Fire Every Teacher

I saw the above debate this morning. It’s pretty entertaining. It seemed (and I don’t know this for a fact since I didn’t time it) that Anderson Cooper was giving Steve Perry a bit more time to talk than Randi Weingarten, but the question is interesting–what do you do about a school that is somehow failing?

In general, I would agree with Steve Perry. When groups don’t perform, it’s sometimes best just to change the leaders and/or players, and with a cut for those making above $72k a year in a poor school district, you’re most likely going to take out leaders. Shutting the school down isn’t necessarily a bad thing either; if people associate a school with failure, it may be most efficient just to start over again. At the very least, it will send a message to underperforming teachers and difficult teaching unions.

That being said, kids are a long-term investment. I think it’s hard to give people money and then expect things to change overnight. Especially with schools, longevity and loyalty are good things. Kids ought to feel that their school will be there for them. Loyalty to schools is different from loyalty to, say, one’s favorite clothing brand. It’s a hard, multifaceted issue.

Thoughts?

15 thoughts on “Fire Every Teacher

  1. As a teacher, I don’t mind the sentiment – some teachers sadly fit the stereotype of the under-performing, outdated, and uncaring tyrant in the classroom. Whether they’re a 10+ year veteran or newbie, sure, there needs to be a process to fire them. That’s easy for most people to talk about.

    What’s uncomfortable for people to consider?

    The irresponsibility of some parents / families when it comes to how they raise their children. Education starts at home.

    Show me a failing school, and I’ll show you failing students with failing families in failing communities. There’s plenty of blame to pass around.

  2. I agree with the above commenter. Most educational flaws begin at home. Failing schools do not necessarily have failing parents. Often times, especially in the state of Florida, failing schools have failing resources. When a teacher has little motivation to improve the courses because the funds just aren’t there to support that teacher, what do you expect to happen?

  3. The difference between a failing home and a failing school is the local property owners don’t feel a pinch when the home increases its budget.

    If kids are long-term investments, then we should see investors swarming all over the problem, creating amazing private schools all over the plac. We don’t see this because private schools have to compete with free schools funded by property taxes, effectively removing lower-income customers. Hence, private schools are incredibly expensive, and they’re not as diverse.

    If we offset property taxes with vouchers to private schools, there’s a chance public schools would shut down, ushering in a market for discounted private schools. Running a private school only marginally better than a public school would be incredibly cheap for any intelligent admin, generating a pretty profit for the school and putting an end to our terrible public schooling system. Phase out the tax AND the vouchers, which are the same dollar amount, and low-income parents are still sending their kids to school.

    But this means laying off not just the teachers, but all the awful administrators who can’t run a school to save their lives. It probably won’t happen, since they’d be laughed out of an interview for any position at a private school. If public school administrators control where money is directed, then public schooling is here to stay.

  4. Thanks, guys! I always feel somewhat unqualified to speak on this issue since I’m not a teacher. I’m sure it’s a combination of lots of different factors that contribute to failing schools, especially when these schools are located in poor areas. Actually, I think failing schools are usually located in poor areas.

    Related to what Eric says, private schools tend to be really good, but they’re ridiculously expensive for obvious reasons–if you have, say, a 1 to 5 teacher-to-student ratio, each student has to pay at least 20% of a teacher’s salary, plus rent on the building, insurance, school supplies, and whatever else. In most private schools, tuition doesn’t cover everything; each student is typically subsidized in some form or another. They usually make up the difference through fundraisers, endowments, etc. They practice what Steve Perry is preaching, in that they run their schools like a business. If a private school teacher isn’t cutting it, those school boards will cut that teacher without a second thought. It helps them to do well.

    Then again, I guess it’s easier to get things done in the first place if your school has money. Rich public schools tend to be just as good, if not better, than many rich private schools.

  5. Upper-class neighborhoods do have better public schools, perhaps because of the income, or the kids there are smarter, it’s hard to know. Maybe it’s the weather there. Regardless the answer isn’t in mimicking the way upper-class districts operate, since sticking money into the problematic schools obviously isn’t working. Any real fixes to this issue are far too controversial to get anyone elected or appointed to supervisory positions in districts, so I can’t imagine firing some teachers is going to make any lasting improvements.

  6. One of the problems (in any school) is the compensation /career path for teachers. Teachers who are talented and do an excellent job instructing kids, have only one path to making more money—leave the kids and the classroom, and become a principal or administrator.

    This same problem exists in many businesses, people who are truly good at a job must leave that job and become a manager in order to move up to the next tier of compensation. But, of course, being a teacher and being in charge of other teachers is a totally different skill set. Just like being a good salesman and being in charge of 20 salesman is totally different.

    This is patently illogical. Compensation and authority are not the same thing, and are not even naturally related. If you have a teacher who is great as a teacher, pay them a great salary. If there is someone who is good at managing people, then give them authority and responsibility doing just that. Leave good teachers in the classroom, and hire good administrators to manage people. And if it happens that a really excellent teacher makes more than the principal or administrators… so what??

    P.S.
    Bad teachers should, of course, be fired!

  7. Question: Would subsidizing blue collar jobs help boost property values in poor neighborhoods, and therefore help create greater property taxes to pay for schools? I know, it’s probably not sustainable. But it seems like the problems of poor schools come from poverty, either through poor schools or poor parents.

    King, good point about administrators. The only thing I might say is that some teachers get paid very well. Not all, but some. Think about it: $72k as a teacher in a POOR school? That’s probably more than twice the household income as some of the students. Plus they work nine months a year, without that extra 25 minutes that Steve Perry mentioned.

  8. Yes, I suppose you’re right about teacher salaries. These days, they’re not that bad, in comparison to other jobs out there. But my point is more toward comparisons within their own academic hierarchy. It still follows that if principals and other administrators make even more money than do teachers, then teachers can only make more by leaving their classrooms.

  9. Subsidizing lower-income families’ homes in any way (via labor or direct subsidy) could raise property values in those neighborhoods, yes. But if all you’re looking to do is raise property value in lower-income areas, then this solves nothing. So not only are bad homes now more expensive, but now you’ve artificially raised the prices of good homes too. This doesn’t create wealth, it just inflates prices.

    You’re talking about a way to “create” money by artificially raising property prices, and thus derive more tax money to channel into local schools. I don’t see how this benefits the “right” people, since you’ll be incentivizing laborers to enroll in this new welfare program that subsidizes their work. But by its nature it can’t enroll everyone, and those who aren’t enrolled face higher property taxes. So it’s a wash.

    Additionally, people who are only marginally white-collar workers would be incentivized to take up a less skilled, blue-collar job. If the person’s new blue-collar salary + labor subsidy is greater than their white-collar salary, then they switch to blue-collar labor. We’ve just subsidized less productive work.

    You could cut out some bureaucracy by just taking the labor subsidy and plugging it straight into the school, which would make it more cost-effective, but we do this already. So your idea is basically a budget increase with more bureaucracy. It’s still just moving money around a system that is already terribly inefficient. Adding more programs and more administrators to the pile results in a bigger version of the problem we already have.

  10. King,

    Good point, but isn’t there a price point where people get content where they are? Take, for example, an engineering firm or a software firm. Some people just like programming and don’t feel like managing people. The pay is less, but does one really feel stress if one makes, say, $80k a year vs. $100k? I know quite a few programmers who hate dealing with other people.

    Eric,

    I’m coming into this with the idea that it may or may not be sustainable. However, boosting the salaries of people wouldn’t just raise property values. It would improve all parts of life.

    It’s been more or less proven that the best schools have lots of parental involvement. If parents weren’t so busy working two or three jobs just to make ends meet, maybe they’d have more time to get involved with their children’s school. There would be more money, more parental involvement, and less stressful family lives. Kids would be able to afford books. Kids would have more food on the table, thereby ensuring that they would be able to concentrate on schoolwork.

    I don’t know if white collar workers are more productive. I’ve known some really, really useless white collar types. When you have a computer and internet, it’s easy to be useless. Although I will say that I’ve met some lazy blue collar types as well.

  11. You’re talking about stimulating the economy then, which you’re admitting is not sustainable. But it’s like every subsidy. Even if you want it to end, the recipients do not. How do you realistically phase out a program that people have grown to depend on?

    White collar work is higher-paid work because the definition of white-collar work is that it’s more productive than blue-collar work. If it were more productive to work with your hands than to sit at a computer, then an assembly line worker would earn more than a robotic arm designer.

  12. “How do you realistically phase out a program that people have grown to depend on?”

    What about how Clinton shut down welfare? It can be done; it just has to be packaged in a way that helps people understand that it’s for the common good. Again, I’m not sure how to make it sustainable. Does this mean that everyone should aim for white collar work?

  13. Clinton didn’t shut down welfare entirely but I see your point. And along your logic I’d say we could theoretically package all paring of entitlements as being for the common good. It’s extremely unlikely though, since despite the paring down of welfare, the minimum wage went up. If entitlements get cut we’ll probably see a corresponding reform where the private sector has to pick up the slack and then some, either through blatant tax hikes or hidden tax hikes like minimum wage, rent control, or inflation.

    Welfare was pared back because it didn’t achieve its desired effect, which was stimulating the low-skilled labor class. So we ended up removing it. It may have helped some people, but in the end it was shown to be overall ineffective. If the stimulus you’re proposing takes that long, it will, in the long run, probably result in the same thing. Maybe worse, like the UK’s public school system. I can’t stress enough how throwing money at the problem, be it through direct subsidy or through inflation, isn’t the right way to make a better home.

    If you’re proposing this on a local level, I have a hard time imagining enough votes for it. It would have to be state or federal level to make any real stimulative effect. As a general rule I think we should avoid income redistribution between people who won’t know each other. Bring back the Friendly Societies. These have been very successful in the past and we still have some today: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendly_society

    But all through history, when technology improves, low-skilled labor is always displaced. The trend has been for those laborers to take on higher-skilled work because A) prices are lower, which saves money so B) businesses can hire the displaced labor to do new things. The unemployment rate has always jittered between roughly 2% and 8%. So 92% to 98% of our labor force has been displaced at some time, and they’ve still picked up new skills to find work. People are resilient. You might argue it’s due to the government. I disagree, and that’s never a good movie plot.

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