Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A very old house

Jay Matthew’s looks at staffing our schools. He uses DC KIPP as an example where the principal had to fire 2 teachers because they were disorganized and were not improving even after coaching. He is correct in imagining the nightmare that would result if the teachers were left in place. Students in those classes would suffer academically and it would be very difficult to get them back on track.

I don’t think DC KIPP is alone. In the education world, or in any other world, there is a good chance that 10% of your staff is not going to work out. The problem in education is that we are looking at 3.2 million teachers which means that 320,000 teachers need to be replaced right now. Even more depressing is that it means that 6.4 million students are being adversely affected because we cannot replace those teachers.

But education is like owning a very old house. When you go to do a seemingly simple repair, it ends up requiring a ton of work and a ton of money. When you go to fix a simple hole in the wall you find the insulation is gone, the wood is rotting and the plaster is cracked.

In the KIPP example there is a great principal who knows what to look for in a great teacher and is spending time in the classroom understanding the dynamics of that environment. Sadly, we cannot assume that every school has that same leadership. In order for us to be able to accomplish this wholesale replacement of 10% of the workforce, we have to have good tools to observe the teacher and we have to have principals trained on using those tools.

Looking at firing two teachers in order to ensure students have a great year seems like a great solution to take to scale. But in order to do that we have to fix the principals and we have to find a great tool to give them to help fix teaching. That would require a ton more work and probably a ton more money.

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