Hanushek & Ravitch Debate Firing the Worst Teachers

˙ PREAL Blog

This post is also available in: Spanish

Eduwonk recently hosted an online debate between Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and New York University education historian Diane Ravitch on the pros and cons of dismissing the lowest-performing teachers in U.S. schools.

In his two posts, Hanushek argues that replacing the bottom 5-10 percent of teachers with average teachers would raise the test scores of American students at least to the level of Canada and perhaps to the level of Finland. While acknowledging the importance of improving policies to hire and retain the best teachers, he maintains that none of these policies have been successful at improving the least effective teachers. Moving a bad teacher out of a school serving disadvantaged students, he argues, is not a bad thing, and would raise the prestige of the profession. Hanushek also points out that research shows that teacher evaluations by principals and by test scores both tend to identify the same teachers at the top (outstanding) and bottom (highly deficient) of the distributions, reducing the risk that either approach would lead to firing good teachers.

In her two posts, Ravitch responds that while she agrees that bad teachers should be fired, doing so will not necessarily drastically raise student performance and she doubts that evaluation systems are accurate enough to avoid firing good teachers by mistake. She suggests that teachers who are fired will be replaced by inexperienced teachers who need intensive support and training. She argues that instead, efforts should focus on raising teacher hiring standards and creating a positive work environment to ensure that the best teachers will remain in the profession. “We should aim to build the profession, not to make it more insecure and less professional.”

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