When a prominent educational figure remarked that, “a lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent,” it was a rare candid statement about teacher quality. The comment arguably overstates the problem and — in fairness — he was also quick to point out that with several million teachers there would of course be some lousy ones, just as there would be in any field. Still, it was a jarring thing to say.
Education policy debates are often like an argument between a couple in a bad relationship — about everything except the actual problems. Our leaders seem congenitally unable to lead a difficult but honest conversation about our nation’s teaching force that acknowledges that several things are all true at once — we have a teacher quality problem and a management problem, teachers are not to blame for all that ails our schools, we can’t fire our way to better schools, but removing some percentage of low-performers would be quite good for students. Instead we have a shallow debate dancing around the thing that matters most in schools: instructional quality.