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Rita M. Solnet Headshot

Fire Our Way to Better Education: Is Common Sense MIA?

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Please explain to me, a F500 business woman, Chamber of Commerce member, and parent, how firing 6-10 percent of teachers annually will improve the quality of education in our nation?

That's the formula for success being championed by the Department of Education and its apparent sleepwalking cast of reformers.

Identifying and targeting so-called "ineffective teachers" each year based upon high stakes standardized bubble tests -- which repeatedly prove to be flawed with a margin of error upwards of 27 percent -- is the plan!

Consider this from a practical perspective if you don't choose to agree conceptually.

From a bottom line perspective: This formula won't work! It's a recipe for disaster if implementation is attempted. The DOE states that roughly 270,000 teachers leave via attrition annually -- they choose to leave, resign, retire, etc. Demographics show we have more baby boomers retiring and that attrition will increasingly climb to over 300,000. Now, let's add the Hanushek Theory of How to Improve Schools, and fire another 6-10 percent of existing teachers annually. Principals must then weed through their dwindling staff of teachers to target another 240,000 -400,000 to terminate. Where is the army of teachers coming from to fill the 515,000 - 700,000 that they plan to lose each year?

Someone please buy the DOE calculators for Christmas!

The number of U.S. college graduates earning bachelor's degrees is estimated to be approximately 1.5 million. According to this whizbang theory, every other college student graduating must enter teaching. Really?

Wouldn't it make more sense to give existing teachers tools, techniques, and additional training to enhance their skills and protect the investment we already made in the hiring decision if possible? Even Corporate America knows to protect their investment in hiring decisions wherever possible.

According to the Department of Education, our nation is now overrun by hundreds of thousands of ineffective teachers. And, of course, they claim unions are protecting them all with contracts that must have been unilaterally crafted while their State DOE counterparts slept.

Pinpointing ineffective teachers as the sole reason for academic decline in our nation, the DOE's strategy is to fire between six and ten percent of the bottom tier annually. Alakazam! This will magically remedy the achievement gap, the graduation rates, the remediation rates, and miraculously, the narrowed curriculum currently devoid of Social Studies, Civics, Arts, Literature, Geography, PE, etc.

Note: This narrowed curriculum replete with test prep, drill, practice, and bubble tests for just Math and Writing is courtesy of eight years of No Child Left Behind gone wild. It is not teachers who charted this course or who plotted to drill for hours on bubble tests.

Statistically and realistically, our nation's declining performance is directly related to NCLB's obsession with bubble-filled standardized test scores and the high stakes associated with it. Everyone held their breath until a new President entered office -- one who promised to fix this issue. Instead, this Secretary of Education put NCLB on steroids and built divisive initiatives on top of it. This is a house of cards. And, everyone knows it -- everyone! Who will have the guts to stand up and say no more? A mistake was made -- we're on the wrong path -- all the evidence points to this -- admit that and regroup.

This supersonic version of NCLB is proudly designed to fire teachers and shut down neighborhood schools -- to dismantle public education in America. Certain gung ho reformers believe they will fire their way to better education.

To market this head-scratching concept, I suppose, a frontal assault was launched on the teaching profession. You cannot open a magazine, a newspaper, glance at an online article or listen to Morning Joe or Oprah without hearing about the glut of 'bad' teachers in our nation. Let me interject here: I am not a teacher -- never was. I am not a union member -- never was.

From an organizational change perspective (I am a F500 Organizational Change consultant): I don't profess to be an expert on how to run public schools. I've spent about 15 years volunteering in them. But, I can tell you that no corporation ever achieved greatness by demoralizing its employees. No corporation ever successfully sustained organizational change without the buy-in from those on the front lines expected to implement that change! You will never gain endorsement from your front lines while you repeatedly demonize them. This is a Harvard School of Business Case Study-in-Disaster waiting to be written.

Having spent more than a quarter of a century in the corporate world, corporate business models cannot be uplifted and retrofitted into the K-12 teaching arena. You cannot control your environmental factors. Children are not widgets, nor can they be fired. Teachers -- the front line managers -- can't fire their students' parents either. Teachers can't alter student's learning disabilities nor their homeless statuses. In many places today, teachers no longer even possess the ability to supplement the pre-scripted lesson plans or which days to deliver that lesson. Teachers are being robbed of the flexibility to teach each student the best method they know how. In many states teachers are being micromanaged by robotic-like software guides or DOE officials reaching into the classroom to dictate unanimity.

Schools require collegial relationships in order to develop a child's learning ability. High stakes tests forces a competitive arena for teachers which ultimately hinders the whole child learning experience. This simply is not corporate America where competition can make sense.

Our nation is closing schools right now because the children (despite their English language learning ability, learning disabilities, poverty stricken home lives, etc.) did not pass a bubble test. How does this improve the quality of our nation's education system? In corporate America if the product line or a division is considered to be a failure, the senior manager is fired, not all the workers. Does any of this make any sense whatsoever?

There are days when I imagine a child in school who procrastinated writing his paper. The day it's due, he grabs an old paper someone else wrote and submits it as his own. Sometimes I imagine that must have occurred with Secretary Duncan. President Obama said to Arne Duncan, "Quick, I need that new education plan we discussed." Secretary Duncan must have dashed down the hall to a filing cabinet and yanked out the NCLB Supersonic Version and breathlessly charged back into the Oval Office with it. Yes, that's what happened, I'm sure of it! Because absolutely nothing else about this makes any sense to me.

When will common sense prevail?