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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

The study heard 'round the nation: Firing your way to excellence



Who says education researchers have to labor in obscurity? That's certainly not the case with Eric Hanushek, an economist and senior fellow at Stanford University's conservative Hoover Institution.

His big idea -- that America could vault to the top of global education rankings if you just fire the bottom-performing five to 10 percent of teachers and replace them with average teachers -- is getting lots of mileage these days.

Just yesterday, former  D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee endorsed it in testimony before a state Senate education panel.

"It drives effective teachers crazy when there is somebody working next to them that is not pulling their own weight and when they inherit a group of kids the following year that are several grade levels behind because somebody didn't do their job," she said.

Of course, the idea has stirred up a lot of chatter in the blogosphere.

Hanushek calculates that an effective teacher generates $400,000 per year in future student earnings, compared to an average teacher. But such numbers presume that you can consistently hire better teachers than the ones you're getting rid of, writes Matthew DiCarlo, senior fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute.

"The simulation does not entail a one-time layoff," he said. It would require dismissing the bottom five to 10 percent of teachers "permanently."

"Let’s stick with meaningful conversations about how to identify, improve, and, failing that, remove ineffective teachers," DiCarlo concludes, sounding a lot like Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who has repeatedly said that you "cannot fire your way to excellence."

Unfortunately we can't share the full text of Hanushek's forthcoming paper in the Economics of Education Review since it's copyrighted. But here's the 2008 study that started the whole conversation.

"What stands out," Hanushek writes, "is that relatively modest changes in the bottom end of the distribution have enormous implications for the nation.

"It is unlcear why we permit a small group of teachers to do such large damage," he added. "The vast majority of teachers are effective. They are able to compete with teachers virtually anyplace else in the world. Yet these effective teachers are lumped in with a small group of completely ineffective teachers, who are permitted to continue year after year in doing damage."

What do you think? Does Hanushek have the right idea, or is this just another form of teacher bashing?

[Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011 4:25pm]


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