Which Teachers Do Principles Fire?

One of the more outlandish ideas tacitly tossed about in the education reform debate is the notion that making it easier to fire teachers will somehow lead to excellent teachers being “accidentally” fired as a result of misguided metrics. Given the care that goes into crafting education policy, it’s an absurd claim, but if you need more evidence there’s a new study that looks at firings in the aftermath of a 2004 collective bargaining agreement that gave Chicago principals carte blanche to fire teachers.

With the cooperation of the CPS, I matched information on all teachers who were eligible for dismissal with records indicating which teachers were dismissed. With these data, I estimate the relative weight that school administrators place on a variety of teacher characteristics. I find evidence that principals do consider teacher absences and value-added measures, along with several demographic characteristics, in determining which teachers to dismiss.

With all the opportunity in the world to screw up, principles decided to fire the teachers who…had the poorest attendance records and lowest effectiveness ratings. The principles also tended to fire teachers who had less experience and who had previously been fired.

One could raise doubts about the accuracy of the effectiveness ratings in question, but my point is that even with few guidelines principals seemed to have done a pretty good job identifying which teachers to fire. Evaluating the effectiveness of a teacher is clearly more complex than evaluating the effectiveness of a paper towel, but the implication that a teacher is some kind of nebulous vortex that transcends human judgment is absurd. Anybody who claims that a carefully constructed qualitative and quantitative evaluation in the hands of capable administrators will do more harm than good shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Jacob, B. (2011). Do Principals Fire the Worst Teachers? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33 (4), 403-434 DOI: 10.3102/0162373711414704


3 Responses to Which Teachers Do Principles Fire?

  1. Jared says:

    Interesting post, although there is sentence which raises an issue, “carefully constructed qualitative and quantitative evaluation in the hands of capable administrators”

    Here in New Zealand we have the unfortunate Anne Tolley, our governments education minister with absolutely no experience in education. She introduced National standards and league tables into our education system. The idea being that the children would be tested against the national standards to show where they are lacking, and the league tables to identify the best and worst schools.

    In this case the league tables are inevitably going to show that lower socio-economic areas have poorer quality schools. This is because of the lack of funding, but additionally people living in poverty do not care about their child’s education as much as parents from a higher income family. The children are already disadvantaged from growing up in an environment which does not value education, but also the lack of funding makes it difficult to give these kids, probably the most in need, a decent education. This will reflect unfairly on the teachers in these schools.

    I’m not saying that bad teachers shouldn’t be fired, but our experience with Anne Tolley has shown that relying on “carefully constructed qualitative and quantitative evaluation in the hands of capable administrators” is a bit fanciful.

  2. erichorow says:

    What happened in New Zealand sounds unfortunate — when I wrote “carefully constructed” that implied SES would be taken into account.

    • Jared says:

      Yes unfortunately the whole national standards/league tables have been introduced against any credible evidence, and it was not well thought through. It is essentially forced on the teachers. Any schools which refuse to comply have their board of trustees removed and a government commissioner put in place. How draconian. It is really taking education back decades of progress. But then it all depends on the government in place at the time.

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