[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

We’ve been discussing teacher quality for decades. Everyone is rightfully concerned about making sure that good teachers are in front of students. Thus the teacher quality provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, the calls for performance or merit pay, the concerns about alternative licensure, the quests for better teacher evaluation systems, the gnashing of teeth over ‘obstructionist unions that get in the way of firing bad teachers,’ and so on…

For the purposes of discussion, here’s a modest proposal:

  1. Do our damnedest to create a positive working climate for teachers: ongoing administrative and community support, decent resources, professional development that’s actually useful, etc. Sometimes easier said than done, but nonetheless…
  2. In nearly every school there usually are a handful of teachers who are just going through the motions (or worse). Students know who they are. Other teachers know who they are. Administrators know who they are. Parents know who they are (that’s why they work so hard to get their kid some other teacher instead).
  3. Every year fire the worst teacher in the school. If you don’t have a robust teacher evaluation system (or if you’re worried about administrator bias), do it like they do on Survivor: everyone gets a vote and the one with the most votes leaves the island. Administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents – everyone involved with the school gets a vote. Dismissal by consensus. The more that are involved, (hopefully) the less likelihood of a witch hunt. If necessary, modify the master contract to make this happen.

From Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric:

"You should take the top 20 percent of your employees and make them feel loved," Welch advised. "Take the middle 70 percent and tell them what they need to do to get into the top 20 percent." Managing out the bottom 10 percent of performers is necessary not only for the organization's continued success but also for the sake of employees affected by the rigorous appraisal system. "People need to know where they stand," Welch said. "Failing to differentiate among employees – and holding on to bottom-tier performers – is actually the cruelest form of management there is."