Read This: Districts may restaff failing schools

In a Wake County courtroom Tuesday, Guilford County Superintendent Mo Green described a plan to hire new staff at a High Point elementary school that has bad test scores. Under a new plan in Durham, teachers and principals at its lowest-performing could be reassigned.


This article caught my eye this morning because it is evidence of a growing trend in our country. Policymakers are embracing the "let's fire 'em" model of reform more and more, thinking that it is the best way to produce change in schools that have struggled to produce achievement gains for years.

The funny part is that there is EXTENSIVE research on this kind of restructuring, and it rarely—if ever—works.

My concerns about this strategy are many. First, how can you really expect to attract the best teachers to buildings where mass firings are possible? Why would anyone willingly move to a school where the challenges are great, the resources are few, and the potential to get canned is real?

More importantly, though, what other changes are you planning on making to the building and the community in order to ensure that change is possible?

Will teachers in your restructured school get additional time and training on the clock in order to come up with effective instructional plans? Will there be smaller class sizes to ensure that individual attention is possible?

What about extra support positions—guidance counselors, school resource officers, social workers—to address the social challenges faced by students living in high needs communities? Extra funds for remediation?

If not, there ain't a chance in the world that your blunt approach to restructuring a building is going to work. Instead, you're simply going to create stigmatized schools where no one will want to work.

Poor policy, fellas. Poor policy.

9 thoughts on “Read This: Districts may restaff failing schools

  1. Marsha Ratzel

    Bill, I agree with you about who would want to work in a place that’s set up to fail. But on the other hand, why would we want a school that continually is failing?
    What other alternatives are there? Move all the students to surrounding schools? Create systems of support that address many of the underlying reasons(that really aren’t educationally related) that might account for the struggles? Try to figure out if the school is failing because of the teachers or because of something else????
    These, to me, are the hard questions that no one ever wants to address. I just know one thing. Who do you know that would want to send “their” child to a school that has a failing level of performance? I wouldn’t. In fact, I’d do anything and everything I could to move away or put my own children in a different school. And if that’s the way I feel, I’ll bet I”m not alone. But what if you can’t move? or you don’t have the resources to move and you’re stuck? Then what do you do? What if the school says to me, as a parent, well we’re getting better…now only 50% of our kids dropout. Stick with us and in 5 more years, we’ll have a successful school. Heck, what does my child do for those 5 years?
    Re-structuring has to be done intelligently…just firing everyone isn’t the answer. The real question is….what is the answer?

  2. Debra Massey

    I’d like to weigh in and say..I agree with bits and pieces of every previous post. Unfortunately, I think we’re leaving out a key element. Yes, some teachers shouldn’t be in the profession. That’s just a reality of every profession. The bigger question is HOW did they get there in the first place? Why aren’t we rethinking hiring practices? Why aren’t we talking stepping up the quality and intensive of teacher prep programs? What about a completely novel idea and that would be that a teacher’s first year is NOT to be teacher of record for a class of their own but a full year of working side by side with an effective/exceptional model teacher? During this first year is where you really learn about their ability to work with children, to assimilate and synthesize new information and training into actual practices in the classroom. Most of all you learn if they are willing to be change agents and be open to becoming a critically reflective teacher. Instead of trying to put out the fire…why not prevent the spark?!

  3. David B. Cohen

    The conversation should be focused on the support, training, and evaluation methods we can use to make every teacher better, rather than creating categories of good and bad teachers. I’m good at some things, and need improvement at others. I’m willing to own my weaknesses, and would love to have the support I need to improve. Administrators, school boards, counties and states (and voters who elect the policymakers) should be asking themselves some tough questions about the kind of atmosphere they have created, or allowed to exist, where so many teachers could be struggling that much. Now THAT would be some accountability, right?

  4. John in NC

    Be sure to check out this Ed Week story (4/21)describing the money attached to “turnaround”, aka reconstitution, etc.
    Since last month, the U.S. Department of Education has been sending states their shares of $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement Grants, money provided mostly by last year’s economic-stimulus package, as well as from $546 million in regular fiscal 2009 appropriations.
    Less than six months from now, selected schools that rank among the bottom 5 percent in their states—the priority under the grant program—will be required to launch one of four “turnaround” strategies outlined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It’s a daunting timeline for some district leaders, who are eager for the windfall of support for struggling schools but may have qualms about the strict conditions for receiving the federal aid.

  5. Joanne Lockwood White

    In my county (Essex, in NJ) we have many failing schools. Gov. Christie supposedly has “closed” many and already has charters ready for 3/4 of them. I have nothing against charters….BUT… you all know that after 4 days the “unfocused” kids will be asked to leave (after advertising that there is no application process). You know and I know that there is just a delayed application process. If we could filter out the troubled kids who prevent everyone else from learning, our scores would be MUCH improved.

  6. John in NC

    Seems to me the issue is not whether there are “bad” teachers, but whether representing the removal of bad teachers as the sum total of a long-range teaching quality agenda is a “bad” idea. Newsweek vs. Ed Leadership:
    Districts are currently being rewarded for these slash & burn tactics. If they’re not just about the bucks but part of a serious plan to promote and sustain teaching quality, let’s see the plan.

  7. Bill Ferriter

    Matt wrote:
    Of course, “fire ’em all” approach won’t work, but what about “fire some of ’em?”
    Good question, Matt—and I’m a firm believer that there are teachers in our schools that just need to get the boot. They add nothing of value to the intellectual health of their students or the overall community.
    The hitch is how do you prove that objectively for EVERY teacher?
    I’m not down with decisions being made based on test scores for some teachers but on subjective interpretation for others. As a teacher of a tested subject, I’d LOVE it if I were judged based on observations of my class instead of student performance on EOGs.
    And that’s the hitch—even though more than 60% of the professionals in a building work in untested positions, we do nothing to “measure” their performance.
    That’s frustrating…

  8. Dan

    i don’t subscribe to any practices that go in to a situation with a preconceived plan of action, be that firing or not. i’m more of a “let’s see what might be the problem and what options we have to address them” kind of guy. when students are struggling, i hope that upper management make use of all the tools, tricks, and plans of action available.

  9. Matt Johnston

    Of course, “fire ’em all” approach won’t work, but what about “fire some of ’em?” I know that dismissals can be morale shattering, but strategic changes often spur industry and change.
    Of course, such an approach means that upper management has an idea of how to accomplish gains with strategic dismissals–an assumption too far perhaps.

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