Would Firing More Teachers Improve School Performance?

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Nicholas Kristof thinks the Chicago teachers union is wrong to fight so hard against more stringent teacher evaluations, but he also offers this important observation:

In fairness, it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty. Southern states without strong teachers’ unions have schools at least as lousy as those in union states. The single most important step we could take has nothing to do with unions and everything to do with providing early-childhood education to at-risk kids.

Not all school districts are unionized, and the balance of the evidence suggests very little difference in student performance between unionized and nonunionized districts. You’re still welcome to approve or disapprove of teachers unions on other grounds, of course, just as you’re welcome to think that we should use the results of standardized tests as a basis for evaluating teachers and firing the bad ones. (This is Kristof’s view.) It’s a fraught subject with evidence that points in both directions, and personally, I’m more skeptical than Kristof. My own read of the evidence is that the value of standardized tests as a way of evaluating teacher performance has enough problems that we should approach it very slowly and methodically. For now, it should probably be no more than a small portion of any evaluation method.

But even if you’re more gung-ho on standardized tests than I am, you should know that the evidence doesn’t really back up the claim that union-coddled burnout cases are a big contributor to poor student outcomes. They can fire teachers in Georgia a lot more easily than they can in Illinois, but that hasn’t improved their schools any. The stubborn fact is that Georgia kids don’t score any better on national standardized tests than Illinois kids do. 

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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