Why Quality is a Problem in America’s Schools

by Sal on March 8, 2010

in Politics

The free market is a wonderful thing.  Companies that are run effectively usually succeed, and companies that are run haphazardly or inefficiently tend to fail.  The free market weeds out the bad companies (unless of course, the bad company has a labor union or is “too big to fail” and obtains a government bailout – but I digress) and rewards the good companies.  This same principle trickles down to individual workers as well.  Workers who excel and help their company succeed are rewarded, while those whose job performance is sub-par do not, and indeed are often let go.

This same cycle that exists everywhere else, however, does not exist in the American school system.  Before I continue, let me just state that I have the ultimate respect for teachers.  They have to put up with a lot that we in corporate America don’t even dream of – poor parents, drugs, violence, apathy, etc.  There are also far more good teachers than bad teachers.  The fact remains, however, that just like in any other profession, there are excellent teachers, good teachers, and poor teachers.  Unless you want to believe that the teaching profession is somehow “more pure” than every other profession out there, and that there are not really poor teachers, just like there are poor lawyers, (and poor software engineers, poor accountants, etc.), then you must accept this fact.

Once you accept that fact, take this into account.  A recent Newsweek article illustrates that the rate of firing teachers with cause is far below the national average of other professions.  Take New York City, which has 30,000 tenured teachers, yet only dismissed three for cause in 2008.  In Chicago, the termination rate of teachers is 0.1 percent, in Toledo it’s 0.01 percent, and in Denver and many other cities, it is 0 percent.  Why does this happen?  There are several reasons.

First, the teacher’s unions promise a heavy legal battle anytime anyone is terminated without cause, potentially costing the cities and towns tens of thousands of dollars simply to fire a single teacher.  Second, the current administrational structure of most schools does not lend itself to a good management-teacher relationship.  The single “principal” structure and lack of middle-management can lead to cronyism without any kind of checks-and-balances.  Third, there is virtually no incentive for self-improvement among apathetic teachers.  In most jobs, a manager can come to an employee and tell them that they are not meeting performance expectations, and need to shape up or ship out.  In most cases, that type of ultimatum can motivate an apathetic employee into at least a moderately successful one.  Because the threat is real, it can have an impact.  With no such threat with teeth in our public school system, teachers who are apathetic can remain so without consequence.

The Newsweek article also illustrates how innovation in education hiring practices along with incentives can improve the prospect of education, even among inner city kids who don’t have supportive parents.  We need to take a long, hard look at our education system and come up with creative ideas.  The teacher’s unions have been “innovating” and trying new things for a generation now, with no results.  It’s time we took a fresh look at public education, and apply free market principles to it in order to attempt to bring our education system back on par with the rest of the world.

H/T: Patriot Room

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ryan March 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

As a public high school teacher in a decent suburban town, I have always believed that teacher unions do NOTHING to help the integrity of the teaching profession when they put up severe legal hurdles to firing bad teachers.

There are definitely bad teachers. If a serious issue arises, they should be warned, go before a committee, then weeded out if need be. There are plenty of young prospective teachers who’d LOVE to take the place of an apathetic tenured teacher of thirty years who “retired into the profession” 27 years prior, or is a teacher who merely has become “a coach who happens to teach.” Clear the debris! The problem is that “tenure hearings” are in nearly every contract, but they are rarely ever enforced; hence the the perception (and reality) that union lawyers protect bad teachers.


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