Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers?

Here’s an email I just received. Think about the messages contained in this PR pitch…

Hi Scott,

As the Vergara case continues to steal headlines and spark debate, I wanted to offer up an alternative angle. Although it’s a complicated issue, the tenure controversy seems to boil down to one real problem: that “grossly ineffective teachers” are entrenched and protected. But that raises the question: Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers in the first place – and how do we change that?

If you’d like to dive into this overlooked aspect of the issue for a blog post, I’d be happy to set up a call with Joel Sackett of Paragon K12. Paragon is a teacher selection tool that uses decades of research and large quantities of historical data to actually correlate individual teacher attributes (both quantitative and qualitative ones) to student achievement. Joel would be happy to engage in a high-level discussion about the hiring process, including current challenges many districts face – whether a lack of funding, efficiency or effectiveness – and also explain some skepticism and strategies surrounding next-gen hiring technology.

To round out the story, you could also talk to Katie Shortsleeve for an actual use case. She works in Human Resources at Douglas County School District – a district that actually using Paragon K12.

Would you be interested in chatting with Joel and/or Katie sometime next week? Let me know. Happy to set something up and I look forward to hearing from you! Have a nice weekend, Scott!



Here’s my response:

Alyssa, with due respect to you, Joel, and Katie, this PR pitch that you just sent me is a crock. Numerous peer-reviewed research studies and our best statisticians tell us that teachers only account for about 1% to 14% of the overall variability in student test scores. Nor is there any real evidence – other than a few anecdotes, made-up education ‘reformer’ sound bites, and, apparently, messages from corporations and publicists who are willing to ignore the truth and use scare tactics in order to make a buck – that we have a large, systemic problem with ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers.

I’m sure that Paragon K12 probably has some value it can lend to the educator hiring process. But I believe that this marketing message is overhyped, irresponsible fear-mongering that not only contributes to an escalating climate of disrespect and disenfranchisement of educators but also distracts from some of the very real factors that significantly impact student learning outcomes. What would the numerous wonderful teachers that you, Joel, and Katie had as P-12 students think of this PR pitch? Or the hardworking educators in Douglas County, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, Chula Vista, and other districts that are Paragon K12 clients? Do you think that they’d agree with and be proud of you?


Here’s Alyssa’s response:

Hi Scott,

My point was simply that everyone seems to be focusing on the protection of the “ineffective teachers” being cited in the Vergara case, but not asking about how they may have gotten hired in the first place. And while no one factor obviously determines learnings outcomes, similarly respected research has shown time and time again that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor when it comes to improving student achievement – so it is far from insignificant.

Anyways, thank you for the feedback.


And here’s mine:

Actually, it might be better to say school-controlled. And, at 1% to 14%, it’s less significant than many other, more important factors such as peer-to-peer effects (which could be considered ‘school-based’) or non-school factors…

The subject of your message was ‘Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers?’ My point is simply that your messaging is untrue. With very rare exceptions, schools are NOT hiring ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers. Should school districts care about and try to improve whom they hire? Absolutely. Can companies try to create systems that will help schools with this task? Sure. Should companies and their publicists engage in fear-mongering scare tactics and grossly inaccurate overgeneralizations in order to try and capitalize (literally) on the latest education story du jour? I don’t think so, but apparently that’s ‘marketing’ in the eyes of your firm and your client, regardless of the harm and disrespect to our school systems and the dedicated people who work in them.


Another message from Alyssa:

I am sorry you found the subject line so offensive. I agree – it is over-the-top, but that is unfortunately par for the course. The double-edged sword of a “clicky” subject line that may be fear-mongering but will result in getting someone to open an email and then consider a nuanced conversation on said topic vs. a muted one that no one reads. Again, appreciate the feedback.

And my response:

You admit to over-the-top fear-mongering, yet somehow are so easily able to disclaim culpability… As an educator, why wouldn’t I be offended by intentional, inaccurate insults to and acts against the profession?

12 Responses to “Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers?”

  1. Thank you so much for 1) taking the time to respond to the email from Paragon and 2) sharing the correspondence. I have been wrestling with how to respond to so much negativity in the educational arena. I had to remember that there are really obnoxious lawyer jokes, too, so teaching isn’t the only profession held up to ridicule. It is even worse that companies are trying to make money based on that point of view. I more than ever appreciate the companies that have the point of view that they are partnering with educators to make the schoolhouse an engaging learning environment.

  2. The irony of this is that the “tag line” listed on Zite is the very same as what was listed on the marketing email… Who’s fear-mongering now?

  3. What bothers me is that the tests that Paragon and companies like them peddle are used in the application process.
    Their advanced (multiple choice) test to gauge teacher effectiveness is reduced to a resume writing skill.

  4. Teaching might be one of the hardest professions to be lousy at. Yes there are some but it’s hard to be a really bad teacher. Yes, there are lots of ineffective strategies and educational practices but these are less a function of bad teachers as it is a system not capable or commitment enough to help make changes.

  5. Part of the problem is politics, part of it is the hiring process, and part of it is the evaluations once teachers are hired.
    There are many poor systems for choosing candidates to interview. I know amazing candidates who were NOT interviewed for job openings so that politically connected people could be hired. My district has hired people not only without looking outside of the district, and only interviewing one candidate (who happened to be related to a school board member). This is not how to get the best and brightest. Unions can’t help because you have no ground for someone who is not already covered by the contract (meaning already hired!)
    Evaluations are infrequent (twice a year), brief (30 minutes maybe?), and almost always done by someone who has no qualifications for teaching that subject area, and often less educational experience. That is why Universities usually use Peer Review as part of the evaluations, so that is never considered in any of the “reform” proposals. That is a large part of why the evaluations rarely provide any useful feedback for teacher improvement.
    Teacher evaluation should be first and foremost about improving teacher quality, yet little or none of the current systems or alternatives address that issue. No one starts perfect, and everyone can improve, but those facts are irrelevant to those whose only goal is to attack public education.

  6. Here are some better questions that I think we should all be asking about why we have teachers who are underperforming or being perceived to be underperforming:

    Why is there so clearly a disconnect between what school district’s are looking for in teachers and what schools of education are producing as teacher candidates?

    Why don’t schools of education look, not just as rates of hiring ,but rates of tenure i.e. isn’t tenure achievement the measure of success for schools of education not just placement?

    Why do most schools of education have a narrow focus on ‘preservice teachers’ instead of a more broad focus on preparing professionals to work in ‘fields of learning’ beyond the traditional classroom?

    What exactly is the role of the school of education in helping teachers who get jobs become more effective…we talk about PD being a function of the individual (PLN) and (as always) a function of the school district (traditional PD), but what kind of PD (if any) is offered post graduation to all new teachers who have a classroom?

  7. Another good blog post Scott. Saw this topic was addressed at Huffpost last week too: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-macaray/exploiting-the-myth-of-th_b_5490278.html Glad to see more people addressing the issue of what has become the go to excuse for education issues and a favorite scare tactic.

  8. Could there be another Allysa? If not, she just keeps on. I just got this email (copied into a Google Doc) on Vergara and the “appalling lack of adequate teacher training” http://tinyurl.com/qbyhkcr

  9. “Why are we hiring grossly ineffective____________________?”

    One could just as easily fill in the blank with these:
    -boy scout leaders
    -construction workers
    -PR Consultants
    -financial analysts
    -media specialists

    Teachers just happen to be the flavor of the day to single out. Bashing teachers creates jobs… for some. God forbid that we start using the same flawed metrics on the rest of humanity.

  10. There seems to be this perception that the percentage of bad employees in teaching is for some reason higher than in other professions. Most likely because 1) that narrative is fed by powerful people and organizations with money in order to further their own purposes, and 2) the historical situation of teaching as women’s work (and thus is more easily diminished than, say, firefighting or police work).

  11. It has been my experience that in general people don’t get fired. They are laid off, counseled, downsized, or unscheduled, but they don’t get fired.

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