NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 26, 2010

How much does teacher quality matter?  A good teacher can mean as much as a grade level's worth of learning in a school year.  Getting rid of bad teachers is by far the most effective education reform we could hope to enact, says Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. 

Before we can weed out bad teachers, we first need to identify them, says Winters: 

  • Current evaluation systems based on classroom observation don't even try to do this.
  • Urban school districts across the country routinely grant "satisfactory" or above ratings to over 99 percent of teachers. 

These evaluation systems produce homogenous results because they forgo objective measures of teacher quality.  Thanks to widespread standardized testing that matches student learning to his classroom teacher, we can now do a better job of identifying poor teachers, says Winters. 

Modern statistical techniques allow researchers to measure a teacher's independent contribution to his students' learning.  These techniques are not perfect, but they do raise red flags.  We should use them, says Winters. 

But even the best information about teacher quality is unhelpful if school systems can't act upon it.  The iron-clad job protections of tenure ensure that a teacher remains on the payroll no matter how ineffective he is in the classroom, says Winters: 

  • In 2007, only 10 of the 55,000 tenured teachers in New York City were fired for any reason.
  • Principals denied tenure to only 2 percent of New York teachers who were eligible to receive it last year.
  • Believe it or not, that's actually an improvement -- only 25 of Gotham's 6,250 eligible teachers (0.4 percent) were denied tenure in 2006. 

If tenure is to exist at all, it should be treated as a privilege, not a right.  Principals need to scrutinize which teachers do and don't deserve tenure, and the school system should hold accountable those school leaders who don't take that responsibility seriously.  And no teacher should be immune from the consequences of poor performance, no matter how long he has been in the classroom, says Winters. 

Source: Marcus Winters, "How Tests Can Identify the Inept," New York Times, February 24, 2010. 

For text:  


Browse more articles on Education Issues