|LA Daily News October 31, 2005|
|Firing poor teachers would boost morale|
|Shirley Svorny, Guest columnist
LA Daily News
|The California Teachers Association opposes
Proposition 74, a ballot initiative that would make it easier to fire
teachers in the state.
Campaign advertisements argue that the potential for dismissal will discourage people from entering the profession. And while that may be true for some potential teachers, others would no doubt be encouraged to think about teaching when they learn that they won't have to work in situations where incompetence is tolerated.
Morale suffers when poor teachers remain in place. Pride in your workplace requires that bad teachers be removed. No competent teacher wants her well-prepared students to fall behind because the next teacher doesn't put in the effort or have the skills necessary to teach well. Nor do teachers like inheriting a class that missed key concepts the year before due to teacher incompetence.
If Proposition 74 were to pass, two bad evaluations in a row would be sufficient cause for dismissal. But union worries are unfounded. Principals won't find it easy to arbitrarily dismiss teachers - parents and other teachers would complain loudly, and dismissed teachers are entitled to a review with union representation. No principal needs this.
There wouldn't be wide-scale dismissals of teachers as, given current salaries, it is hard to find and hire qualified replacements. In fact, in some hard-to-hire disciplines such as mathematics or science - and in some hard-to-hire communities - this change in the law is likely to have little effect. It would require substantially higher salaries to attract qualified replacements for every weak teacher in the system.
If we are not willing to raise teachers' salaries and offer merit pay to outstanding teachers, the best we can do is to give principals the power to pull the worst teachers out. What we can expect if Proposition 74 passes is that some seriously incompetent teachers will be dismissed.
Exceptionally weak links will be removed, but most of the improvement will come as teachers, knowing there are consequences to performance reviews, take them more to heart. The atmosphere in schools will change when incompetence is no longer tolerated. Teachers will focus more on learning and assuring that students have the materials they need to learn.
If teachers would no longer have to face incompetent colleagues on a daily basis, there would be a significant improvement in morale. Where morale is high, competent individuals are attracted to teaching and encouraged to stay.
Some teachers are afraid of this proposition. Even many of the best teachers hesitate to be judged by their principal or by a panel of their peers. Teachers who are strict and grade hard may fear that principals will replace them to improve graduation rates or because parents complain. We can't let this fear prevail.
Private companies hire and fire all the time. The situation in public schools is somewhat different, as there is no bottom line to penalize bad decisions, but parent and faculty oversight, as well as standardized test scores, to some extent, would play an important role in assuring that, for the most part, the right decisions would be made.
Proposition 74 has been a long time coming. When Richard Riordan was the mayor of Los Angeles, he expressed his concern time and again about the fact that poor teachers are not fired, just transferred - the dance of the lemons.
Incentives are everything. Being able to fire incompetent teachers is one critical tool to the proper functioning of an educational system. Proposition 74 puts incentives in place that will motivate teachers and improve teaching and learning across the state.
Shirley Svorny is a professor of economics at California State University, Northridge.