Don’t Fire Them! Fire Them Up!
Is firing principals and teachers going to turn around struggling high-poverty high schools? Apparently, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan do. According to today’s Washington Post it is “the get tough strategy for struggling schools.”
Appearing before an America’s Promise event, President Obama and Secretary Duncan helped to announce the “Grad Nation Campaign,” which calls for “90 percent of today’s fourth-graders to graduate from high school on time.” This campaign is a long-term, responsible approach to solving our dropout problem.
The President seized the opportunity to reiterate his commitment to focusing on the 2,000 lowest performing high schools, the so-called “dropout factories,” many of which are located in urban, high-poverty neighborhoods. He indicated that, in order to access federal funds, states, districts, and schools must choose from four reform models; turnaround, restart, closure, and transformation. According to the Post, “each of the strategies, at minimum, appears to require replacing the principal.”
The “Terminate Model”
- Firing principals and teachers is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. School improvement will only occur in the presence of a change in the culture of the school. Firing creates a culture of fear and intimidation.
- It is easy to tear something down. The hard thing is to build something that lasts. Anyone can say, “It doesn’t work. Let’s fire everybody and start over.” The “terminate them” approach requires no knowledge and no expertise. Anyone with a book of pink slips can do it. It is a quick fix, a rearranging of the furniture.
- I get concerned when a person’s first idea of how to improve anything is to punish or fire people.
- If firing is the key to educational reform, maybe that’s how we can reform health care, fire the doctors and nurses.
- What is the message that we are sending here? We don’t train people. We don’t develop people. We fire them. As one urban superintendent told me repeatedly, “I put them out there, and if they have what it takes, they last. If not, I find someone else.”
First, Fire Them Up
- Instead of firing principals and teachers, why not help them do their jobs? Set them up for success.
- Provide long-term, continuous, and connected training and professional development. Right now, only 2% of available funding is used to train and develop principals.
- It costs more to educate students in high-impact schools. Increase the budget of these schools by at least 10%.
- Provide under-resourced schools with the resources and equipment they need now. Don’t fire the staff and then give the new staff a renovated building filled with new equipment.
- Help these high-poverty schools recruit and retain the most qualified and experienced professionals by providing financial incentives for teachers and principals to work in high-impact schools.
- Provide modern data systems that evaluate schools on a value-added basis that measures individual student progress on an annual basis.