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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Ubiquitous 50 Percent

50 Percent. That number comes up again and again and again. Tonight I heard it yet again on The Newshour with Jim Lerher . Principals say it.

Some principals, like Nelson Burton, are eager to shake up their staff. Burton leads Coolidge High School. Low test scores show that his school has been failing for years.
L. NELSON BURTON, Principal, Coolidge Senior High School: It's a terrible thing to say, but half of the staff here ought not be(my bold). They just don't fit in to what we're doing here. And I dare say many of them won't fit into any program where they're trying to raise student achievement.
JOHN MERROW: Does that surprise you, a principal says, "I wish I could fire half my teachers, they're not on board, they're not effective"?
MICHELLE RHEE: Does it surprise me? No. I've heard things like that from lots of principals.

Professional developers say it.
JOHN MERROW: Michelle Rhee has set aside nearly $20 million for professional development. But Cheryl Krehbiel, who runs the program, doesn't think she can help every teacher.
CHERYL KREHBIEL, District of Columbia Public Schools: We have a number of teachers who I don't believe will ever believe that kids can learn at high levels. And those are the teachers we need to move out quickly, rapidly, at whatever cost.
JOHN MERROW: Can you quantify -- I mean, what percentage of your roughly 4,000 teachers feel this way, have this problem?
CHERYL KREHBIEL: Fifty percent don't have the right mindset(my bold). And there's the possibility that more of them don't have the content knowledge to do the job.

I have heard professors of education say that 50% of preservice teachers should never have been accepted into the schools of education. I have heard professors of math classes for preservice elementary teachers say that 50% of their students do not have the math skills or understanding to lay the essential foundation our children need to master math to the levels needed in the modern world. I have heard teachers say that 50% of their colleagues should not be teaching.

Tonight I decided that I have heard the 50 percent estimate so many times that I am going to start a collection of citations and look for research that may confirm or deny the estimate. I fully understand that I have cited nothing but anecdotal evidence, and I fully understand that some people believe anecdotal evidence equals worthless evidence, but anecdotal evidence is a place to start. Anecdotal evidence can often be the first indication of important research-worthy trends.

What research has confirmed is that the most crucial factor leading to academic achievement is teacher quality. If significant numbers of teachers should not be in the classroom and yet remain, all other education reform efforts are a waste of time, money and energy. Research may find that less than 50 percent should find another career, but even so, efforts to recruit and retain quality teachers must be the linchpin of education reform. One place to find quality teachers would be among the proven older teachers from out of district who are routinely denied teaching jobs in favor of younger, less experienced (read: cheaper) applicants. If such older teachers manage to get hired, they must accept deep pay cuts since most districts will only give about five to seven years credit for experience on the pay scale even to proven teachers with ten, twenty or thirty years experience.

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