons her principal found egregious enough to warrant the onerous review and removal process. How about at that point, her license is automatically suspended until the teacher proves her effectiveness to the state (using whatever evidence the state deems sufficient)? It wouldn’t solve the problem of the ineffective teachers who do enough that their administrations don’t bother trying to remove them, but at least it would keep the truly horrid from inflicting themselves on another district.

    Outside of that, I still think an overhaul to the whole way we approach PD is in order. Give us meaningful time and tools to improve instruction. Treat this like the demanding profession it truly is, when done well. Assume there is a one best way to teach anything – and find it, refine it, publish it, review it periodically, and (cue the screams of rage) expect people to do it that way.

  33. So Tom is correct above, that Rhee is circumventing the dismissal process by going straight for the license, an overbearing approach which even I can acknowledge will yield unastonishing results.

    Still, the union’s wagon-circling response curries them no favor with me or the rest of the Democratic Party which is splintering alongside its plank on organized labor.

    Which is weird, ’cause union prez George Parker sounds utterly lucid on the next evolution of the teacher’s union in this interview with the National Council on Teacher Quality:

    [The hemorrhaging of DC students from public schools to charters] puts the union in a different light. It’s not just the contract that protects jobs but also student enrollment. We are expanding our professional development because that impacts student achievement and if parents perceive we improve student achievement then we stand a better chance of getting students back who moved to charter schools. The more students we have, the more teachers we can employ, and the more security we can develop in terms of jobs.