This prolonged exchange between E.D. Kain and Atlantic bloggers Sully and McMegan fascinates me. The trajectory of America’s Great Education Reform Conversation, both pre- and post-Waiting for Superman, now seems to have landed us ahead of both the cart and the horse.
As Kain points out, and as many have pointed out along the way, we don’t actually have compelling, widely accepted metrics by which we effectively and consistently evaluate teacher performance — and McArdle isn’t offering or endorsing one, which I suppose defies the point of tapping an economics blogger into a discussion of education reform and teacher evaluation. Value-added assessments are not gospel, and until ed reform advocates can rally around a rough sketch of adequate metrics, I can’t fathom the point of all this teacher talk at the expense of pretty much any other set of education reform proposals. (Not that mankind cannot chew gum and walk all at once, but these debates over teacher quality have sucked so much oxygen from the political environment, and I find that remarkable and disheartening.)
In a dig at Kain, McArdle notes, “It’s fun to be the guy who proposes universal pre-K or smaller class sizes.” But hey — where’s the heavy lift in suggesting that we should hire good teachers and fire bad ones, especially when you’ve yet to define or suggest, despite much prodding, what adequate teaching looking like?
The false flag in the sustained focus on teachers is thus: citing cases of extreme teacher malfeasance as a broad explanation of how making teachers easier to fire will produce better education outcomes and better-equipped students. There are, of course, countless rubber room anecdotes to bolster the case that there are some teachers who should obviously be fireable and should obviously be fired. Right on — but what about less dramatic, actually contentious examples? What about teachers that a principal or district may want to quantify as inadequate despite not being this guy?
Put simply: if you haven’t discerned what makes teachers ideally hirable in the first place, or even what makes teachers basically “good” or “bad” at teaching (aside from obvious qualities, like “not groping children”), then what is the point of launching this conversation in terms of firing teachers?
If your stock profile of a bad teacher is one who molests children, I’m here to politely suggest that you’re not offering much to work with (again, aside from the obvious). Likewise, if your profile of an effective teacher is sketched onto a Scantron sheet, I’m just not sure what to suggest to you at all.