Better schools? Fire more teachers

Recently in Slate, John Fisman wrote about the great difficulty in predicting who will be a good teacher and who will not be.  Unfortunately, it seems almost impossible to predict whether one will be a quality teacher based on information prior to any actual teaching experience.  Thus, the only way to separate out good from bad teachers is to fire the bad ones after that point has been made manifest from their actual teaching.  Alas, teachers unions generally don't approve of bad teachers (alright, any teachers) being fired.  Hence a problem.  Fisman profiles a New York City school which saw dramatic improvement when the principal ran off all the bad teachers– but the teachers were not fired, just transferred to other schools. 

The proffered solution: teacher apprenticeship:

What if there were a way to screen out the bad teachers before
they get entrenched? Currently, New York City teachers get their union
cards their first day on the job. In theory they're on probation for
three years after that, but in practice very few are forced out.
Lombardi suggests replacing this system with an apprenticeship program.
Rather than requiring teaching degrees (which don't seem to improve
value-added all that much), new recruits would have a couple of years
of in-school training. There would then come a day of reckoning, when
teachers-to-be would face a serious evaluation before securing union
membership and a job for life.

Lombardi's proposal isn't without its problems and complications: What
would the effect be on the morale of older teachers? Would the teachers
unions ever agree to such a system? But none seems insurmountable.
Researchers Kane and Staiger, together with coauthor Robert Gordon, have also suggested an apprenticelike system and have put forth a detailed proposal on how to implement it.

Sound fair to me.  I got six years to prove to NC State that I was worth keeping my job.  Though, in all honestly, I don't know that I necessarily deserve lifetime job security based on those six years.  Not that I'm complaining.  Anyway, I digress.  Fisman sums up with why this really matters:

We live in an age of increasing inequality. While it's not fair to park
the problem of global inequities at the doorstep of teachers unions,
the continued floundering of public education in America is at least
partly to blame: Education is an awfully good predictor of future earnings,
and keeping bad teachers in classrooms filled with kids from poor
families certainly helps to reinforce the cycle of poverty. The
difference between a teacher in the 25th percentile (a very good teacher) and one at the 75th
percentile (a not very good teacher) translates into a 10 percentile
point difference in their students' test scores. (As a frame of
reference, on the SAT, 10 percentile points translates into an 80 or so
point difference in raw test score.) After a string of good teachers or
bad teachers, it's easy to see how you can end up with very wide gaps
in student achievement. And this is all the more tragic since at least
part of the answer?doing a better job of evaluating and selecting
teachers?is readily at hand.

The whole article (it's pretty brief) is really worth your time.

The New Yorker cover

Wow.  I'm really shocked by the hysterical, overheated reaction to this week's New Yorker cover.

Fortunately, some cooler heads at Slate and Salon have prevailed and deconstructed how ridiculous all this overreaction is.  First, Salon's Gary Kamiya:

It's official: The Bush era has made liberals so terrified of
right-wing smears it has caused them to completely lose their sense of

Much as I hate to repeat one of Rush Limbaugh's flat, stale and
unprofitable applause lines, that's the only conclusion I can draw
after witnessing the left-wing blogosphere's bizarre reaction to the
New Yorker cover depicting Barack Obama in the Oval Office as a
dishdasha-clad Muslim terrorist, exchanging a “terrorist fist jab” with
Michelle Obama, who is dressed like a latter-day Angela Davis with huge
'fro, combat boots, assault rifle and bandolier of bullets — while
Osama bin Laden looks approvingly on from a picture frame and an
American flag burns merrily in the presidential fireplace. To judge
from the reaction of much of the left, you'd think that New Yorker
editor David Remnick had morphed into some kind of hideous hybrid of
Roger Ailes and Roland Barthes and was waging an insidious Semiotic War
against Obama.

 I don't know what lugubrious planet these people are on, but I
definitely don't want any of them writing material for Jon Stewart.

and Slate's Jack Shafer:

Although every critic of the New Yorker understood the
simple satire of the cover, the most fretful of them worried that the
illustration would be misread by the ignorant masses who don't
subscribe to the magazine. Los Angeles Times blogger Andrew Malcolm wrote,
“That's the problem with satire. A lot of people won't get the joke. Or
won't want to. And will use it for non-humorous purposes, which isn't
the New Yorker's fault.” Malcolm continues in this vein,
calling it a “problem” that “there's no caption on the cover to ensure
that everyone” will understand the punch line.

Here's ABC News' Jake Tapper singing the harmony line:

factors into these matters, of course, but no Upper East Side
liberal?no matter how superior they feel their intellect is?should
assume that just because they're mocking such ridiculousness, the
illustration won't feed into the same beast in emails and other media.
It's a recruitment poster for the right-wing.

on the press to protect the common man from the potential corruptions
of satire is a strange, paternalistic assignment for any journalist to
give his peers, but that appears to be what The New Yorker's
detractors desire. I don't know whether to be crushed by that
realization or elated by the notion that one of the most elite journals
in the land has faith that Joe Sixpack can figure out a damned picture
for himself…

Only weak thinkers fear strong images. The
publication that convenes itself as a polite dinner party, serving only
strained polenta and pureed peas, need not invite me to sup.

Not much too add beyond what these two have said, but I honestly feel like the liberal blogosphere– a place I have come to rely upon for the smartest political analysis out there– really embarrassed itself on this one.

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