The escalating conflict over firing and hiring individual teachers may be the result of an ill conceived reform strategy in DCPS. To the extent that even the budget crisis that led to firing 229 teachers after hiring over 900 over the summer fits into a long term strategy of turning over the teacher workforce, that strategy may fly in the face of research on what works.
In a new Policy Brief released October 26th by the Economic Policy Institite, Harvard Professor Susan Moore Johnson argues that reforms focused on individual teachers falls short. Johnson summarizes recent research by several teams of researchers, including an important new study by Jackson and Breugmann (2009), a mathematica study of new teacher mentoring programs, as well as her own work over many years. This new research supports the conclusion that the effect of a teachers' colleagues and the culture of the school on student achievement may be greater than the individual characteristics that the teacher brings to the equation.
The conventional wisdom that the way to improve education is to find talented teachers, assign them to classrooms, and hold them accountable for raising students' standardized test scores does not, it turns out, lead to the hoped for results. Rather, Johnson argues, we need to focus on the social organization and professional culture of schools as organizations.
The implications of this analysis for DCPS are huge. To the extent that we are sacrificing or failing to invest in the collegial and professional culture in schools and are placing brand new teachers in schools with dysfunctional professional culture where teachers draw defensively into their isolated classrooms, that misplaced emphasis could actually lead to further deterioration in the quality of teaching and learning. To the extent that teachers view themselves in a battle with the DCPS administration over jobs, while their needs for professional supports, respect and trust remain unmet, the atmosphere that is needed to build within-school collegiality is undermined.