Healing COVID-19 Learning Losses by Firing Bad Teachers

Earlier this month, the Department for Education revealed that primary school students’ reading and math scores had plummeted during the pandemic. Hardest hit: fourth-graders, whose scores have seen the biggest drop in two decades.

COVID-related school closures and delayed reopenings have placed learning losses at the equivalent of a year or more of schooling, resulting in a 6% to 9% drop in lifetime earnings for l average student and much more drastic losses for the minorities and the weak. children on fixed incomes, according to Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

The federal government provided $190 billion in stimulus funds to help schools during the pandemic, but only 20% of those dollars went directly to addressing student learning losses. US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has promoted robust tutoring strategies to help make up the difference, but how can a few hours of after-school learning make up for 180 days of lost classroom instruction?

Before the pandemic, the United States had an 83% graduation rate. It is now estimated that 40% of American students in grades four through eleven will not be able to graduate on time. Even with three additional years of apprenticeship, a third will still not succeed.

“The scale of the problem falls far short of the recommended solutions,” Margaret “Macke” Raymond, director of Stanford University’s Center for Research and Educational Outcomes, said in an interview. “It’s going to be a few decades before we get out of this.”

The only feasible and proven way to bridge the gap? Buy out the contracts of bad teachers and increase the incentives and salaries of good ones.

“Studies have shown that the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a full year of learning,” Ms Raymond said.

While unpopular with Democrats (who have forged a close political bond with teachers’ unions and reliably put teachers’ needs before students), school districts that fired underperforming teachers and rewarded those who succeed have seen an increase in student performance.

From 2007 to 2010, Washington DC implemented an annual student-focused teacher evaluation system called IMPACT, which relied heavily on student performance to judge teachers. Those ranked at the bottom were fired, and those at the top were eligible for up to $25,000 in “performance pay” if their students exceeded expectations on standardized tests and other benchmarks.

More than 500 teachers were fired during the period and more were hired. According to a study by the American Enterprise Institute, students in classes of newly hired teachers performed better in reading and math than students in classes of fired teachers. Between 2009 and 2015, the city was among the nation’s fastest growing urban school districts in fourth-grade math and reading and did better than the national average in eighth-grade math. In addition, good teachers have been retained.

It worked. Yet then-DC mayor Adrian Fenty and school chancellor Michelle Rhee were ousted from office, after a bitter and public struggle with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. , which – then and now – put the needs of teachers first. the children.

Another example is the Dallas Independent School District, which in 2014 evaluated teachers on a combination of student and supervisor performance evaluations. High performing teachers received bonuses of up to $12,000 to move to schools with low student performance and stay there. In three years, the least performing schools were brought up to city standards.

There is no doubt that such reforms, if implemented nationwide, will face significant backlash from teachers’ unions, which use collective bargaining as a means of protecting union members who prefer focus on gender-affirming studies and programs based on critical race theory. on teaching basic reading and math skills. Through the power of unions, blatantly bad teachers are protected from the consequences of their incompetence.

Yet Ms. Raymond and Mr. Hanushek argue that performance-based assessments have a better chance today than before the pandemic, both because of the enormity of the learning loss of the past two years and in due to growing outrage among parents as they witnessed their children being taught virtually during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Ms. Raymond is working with more than a dozen states on creating a “pedagogical commons” where the best teachers of a given subject place their lesson plans and videos online so that others teachers can reproduce them. She works to have school systems financially reward teachers who choose to participate.

“We need to make sure schools across the country don’t use their COVID-19 funds to further isolate underperforming teachers,” Ms Raymond said. “Promoting good teachers is our only way out of this mess.”

• Kelly Sadler is a commentary editor at The Washington Times.