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The Cost of Bad Teachers

DISCLAIMER:
Please know this post was intended to share a single leadership principle. I am concerned by some comments that I miscommunicated my point. It is simply that we need criteria in any industry that allows leaders to measure effectiveness and that every business—including education—must allow for team members that don’t perform to be dismissed. We do not agree with how California handled the teacher tenure ruling. My intent was to encourage us to think about solutions.

Let me ask you a question: Can you imagine a world where doctors, who are simply pitiful at practicing medicine, get to keep their jobs as physicians? Or where CEO’s, who can’t lead a company into a fair profit margin, get to remain as CEO, regardless of their unacceptable performance?

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens in the education industry when it comes to “teacher tenure”. What began as a positive practice to protect gifted and effective teachers has become a thorn in the side of school districts across the country. Ineffective faculty members get to keep their jobs, regardless of their poor performance in the classroom. It’s a “job guarantee” that takes away incentive for many…

…until recently in California.

According to a CNN article recently posted by Michael Martinez:

“A California judge ruled as unconstitutional Tuesday the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws, saying they keep bad teachers in the classroom and force out promising good ones. Poor and minority students are especially hurt by the laws because ‘grossly ineffective teachers’ more often work in their schools, Los Angeles County Judge Rolf M. Treu said. The ruling was hailed by the nation’s top education chief as bringing to California–and possibly the nation–an opportunity to build ‘a new framework for the teaching profession.’ The decision represented ‘a mandate’ to fix a broken teaching system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.”

This has sparked all kinds of debate across the country. Teacher’s Unions have filed an appeal, but parents are not budging. They want good teachers “in” and bad teachers “out.” It makes sense. But even if you don’t care about “tenure”, let me offer a compelling argument from an economic standpoint.

The Price of a Poor Teacher

increase student engagement

“The effect of bad teachers on students shocks the conscience,” the judge wrote. He cited how one expert testified that a single year in a classroom with a bad teacher costs pupils $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom. One expert called by the defendants estimated there are as many as 8,250 “grossly ineffective” teachers in the state, the judge said.

Reflect for a moment on your years as a student. Do you remember the really bad teachers and the really good ones? I bet you do. We usually remember the extremes. I believe both actually impact the trajectory of kids’ lives. My career path was directly impacted by adults who invested in me as a student and, as a result, inspired me to want to work with students for the rest of my life. And the uninspiring faculty? Ugh. Who knows how much they steal kids’ aspirations. During a child’s most moldable years, we often stick them with a boring, uninspired teacher who hates their job, and it shows. What’s more, they are poor at it. Everyone loses, especially the kids.

So why don’t schools fire bad teachers? Often, the teachers union won’t let them. And even if a case could be made against an ineffective teacher, it just costs too much to get rid of them. The red tape, anguish, fighting and expense are too high. “Firing a bad teacher could take anywhere from two to almost 10 years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more,” Judge Treu said.

So, let’s have a conversation. It seems to me that our nation was built upon a free enterprise system. In almost every industry, jobs are created and sustained based upon supply and demand. If we take that away, the system becomes skewed and unhealthy. I recognize there are some exceptions to the rule. But the rule is: Both workers and leaders must find a place where they add value to an organization, and this is no less true in education. In fact, it should especially be true when it comes to preparing our children to become the next generation of adult leaders.

This is What I Believe About Human Nature…

1. We are at our very best when we have both the opportunity to succeed and fail.

2. Without the guarantee of tenure, I will strive to find a job in my strength area.

3. I have incentive to keep improving when I know I must work to keep my job.

4. I become the best version of myself when I must give my very best each day.

5. In the end, the students lose and the faculty gains with teacher tenure.

Talk to me. Am I missing something here?

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The Cost of Bad Teachers