Bad teachers in D.C., Md. are shielded, report says

Survey data point to restrictive policies that thwart innovation

By Nick Anderson
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A new national report card on educational innovation contends that principals in Maryland and the District of Columbia face too many barriers to ousting bad teachers.

As a result, both jurisdictions earned an F for teacher-removal policies. Virginia received an A.

The report, released Monday by the Center for American Progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick M. Hess bridges constituencies from across the political spectrum.

The study graded states and the District on policy questions central to the Obama administration's education agenda. Among them: Are data systems strong enough to help educators improve schools? Are teacher evaluations based on student performance? Are states open to hiring alternative-track teachers? Do they provide flexibility for school management in exchange for better results?

Overall, said Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue, the study found "only a faint pulse of innovation in our schools. We must turn that into a strong heartbeat."

John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, who was chief of staff in the Clinton White House, said that the nation faces a "staggering" education crisis and that state and local actions to address it "have been clearly insufficient."

For the most part, the study did not base grades on student achievement. As a result, Maryland, with many high-performing schools, found itself grouped on the teacher-removal question with the District, which has one of the most troubled urban school systems in the nation.

The study examined survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics on obstacles principals face when they try to get rid of "poor-performing or incompetent" teachers.

More often than peers nationwide, principals in Maryland and the District reported that personnel policies, paperwork and teachers unions were barriers to teacher removal, according to the study.

Also receiving an F on that issue were Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Florida, California, West Virginia, Nevada and Hawaii.

Maryland state education spokesman William Reinhard said teacher termination is primarily a function of locally negotiated contracts.

He also noted that Maryland, like the District and Virginia, received a B for hiring and evaluation policies.

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