Free Market Fundamentalist Opinion

Fire Bad Teachers!

Unions and regulations protect teachers who don’t do well, to the detriment of their students.

One of the worst thing about a government monopoly on education is that it often makes it almost impossible to fire bad teachers.

In a free market, workers who don’t do well lose their jobs. The risk of being fired is supposed to ensure that people do their job well.

But in a system that is full of regulation, lobbyists and union rules — like education in the United States — teachers can stay in front of a classroom for many years, regardless of their performance.

Dance of the lemons

On his Fox Business show last month, John Stossel complained about the situation, saying it is part of the reason why education is so expensive in the United States while test scores remain low.

“When your job and salary is pretty much guaranteed,” he wondered, “why work harder?”

There are so many steps a school has to go through to fire a teacher than many don’t bother. “Sometimes they just transfer the worst teachers to other schools,” said Stossel. Administrators call it “the dance of the lemons” or “passing the trash.” Funny — “except it could be your kid who has that teacher.”

Defeatist mindset

Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert of Newsweek agree and report, “In most states, after two or three years, teachers are given lifetime tenure,” courtesy of the unions. “In no other socially significant profession are the workers so insulated from accountability.”

Consequently, “teaching in public schools has not always attracted the best and the brightest.” Most schoolteachers are recruited from the bottom third of college-bound high school students.

With public schools often the only option available to low-income families, children who need social advancement the most are often stuck with the least inspiring of teachers. “Over time, inner-city schools, in particular, succumbed to a defeatist mindset.”

Blaming everyone else

School superintendents and unions have been blaming everyone but themselves.

First, it was the parents, or the absence of parents, that accounted for students’ poor test scores.

Next, society “with all its distractions and pathologies” got the blame.

Finally, the kids themselves were the problem. Regardless of academic performance, the thinking went, public schools had to keep going through the motions to promote social equality and hope the students graduated. Except that just 60 percent of African Americans and Hispanics finish high school.

Teaching isn’t easy, but students deserve the best education they can get. Allowing teachers to stay in their jobs when they don’t succeed at it is quite possibly the single biggest problem in American education today.


  1. “Allowing teachers to stay in their job when they don’t succeed at it is quite probably the single greatest problem with American education today.”

    I don’t have a lot of experience with this problem since my son goes to a Montessori independent (private) school and so far has always encountered very good teachers. It seems hard to say how much of a problem bad teachers really are compared to the other problems (administration, parents etc.). Are there any hard figures? No doubt they are presently protected by the rules. However, the government enforced monopoly could turn on them someday. Other countries with socialist education systems function better although of course some do worse. The safest way is as you suggest is a completely private education system which will ensure quality education, regardless of what the major problems are.

    However, regardless of the total number of bad teachers, when they occur it can be devastating to a child’s education. I’ve said this before but it is difficult to teach someone to think when you can’t do it yourself.

  2. This is the worst in Detroit, corruption and terrible teachers combined! A classic example of a bloated bureaucracy. There is a movement towards privatizing schools because the results are so terrible. Things must be at their worst when democrats are considering privatization!

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