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.
One 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.