Weinberg: Rules requiring struggling schools to replace half their teachers are misguided

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland teacher and Education Report contributor, hopes state and federal education officials pay close attention to a new study about teacher replacement.

Steven WeinbergOne of the most divisive elements of the “turnaround model” being used to improve test score results in many low scoring schools throughout the country, is the requirement that half the teaching staff be replaced.

State and federal projects that funnel increased funding to those schools often require such staff changes, arguing that they are necessary for school improvement, while teacher unions and parents oppose them because of the disruption they create.

Now a study, reported in Education Week, says that provision doesn’t seem to make any difference at all.

The requirement that half the teaching staff of a school be replaced assumed that less effective teachers would be removed and more effective teachers would stay. It does not work that way, according to Michael Hansen of the American Institutes for Research, which has conducted the most complete research on such programs to date. The study looked at 111 chronically low-performing elementary and middle schools in Florida and North Carolina between 2002 and 2008.

According to the Education Week article, Hansen found that “teachers who left schools during improvement were not always the worst performers; in fact, they ran the gamut of effectiveness.”

When a school forced teachers to reapply for their positions, teachers began investigating other positions as a back-up, and some of the teachers, including some of the most effective, who were eventually asked to stay at their original school decided to accept the other positions. “Even when you are trying to fire or counsel out specific teachers, you are going to have high general turnover in these schools and you will have [good] teachers leave anyway,” said Hansen.

Where the “turnaround model” works according to Hansen, it is not a result of getting rid of poor teachers and replacing them with better teachers. What happens is that the increase in funding and professional development helps all teachers, those who stayed and those who are newly-hired, improve their results.

We can only hope that the state and federal government pay attention to this study. By removing the artificial requirement that 50 percent of a teaching staff be replaced, it will allow teachers, parents, and schools to focus on those elements of school improvement plans that actually make a difference.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • 1day at a time

    @Debra “Who says I wasn’t reaching them?”

    Probably this was interpreted as such: >> None of them has come to school one full week with their homework complete.<<

    Dave asked why a teacher who can't handle the situation you describe (since its a yearly pattern), would choose to work in that situation. That's an important question to ask. You seem to rise to the challenge because you're willing to differentiate. Not everyone does, though, and yet they stay in the environment. Confounding.

    Here's the question. If year after year kids are coming into 5th grade 2-3 years behind, why the heck aren't people asking some tough questions of the 1st-4th grade teachers. It would be different if the students all transferred into the school before 5th grade every year… but i think its safe to assume they're usually not new transfers.

    One thing is sure, it's easier differentiate and support in grades 2-4 than it is in 6th-8th.

    Debra, some believe that the teachers below you are all doing an excellent job but, since the kids are poor, there's nothing they can do to learn. They believe you're wasting your time and your family's money by chasing fool's gold.

    Others say the kids can learn and the teachers in grades 1-4 need to step it up.

    Truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Do you ever talk to teachers in previous grades about the student levels? How much harder is your job because kids arent learning basics before your class?

    Most classes have kids coming from a couple different teachers. You see patterns. Mr Jones' kids are always good at division, for example. Is there a class or two where kids usually exit unskilled? If so, what do you do about it? What does the principal do about it?

  • 1day at a time

    OUSD is not a great team because the players (teachers) force the coaches to do all the quality control. On bad teams, the coaches are doing all discipline and monitoring. On great teams, the Players hold each other to high standards and call BS when they see it.

    What does a teacher do when people around them arent cutting it, whether because of burn-out, incompetence, or unwillingness to do what’s required?

    Surely it varies by school, but I want to say this:

    If a teacher sits idly by and says nothing when they KNOW poor teaching is occurring in the building. If a teacher is so disconnected that they dont stand against negligence among their peers – then they are part of the problem.

    Dont understand how people can remain silent when it directly impacts the difficulty of their job and the kids they claim to love.

  • Debora

    Honestly, I can tell from which school and which teachers my students have had and for how long.

    One of the best pieces of advice I got early on was “do not go to the teacher’s lunch room – no – no – no”

    I don’t usually – I take 15 minutes for myself, then work with my students. I tutor, and we talk about problem solving strategies in school and in life.

    Homework is about 10% of a grade. Which means if you aced all tests and you NEVER turned in a piece of homework there is a high liklihod you’d never earn an A. However with 20% of the homework – even 50% of the homework not turned in, it is still possible to get an A.

    I make the homework a small portion of the overall grade because nearly all of the 12 original students I discussed are parenting their younger siblings and/or cousins at least four hours a day. Homework help? Only one of the 12 challenging students has one parent who got a GED. None with high school diplomas. From our conversations at conferences, I doubt that many could complete half of the work themselves that their children are required to do.

    I believe that if Oakland wants to change their culture as a city there needs to be a comprehensive plan to reduce teen pregnancy, particularly in third generation families in which one or more parents did not complete high school. After looking at data of over 5,000 students in Oakland over a decade, this is the one factor that stands out among all others in students who do not complete high school – they are born to parents who did not complete high school, parents who are in early to mid teens when the first child is born and are the third generation to have no parent-grandparent relationship to a high school graduate.

    I sincerely wish that teachers, principals and district administrators would look at the data (as we are told to do at nearly every school meeting) and determine whether the link of low achieving student follows the trend above. If it does, we need to meet with Jean Quan to get a task force, get grant funds and pay teens to delay having children until they have graduated high school.

  • Observer


    I agree with you that lack of family planning–planning in general— are the roots of the failure in education in much of Oakland’s classrooms. However, I hesitate to blanket that as solely teenage mothers when I see the children who are behind at our school (not a Title 1 school, but with a significant low income population) some are children of teenage moms but ALL are children of broken homes where mom didn’t finish school be it high school or, more often than not, higher learning. In other words, the women managed to escape teenage pregnancy only to have children still very young and without supportive fathers.

    and then there’s the lack of living wage jobs for anyone with a high school education or less.

  • 1day at a time

    I doubt we can pay kids to keep their pants on, but I agree it’s a big societal problem. Dont want to shoot down any good ideas. Maybe its worth studying, but in general I think task forces and committees are where good ideas go to die.

    But as far as teaching and learning goes, if all the people who taught before Deborah were as effective as they needed to be, her students would come to her (despite being from young parents) in a much better position. My concern is two fold.

    Let’s say that Deborah is an amazing teacher who is able to reach kids and move them along despite their risk factors. They may or may not catch up, but they make more than a year’s worth of progress with her.

    1. How the heck do we encourage Deborah to hang in there. How do we, as a city, provide her with something that says, “We value your work and recognize you are going above and beyond”. By being with you, they are heading in the right direction. How do we keep her from going to some other district where they make more money with better working conditions.

    2. How do we get the teacher(s) who consistently under-prepare their students to exit the profession altogether or simply find them a place more suitable to their skill set (Orinda, anyone?)

    How can we do both these things without being drowned out by the voices of dissent: We want to keep and reward great teachers. We want them to stay. We shouldn’t allow ineffective teachers to undermine the chances of students with such thin margins of error.

    Money is not a cure all. It isn’t a guarantee to make people stay. But if teachers are key in developing the metric used to award such bonuses… it can be figured out. I also think tenure is a problem

    OUSD needs to figure out the human resource part of things before any program or initiative will be successful.

    As it stands right now, everything seems to be on the principal. They have to see and hear through walls. The current system allows some teachers to play cat and mouse with the principal. In the current system, OUSD has got to have top flight principals or everything will fall apart.

    What is OUSD doing about that? There’s the annual attrition list that Katy posts that says who leaves and arrives each year. Does OUSD have any plan at all to prepare principals for this unique situation. No. What a joke.

    Who were the best 10 principals in Oakland Unified over the last 5 years in the hills or flatlands. Find out what they did that worked. Find out how they navigated this broken system. Find out how they kept their best teachers and ejected their non-effective ones (maybe they developed them instead of getting rid of them, but I’d like to hear that from them).

    I’ve read more on education in the last week than i had in years. Thanks Katy for this forum. Thanks Deborah for your vulnerability and willingness to share from your experiences. Thanks Dave, Weinberg, Danning, Seen it before, Teaches in Oakland, et al.

    We need more conversations like this.

    Jim, what’s with the Russian? That was kinda out there.