August 11, 2010

Slate: All We Have To Do is fire 2.8 million out of 3.5 million teachers

Columbia Business School professor Ray Fisman explains in Slate in "Is firing (a lot of) teachers the only way to improve public schools?" that All We Have To Do to fix the public schools is to get rid of the bottom 80 percent of teachers (2.8 million) and replace them with a different 2.8 million who are just as effective at raising test scores as the top 0.7 million teachers currently are:
How many teachers would school reformers have to fire in order to get American schools performing at their best? That's the question researchers Doug Staiger and Jonah Rockoff set out to answer in a study they presented at the Columbia conference.

The researchers went through a simulation exercise, building on prior findings about the impact that great teachers have on their students, the fraction of incoming teachers who turn out to be strong performers in the classroom, and the "signal-to-noise" ratio in a teacher's performance during her first couple of years (i.e., how hard it is to tell whether a teacher is bad or just unlucky).

When they ran the numbers, the answer their computer spat out had them reviewing their work looking for programming errors. The optimal rate of firing produced by the simulation simply seemed too high: Maximizing teacher performance required that 80 percent of new teachers be fired after two years' probation.

After checking and rechecking their analyses, Staiger and Rockoff came to understand why a thick stack of pink slips are needed to improve schools. There are enormous costs to having mediocre teachers burdening the school system, and once they get their union cards, we're stuck with them for decades. The benefits of keeping only the superstars is enormous, such that it's better to risk accidentally losing some of the good ones than to have deadwood sticking around forever.

Is an 80 percent dismissal rate practical? One issue is whether there would be enough new recruits to replace all the teachers you'd be firing. Teach for America has been able to fill its ranks with Ivy League graduates year after year, so we know there are lots of college grads who are willing to devote at least a couple of years of their lives to teaching, and 63 percent of TFA alumni remain in the field of education afterward.

Similarly, think how good the LA Lakers would be if they fired all their players besides Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and replaced them with guys who are just as good as Kobe and Pau. They'd be epic! Speaking of firing all the deadwood, why do they let idiots like Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak run the Lakers when they could just hire some economists who are good with SAS to figure it all out?

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Top departments in good universities routinely fire about that large a percentage of their junior faculty. That's why the tenure race is so stringent. In fact if you count all the postdocs who are really professors in waiting, it's easy to get to a higher figure than 80%. Perhaps it's no surprise that US research output is greater in quantity and quality than in European or Asian universities.

Kevin said...

Steve, why do you keep putting yourself and us through this? Is it for the money? Why don't you write a nice book about using economic thinking in everyday life.
Who knows, they may make a movie about it.

agnostic said...

It's heartwarming to see that profs at econ and business departments have found a new project to work on now that they've licked the problem of modeling and planning out the economy.

Mitch said...

How do people find publishers with this sort of idiocy?

Who would become a teacher if there was an 80% chance they'd get fired in two years?

Never mind that--why would schools inflict new, bad teachers on their kids when they have experienced, not-as-bad teachers available?

Anonymous said...

How many economists have been fired for missing a housing bubble worth several trillion dollars?

Mr. Anon said...

Imagine how much they could improve public education by firing most of the students.

Anonymous said...

"Why don't you write a nice book about using economic thinking in everyday life."

That reminds me, Steve Sailer, that you said you're writing another book, right?

Can you tell us the topic/title?

You know you're a better writer than Gladwell, and just as politically incorrect as Derbyshire in We Are Doomed. America needs a truth-telling sociologist, instead of Gladwell's extra chunky tomato sauce thin slicing inanities.

Thomas said...

Needs more phlogiston and epicycles.

Underachiever said...

To what extent do gains in the learning of students taught by super star teachers over one year accumulate when they are taught by the superstars over many years? My guess is that the extent is very limited.

Basil Ransom said...

"Who would become a teacher if there was an 80% chance they'd get fired in two years?"

Many, if the requirements for being a teacher were nothing more than a college degree. Studies of teaching credentials show that credentials don't make prospective teachers more effective. The fire 80% doesn't seem like a bad idea. Instead of hurting morale, it would boost prestige. Besides, if you're just a college graduate, what have you got to lose?

IMO, I've always thought it's too hard to get hired and too hard to get fired, given how you occasionally meet people glaringly bad at their jobs. The hire and fire lots method seems promising.

Steve Sailer said...

"To what extent do gains in the learning of students taught by super star teachers over one year accumulate when they are taught by the superstars over many years?"

As far as I can tell, nobody has tested that. All the hype you hear is just of simulations: ASSUME that the gains we see in one year can be continued for three, four, even five years! As I pointed out in my review of Ravitch's book for VDARE.com, it's as if all these economists doing the studies have never hear of Diminishing Marginal Returns. It's like if I can cut by average golf score from 108 to 98 in one year, then I can cut it to 68 in four years, and to 58 in five years.

Udolpho.com said...

Slate is like an experiment in the stamina of liberal stupidity.

Black Sea said...

Couldn't we just fire the bottom 80% of the students?

jody said...

wasn't this michelle rhee's plan in washington DC? fire the worst 400 teachers?

to be fair, this is similar to the method which jack welch used when he was CEO of general electric. his policy was to, every single year, fire the bottom 10% of GE's employess.

of course the educrats are calling for like 75% of their employees to be fired. not sure who is left to teach after that.

stari_momak said...

I'm willing to bet that the researchers hedged their findings with all sorts of caveats about practicality, need to consider diminishing returns, potential pool of teachers etc. The lack of nuance, or the seeming cluelessness of this study is almost certainly an artifact of the reporter's iidiocy.

stari_momak said...

Notice too -- the implication by the Slate author that the TFA kids are in that top twenty in effectiveness -- I haven't seen any data indicating that. Also the 'slippage' from 'teaching' to 'in the education field'.

Anonymous said...

"Needs more phlogiston and epicycles."

Interestingly, Ben & Jerry's newest ice cream flavor is called "Phlogiston and epicycles".

FelixM said...

and let's improve other services by firing the bottom, say, 80% of doctors, nurses, engineers, architects, police, and ...

of course, some people will ask where we get the superb replacements. but there is a solution

simply fire incompetent business school professors and hire ones who can solve this conundrum!


and let's fire the bottom 80% of engineers, archand hir

nick said...

Strict selection schemes don't always produce what one expects: http://lesswrong.com/lw/l8/conjuring_an_evolution_to_serve_you/

l said...

I wonder why Slate would post this piece. Thinking that public schools might fire any teachers based on performance is too far "outside the box" for liberals.

sabril said...

@nick

"Strict selection schemes don't always produce what one expects: "

Fascinating article, Nick. It's always occurred to me that these "best teacher" schemes suffer from the problem that it can be difficult to discriminate between good teachers and bad teachers.

Any subjective method will become instantly political and the teachers who succeed will be those who are good at office politics.

Any objective method will be open to gamesmanship.

And if you did manage to find an objective method which couldn't be gamed, you can bet that it would be racist and therefore wrong.

chicagopeasant said...

Sometimes just replacing the desks, the floor , ceiling or walls, helps. Or how about just replacing the whole building . Look at what it did for Chicago's Northside College prep and Payton high schools!
How much more than that can the environment ( nurture ) pay off?
http://www.suntimes.com/news/education/1854961,top-100-high-schools-1009.article

Big Bill said...

I have a better idea. Who are the "bad" HS teachers who need to be fired?

They are good students who suffered under "bad" college professors in Ed Schools a generation ago.

So if we really want to get at the root of the problem, what we need to do first is fire the 80% of "bad" ed school professors who produced the "bad" HS teachers in the first place.

But here is the key difference: under my plan, once you have fired 80% of the ed school professors, DON'T HIRE NEW ONES!!

George said...

"They'd be epic! Speaking of firing all the deadwood, why do they let idiots like Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak run the Lakers when they could just hire some economists who are good with SAS to figure it all out?"
But isn't that how the Knicks and Golden State already do it?

keypusher said...

Parody is dead.

The funniest thing about the Slate piece that that the authors extrapolate from the willingness of elite young Ivy League Teach for America grads to leave teaching to speculate that millions of middle and lower class people would enter a profession with an 80% attrition rate.

Anonymous said...

Having grown up in an all white community in the 70s where the average kid was average, it was clear that 80% of the kids in high school shouldn't go on to a four year college. But America's genius class either outsourced all the jobs these kids could get in factories, machine shops, and mills -- America's beehives of productivity -- or in-sourced brown immigrants to compete with them for the positions that couldn't be outsourced -- garbage truck driver, ditch digger, construction worker, hotel maid, store cashier, bank teller, cab driver. So many sub-115 IQ whites swarmed into the unionized public employment or government work where they would be protected and had an edge over immigrants and blacks: in policing, teaching, firefighting, soldiering, and postal delivery. But with the rise of the internet, all the white collar jobs requiring a four year college degree were outsourced or taken over by immigrants, too.

People at the top grew up in the same era I did -- so what's the disconnect here? Didn't they personally know some of the people who were going to be harmed by uncontrolled globalism driven by corporate greed-buckets, neo-conservatives, and racial socialists like Obama? Immigration and outsourcing has destroyed the value of all labor, unskilled AND skilled. And all the college and night classes in the world won't fix that.

Gc said...

It`s funny how worried the liberals are about the poor school performance.
I mean their _whole plan_ was
1) bring in the world`s poor from all parts of the world
2) Educate all the young people in the college
3) profit
Now they tell everybody that a developed country is doomed if it can`t college educate it`s young population.

Anonymous said...

The teaching-teachers policy issue is less well understood and more confused than almost any other. Let me help clear a little of it up.

Public school teachers have two functions - teaching children some academic topic like algebra, and supervising them during the day. The American public is not all that concerned with algebra but they can get highly agitated at the prospect of their teenagers spending more time at home. Parents like the idea of the school system acting as nannies.

In the days of old a peasant family was economically better off with a bunch of rug rats. Even quite small kids could help on the farm. At the other end of the economic spectrum the lord of the manor had servants who managed his children. He had a literal nanny for the little ones so as to free his wife from all those child rearing chores.

Today's kids are an economic and social burden as never before. The responsibility for supervising your progeny has been handed off to public schools. And on the whole the schools do an admirable job at keeping those 14 year old boys from killing one another. The schools main technology seems to be applying that wondrous soporific - algebra.

The failure to distinguish the care-taking role of the schools from their content teaching role is why there is so much confusion. In the very recent past knowledge acquisition should have been revolutionized. Google, Wikipedia and Amazon have had relatively little effect on public schools considering how revolutionary these technologies are.

As I sit here writing this note I am thirty seconds away from the history of Poland or Estonia or wherever. If I want to understand musical key signatures or semi-conductor construction techniques I can do so in moments and I do not need a teacher or a school.

If schools were primarily a method for academics they should have become obsolete or at least highly modified by the tremendous and unprecedented changes brought about by the Internet.

I never taught kids in a public school but I was a Youth Guidance Counselor for awhile. A Youth Guidance Counselor is a euphemism for prison guard. From what I understand of the typical day in the life of a public school teacher, it's pretty much the same sort of job - just less algebra.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Goldman Sachs does a similar thing, and look how well they're doing. So why not?

Actually, it CAN work. Just:

1. Start a new land war overseas requiring massive ground troops. Maybe not China, but one of those huge Stans where we have a chance of winning. One of them has to be vital somehow, right? You know, vital like Iraq.

2. Institute a draft.

3. Make three year teaching positions allowable exemptions to the draft.

4. Watch the best and brightest middle class kids fight for spots in front of the blackboard.

Florida resident said...

Dear Mr. Sailer !

Your work is fascinating, as always.

I repeatedly point attention to the book

"Bad Students, Not Bad Schools" by Robert Weissberg,

which I have read in full with pleasure (of reading, not of the situation in US education.)

I have already read all the stuff from that book in Sailer's web-publications.

But, as somebody (possibly John Galsworthy) said,
"A platitude must be stated with force and clarity".

(Not that Mr. Sailer writes platitudes; no, he is brilliant thinker.)

See also the review of the said Wiessberg's book by John Derbyshire:

http://johnderbyshire.com/Reviews/HumanSciences/badstudents.html

Respectfully yours, Florida resident.

elvisd said...

I've taught every grade from 7 to 12, from English to History, Chemistry, French, Biology, Drama, whatever was needed (rural school teachers wear a lot of hats). I would read up on a subject, take the certification test, seek out hands on training from the pros as a helper/volunteer, and start teaching. I've had kids pass college placement exams, win awards, etc, without my having much formal background in these subjects. The point is a willingness to get up to speed quick and figure out how to pass it on to the kids. As Ezra Pound said, "No teacher has ever failed from ignorance". The failure is usually from bad teaching methods, and a parochial view of the material. Sure, it would be good to have a strong background in the subject, but that's useless if you can't manage a room and get in the head of a 15 year old. Let's get real, you aren't doing post-grad level stuff to the average teenager.
Lots of those college teachers are no more credible than I am with my alt. certifications. I've sat in on many a prof's class, and I knew their subject better than they did, and could teach it more effectively.
P.S. Those education classes are totally worthless. I took a couple to keep my certifications, and slept through both of them.

Anonymous said...

As this forum has ben fixated about slagging off economists for the last week or so, might I not suggest a solution based on the free market?
In a free market rubbish tradespeople don't get work in the first place.An incompetent carpenter is likely to be thrown off site after a few hours, likewise an incompetent plumber won't get work because he's not recommended.Compulsory taxpayer funded education - witharmies of civil servant teachers and their unions is only a recent invention in the scheme of things.No more than 150 years or so old compared to the great antiquity of schooling and tutoring.
I'm pretty sure in those days if a school or teacher was no good, then they wouldn't get students.
This is market economics at its best.Simple, trivial in its simplicity even - but oh, so damned effective.

McCracken said...

People at the top grew up in the same era I did -- so what's the disconnect here?

Anon, that was a brillant summation of the last thirty years in two paragraphs. Who'd ever thought, back then, we would one day long for the good ol' days of the Carter administration?

Caledonian said...

As Ezra Pound said, "No teacher has ever failed from ignorance". The failure is usually from bad teaching methods, and a parochial view of the material.

Why is failure never the fault of the students? The most effective teachers I recall from my time in the educational penal system were the ones who were best at getting the problem kids to shut up and sit down. Just presenting the information in a complete and coherent form is all that's really needed for most people to grasp it.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, that was a brillant summation of the last thirty years in two paragraphs. Who'd ever thought, back then, we would one day long for the good ol' days of the Carter administration?"

Back then there was a sensible electorate who would eventually wake up and throw the bums out of office. But today, half the electorate is too stupid to figure out a butterfly ballot.

America is doomed.

Truth said...

"and let's improve other services by firing the bottom, say, 80% of doctors, nurses..."

Hopefully not all at the same time.

David Davenport said...

People at the top grew up in the same era I did -- so what's the disconnect here? Didn't they personally know some of the people who were going to be harmed by uncontrolled globalism driven by corporate greed-buckets, neo-conservatives, and racial socialists like Obama?

No, the rich are different from you and me.

Globalist plutocrats and malefactors of great wealth residing here have benefited from ncontrolled globalism driven by corporate greed-buckets, neo-conservatives, and racial socialists like Obama.

( Cue for some Sean Hannity or Glen Beck fan to protest, "But that's class warfare!"

Anonymous said...

"Top departments in good universities routinely fire about that large a percentage of their junior faculty. That's why the tenure race is so stringent."

Depends on the top university. Some, like Standford, Berkeley, and Cal Tech bet on young blood, tenuring a slim majority of their assistant professors after about 5 years. On the other hand, places like Harvard and Princeton promote almost no assistant professors, who are really just undergrad lecturers. They bank on professors with already established reputations, offering them fabulous benefits and palatial labs to move. But Ass (assistant) and Junk (adjunct) Profs rejected by the Ivies can count on eventual tenure in a second tier university.

Anonymous said...

"People at the top grew up in the same era I did -- so what's the disconnect here? "

David Davenport said...

"No, the rich are different from you and me."

David,

I believe that most of today's globalist cheerleaders of my generation grew up in more or less ordinary middle class homes. They may have had talented parents in the professions, but they definitely knew the folks in their generation whom they grew up to harm. I propose that these proto-Soros's held their blue collar brethren in contempt, looking on the less gifted in their peer group as losers for not being the kid in the high school class who won the National Merit Scholarship and got admitted to Harvard or Princeton. The proles deserve only the grimmest of fates -- and it serves them right for being able to get laid at 16 and have all the fun at the homecoming parties and proms, while the academic dweebs stayed home, doing calculus problems and masturbating to topless Balinese dancers in National Geographic.

Anonymous said...

Steve, great fan here from Uchicago.

This time your sarcasm is really misplaced. If you would have kept reading the article you would have found the following sentence:

"Their [Staiger and Rockoff's, ndAso] point isn't that we can or should fire 80 percent of new hires, but that their work should be seen as a "thought experiment" on the extreme measures that would be required to really improve American education, provided we can't figure out how to find better teachers at the get-go or develop reliable methods of improving teachers once they're in the system."

At the end of the day economists are not as stupid as people who could never get into a top PhD make them to be.

PS today economists mostly use STATA and not SAS for their empirical work.

/aso

stari_momak said...

If you would have kept reading the article

Sounds like I owe the reporter an apology.


PS today economists mostly use STATA and not SAS for their empirical work.

Dude, go 'R', it's free (as in beer and speech), it's awesome.

elvisd said...

"Why is failure never the fault of the students? The most effective teachers I recall from my time in the educational penal system were the ones who were best at getting the problem kids to shut up and sit down. Just presenting the information in a complete and coherent form is all that's really needed for most people to grasp it."

What Pound meant is that when it is a matter of a failing teacher, it's usually because of their inability to find a more interesting thing than "present the material", due to their dullwittedness. Kids are kids. Since I've only taught public schools, you have to seduce them with something. I loathe whistles and bells, but firmly believe in making the material relate to their future in life, particularly in terms of citizenship. Any teacher who can't connect science and social studies just plain sucks as a teacher, and has observed life badly.

Of course students are often the ones failing. But classroom management is a reality anywhere. I had to learn that fast when in the first month of my career, I got in a steel pipe fight, had to intervene in three gang jump outs, dealt with a 15 year old convicted killer, one attempted rape, and a riot (in a high school in a village of 1500). Over a decade later, I'm still teaching. Most of the quitters move on to collegiate academia or open coffee shops. If you can't run with the big dogs,...

Curvaceous, etc. said...

, "I got in a steel pipe fight, had to intervene in three gang jump outs, dealt with a 15 year old convicted killer, one attempted rape, and a riot (in a high school in a village of 1500). Over a decade later, I'm still teaching."



Awesome, Elvis!

Do you, perchance, have a neck wider than your head and some drill seargent experience?

elvisd said...

Nahh, it's just that there were a couple of kids who fit drill sargent description who had my back. Advice to beginning teachers: make friends with at least one big,intimidating kids who means well.

Truth said...

"I got in a steel pipe fight, had to intervene in three gang jump outs, dealt with a 15 year old convicted killer, one attempted rape, and a riot (in a high school in a village of 1500). Over a decade later, I'm still teaching."

Good going there, Jim Belushi

David said...

Firing 2.8 million out of 3.5 million teachers is a ridiculous proposal.

Clearly all 3.5 million should be fired.

And public schooling abolished, replaced by homeschooling and simple (i.e., cheap) reformatories.

Anonymous said...

"Firing 2.8 million out of 3.5 million teachers is a ridiculous proposal.

Clearly all 3.5 million should be fired."

Put an end to the teachers unions so that school districts can hire and fire teachers a will. Then deport all the anchor babies with their families. Then watch American education soar.