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.”
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.