The Eager Replacements

Tom Hoffman:

I always felt like teachers like the one portrayed in the article — who understand and relate to their students, who are past the basics of classroom management, who are committed to teaching over the long haul, but are pedagogically not very sophisticated — are the key test for urban school administration and professional development. In the long run, you have to be able to reach those people, they have to be your foundation, or you are screwed. The idea that you’re going to fix your school system by laying these people off first, is, like Russo says, “particularly goofy.” As is the idea that giving these folks financial incentives will improve their instruction.

The weirdest single moment of the Michelle Rhee Q&A I attended last week at the Graduate School of Business came after she reported enthusiastically that nearly 1,000 teachers “were being moved out” at the end of this school year. (That’s a euphemism couched in the passive voice, for anyone keeping score.) Someone behind me asked where her successor planned to find their replacements and whether or not her own policies have had the unintended effect of discouraging recruitment. Her answer was “more merit pay.”

The results of this experiment will be in shortly, right?

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. These experiments don’t seem to have results, instead they’ll have new plans instead. They’re never wrong (at least the version of this in my smaller urban district), they’re just one step away from the real silver bullet. Even if the last three or four didn’t work and in several cases made things worse.

  2. The question that comes to my mind is, what harm does the teacher portrayed in this article actually do to the students he is trying to teach? Is it outweighed by the good he does by being a committed and caring educator? Or is the good so minimal due to his (perceived) ineffectiveness that he deserves to be canned?

  3. I think Rhee’s plan has a lot of value, but research has proven time and again that merit pay isn’t the answer.

    Rhee’s plan is fairly detailed, concrete, and based on educational best practices. However, it has teachers up for dismissal after only one year of poor scores and five observations, only two of which are from a master teacher.

    I think that instead of having teachers “moved out,” The evaluation system should take more years and have many more observations, combined with modeling from a master teacher as needed. It would also be nice to incorporate peer observations somehow, to better foster a collaborative professional community.

  4. It seems to me that the real weakness of this system is the limited set of criteria against which the teacher is judged.

    I would think that all teachers would agree that creating learner-centred environments, engaging learners, following the lesson plan and so on are valid, useful criteria for judging the quality of a teacher’s work. But if the judgements are made after a single observation by one person, the system has holes you could drive a truck through.

    Isn’t there a way to include multiple sources of data, including samples of students’ actual bookwork, externally administered surveys of parents, interviews with students, and so on, to gather a picture of the “whole teacher”? There are critical and significant markers for judging teacher performance, but these judgements should not be made quickly with limited data.

  5. I’m always curious about the effectiveness of the newbies mentor. How involved was the student’s mentor in the improvement of the teacher? What interventions were implemented to help the teacher grow? Was the teacher provided appropriate improvement strategies? Was the teacher given an opportunity to observe a “master” teacher on a regular basis? Did the mentor and teacher share a planning time?

    When a new teacher fails, the mentor should take some of the blame if proper documentation does not exist. I have known teachers who served in the role of mentor… in title only. They were too wrapped up in their own jobs to extend their expertise with their mentee.

    Merit pay will not work to create effective teachers. All too often, criteria for merit pay is overwhelmingly subjective. The “plan” does what it is intended to do. Keep a consistent rollover of teachers to reduce the cost to districts. I know it’s a union line. I wish the bureaucrats would turn that critical eye toward themselves and see that they are a large part of the problem. (sorry for my digression)

    Becoming an effective teacher takes time. People need time to grow into the profession and like students, they need the proper environment in which to grow.

  6. @Alex research has proven time and again that merit pay isn’t the answer.

    Could you give some links? (I wrote about a study here and here where merit pay seemed to have an impact when done as a scientific study with a control group and so forth.) I don’t necessarily support merit pay I do not know of any studies that definitely demonstrate (without being too entangled with other factors) their lacking status.

  7. @Luke: This is a good one, thank you.

    The other point often raised about merit pay is it is macro- rather than micro-. That is, economic incentive doesn’t necessarily affect those already in a job, but can attract new people who wouldn’t otherwise be swayed. The only way to find out if this is true in education, I fear, is to watch if the Rhee plan crashes and burns.

  8. I think these experiments will do exactly what they are intended to do: save money.

    Anything other reasoning proposed in the media is just lipstick on a pig.

  9. Nobody serious about education believes Michelle Rhee. She’s just a high end tool. She’s said 1) teachers without tenure would be making six figures by year 7 and 2) she doesn’t believe in longevity in teaching . Writing on the wall… give up tenure, we’ll pay you a bit more and we’ll remove you just as you get expensive. Teaching not as a career but as a short term public service assignment undertaken by naive recent grads on their way to other industries.