If the Vergara decision holds, schools will be able to turf out extremely ineffective teachers. How much difference this makes depends on the answer to a couple of hard questions.
- Under the existing rules, schools in California have a year or two to let teachers go with not a lot of fuss. Apparently, they don’t do it (at least not much). What makes anyone think giving management more time to make the decision will lead to a sudden increase in toughness on the part of school leadership?
- If really terrible teachers are let go, are we sure that we can replace them with much better teachers? Why didn’t we hire better teachers in the first place? Is it impossible to judge teacher quality without putting teachers in front of a class for several years? We can’t even identify applicants who turn out to be disasters when they hit the classroom?
One piece of evidence on these questions is that Washington, D.C. has had a system for several years that pushes out the very bottom of the teacher pool. D.C. has been turfing about 2 percent of teachers each year. So perhaps California will as well. So far as I know there hasn’t been a full, published evaluation of the D.C. experiment.
At the same time, the rationale behind the Vergara case wasn’t that getting rid of a few bad apples would improve education overall. The argument was that the worst teachers were disproportionately assigned to teacher poor and minority students. (Exactly those students most in need of good teachers.) Whether Vergara leads to an overall improvement, it does seem likely to help some kids on the bottom of the educational barrel.
Next time: Dollar estimates of cutting out the worst teachers.