Firing teachers won’t fix slumping education system

Arizonans have several reasons to be jealous of Finland. The list now includes superior snowman construction, Euros and school.

Arizona’s public education system, especially at the high school level, has consistently earned a bad reputation in recent years. The same can be said about the entire U.S. public education system.

A battle is raging between teachers’ unions across the country as the U.S. tries to catch up to countries like Finland, whose education system is widely considered the best in the world. (In our defense, Americans have a lot more fun than Finns.)

“We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” appeared on Newsweek’s March 15 cover, and detailed the struggle between Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of District of Columbia public schools, and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Rhee supports an overhaul of the U.S. education system and has pushed hard for teachers to give up tenure in return for hefty salary raises. This has naturally led to a clash with Weingarten, whose union is hesitant to give up teachers’ benefits and wants to avoid mass layoffs.

The Newsweek article, which strongly supported Rhee’s conservative stance on teachers’ unions, reported that most teachers are given lifetime tenure after two or three years, and made the controversial claim that New Orleans has benefited from hurricane Katrina because of the local government’s ability to replace bad teachers after the school system was wiped out.

In addition to reform measures, tight budgets have made it easier to consider making cuts; teachers’ tenure is expensive and has become much less appealing.

The Arizona Republic reported Scottsdale will cut $9 million from its 2010-2011 education budget, and since teacher salaries generally make up the vast majority of funding, staff cuts are inevitable.

Firing teachers may be on the rise, but it does have its have some backlashes. Fewer teachers means bigger classes, so unless schools plan on hiring even better teachers, this will not improve education quality.

While firing bad teachers isn’t an instant cure for America’s public school woes, the argument over tenure has taken center stage in the national education reform.

President Barack Obama emphasized education as an integral building block for the country’s future during his 2008 campaign, and according to the White House education Web site page, “Teachers are the single most important resource to a child’s learning. President Obama will ensure that teachers are supported as professionals in the classroom, while also holding them more accountable.”

Accountability is the key word.

Firing incompetent teachers is one huge step towards a better education system, but it’s only part of the process. Hiring good teachers is just as important, and training teachers is an absolute necessity.

Finland will always have more snow, more hockey and more blond hair, but the U.S. can catch up in education ­— just as long as we don’t fire too many teachers.

Jack will take care of the snowmen. You take care of the education. E-mail him at jlfitzpa@asu.edu


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