A few weeks ago, Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, made big news when she said the powerful teachers union would make room for dismissals of ineffective teachers — a common sense tactic that she and teachers unions had long opposed. (To see how tragicomic their stridence on that position could get, you should really holler at Steve Brill’s bananas New Yorker article from last summer on NYC’s “rubber rooms,” holding pens where teachers who are deemed unsuitable for the classroom are sent for years and years at full-pay because firing tenured teachers — even objectively terrible ones — is so expensive and difficult that it is virtually impossible.)
In 2004, Chicago and its teachers union entered into a new contract that changed the rules governing teacher dismissals. Principals were given discretion in firing new teachers who were still in their probationary periods. And unsurprisingly, teacher performance dramatically improved.
Results suggest that the policy reduced annual teacher absences by roughly 10 percent and reduced the prevalence of teachers with 15 or more annual absences by 20 percent. The effects were strongest among teachers in elementary schools and in low-achieving, predominantly African-American high schools, and among teachers with highpredicted absences. There is also evidence that the impact of the policy increased substantially after its first year.
I’m still making my through this paper, so I’m not sure yet if better performance by Chicago’s teachers resulted in better performing students. But as we’ve blogged before, good teachers are a huge part of the equation in fostering higher student achievement. If we want better students, we need better teachers, and part of doing that is not blindly granting tenure to those who are terrible at their jobs.