On Friday, July 23, Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools, dismissed teachers across the city for poor performance. The number of teachers dismissed has yet to be finalized, but at one point, figures were pointing to as high as 240. Other teachers have been placed on probation, and must prove themselves worthy of the high standards Rhee has set for them. She even went so far as to tie teachers’ pay to their performance when negotiating with the Washington Teacher's Union. As a British citizen, I couldn't help but think whether Rhee was taking inspiration from the Iron Lady herself, AKA, Margaret Thatcher - Britain's first female prime minister, who fought many battles against the unions. Whatever the source of Rhee's inspiration, this was an unprecedented step to take. Some may posit that she is addressing what is called, "the widget effect" - the failure to act on differences in teacher effectiveness.
In his 2010 Annual Letter for his foundation, Bill Gates highlighted the need to focus on “helping teachers improve." While many continue to advocate for increased accountability and incentives for teachers, he mentions the need to provide teachers with more and better information on their performance. As he puts it:
“It is amazing how little feedback teachers get to help them improve, especially when you think about how much feedback their students get."
What Are We Doing?
Many of us who work on research and policy advice for developing countries are constantly reminding governments of the need to assess student performance, to improve mechanisms to reward effective teachers and remove those who are not so effective, and to provide information to parents and communities about school quality.