Bad Teachers Should Go

Why is public education failing too many of its client students? Why does the achievement gap still persist in most of our schools? Taking the macro view I wonder: Is this a systems problem or a human capital problem? Or both? On Friday of last week I attended the professional development seminar sponsored by the Santa Clara County Office of Education and SJ2020. During the morning presentation by nationally renowned researcher Dr. Robert Marzano, the 250 conference attendees learned he believes it is a systems problem not a teacher capital problem.

According to Marzano the 3.4 million public school teachers in America fall into a normal “bell” curve distribution as far as their overall effectiveness and quality. This means that 68% of all teachers are represented in that portion of the “bell” curve that is 1 standard deviation from the mean.

Marzano stipulates that a vast majority of America’s 3.4 million teachers are good enough in their pedagogical skills to help all students succeed while eliminating the achievement gap. However, he believes that the system of feedback to students must be vastly improved over the current antiquated summative grading system.

Three commitments he deems essential include: 1. A system of individual feedback on learning goals at the classroom, school and district levels which is standards-based and uses quality formative assessments. In other words, both teachers and students must learn from formative assessments. Teachers instruction must be driven by what is learned from formative assessments and students must be given second opportunities to succeed once the knowledge is learned, 2. Ensure that effective teaching is happening in every classroom, 3. Build the academic language and background knowledge students need to succeed. Marzano believes if a serious attempt was made to do all three of these commitments in every SJ2020 district the achievement gap would be eliminated in 5 years.

At the January 13, 2010 Santa Clara County Board of Education meeting we heard a presentation on the renewal application by Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Charter School. Rocketship has a 2009 API of 926 with a 78% free and reduced lunch and 73% English Language Learner population. Rocketship education co-founder and CEO John Danner said, “With commitment and hard work, Rocketship has proven that the achievement gap is a historical legacy, not an immutable fact of life.” In fact, Rocketship outperforms the mean API of Palo Alto Unified School District.

In my conversations with Mr. Danner he tells me his staff is stellar and the issue with closing the achievement gap is first and foremost a human capital problem. I felt Danner’s management staff fell into the 2% of experts on that bell curve. It was truly evident at the Board meeting with the principal, Chief Achievement Officer and Chief Operations Officer who addressed the Board and its questions.

As I struggle to attempt to figure out this puzzle on why we have the same issues persisting in public education for the last 40 years and why Marzano says he fears 40 years from now we will be talking about the same identical issues I get a huge migraine.

Well, I think the problem is both a systems and human capital one. If San Jose Unified and Superintendent Inglesias had the same flexibility Rocketship enjoys as a Charter their results would be as good. In fact, 4 of their 45 schools outperform Rocketship, but those schools have very different number counts for free and reduced lunch and the number of Latino students.

The teachers’ unions, AFT and NEA, have fought to keep too many teachers who might fall in the bell curve between the 1st and 2nd deviation from the mean from dismissal. In a study done last year by the New Teacher Project more than 50% of the teachers responding to the survey in the study said they knew a tenured teacher who warranted dismissal for inadequate performance. President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers gave a historic speech on this issue last week, so times are a changing.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. > According to Marzano the 3.4 million public school teachers in America fall into a normal “bell” curve distribution as far as their overall effectiveness and quality. This means that 68% of all teachers are represented in that portion of the “bell” curve that is 1 standard deviation from the mean.

    Wow!  What an astounding statistic!

    68% of teachers exhibit normal teaching quality and effectiveness.

    I guess the other 32% of teachers must be above average and teach in the Lake Wobegon School District.

    Please, don’t even THINK of suggesting that there are any BELOW average teachers.  They all have government credentials, you know.

  2. In any ranked group about half will be below average by mathematical necessity. That’s no indication that they are unqualified, however. Half of all legal drivers have below average driving skills. Half of all airplane pilots have below average flying skills.

  3. If the students I met in the SJSU credential program are any indication, there will be many qualified and effective educators taking on the responsibility of educating Bay Area students.

    • Well, then, where do bad teachers come from?  You know, the ones that Joe DiSalvo says “should go”?

      If they don’t come from SJSU, where DO they come from?

      From private schools?

      The government should make a law that prohibits the hiring of any teacher from a private school.

  4. Mr. Patterson is right about how we woirk hard and o twitter we talkk about teching the strudents well at san jo.

    Free movie time

    go spartan squad!

    • Want to know the best part?  The students completing the SJSU credential program want to be part of a solution to the troubles facing the education system.

      Pretty noble stuff!

      • > Pretty noble stuff!

        Oh, wow!  This is great news!

        I am so disgusted with the crass money grubbing of the daily grind in the corporate world.

        It’s so inspiring to learn that there are altruistic young people willing to give back to the community, and who are totally untainted by the profit motive.

        I know that I would never have the character to work without a paycheck or lavish union benefits like these selfless young people.  We should all be inspired by their selflessness and willingness to endure impoverished lives for the sake of the children.

      • Chris,

        I agree.  The students in the Fall semester of our Educational Psychology class were a shining example of the excellence coming into the teaching profession from this valley. I was fortunate to be part of the experience. I certainly wish we could get back to the thoughtful discourse on the educational topics at hand in this forum that we had during our last semester.

        I wish all your student colleagues the very best of the new semester that begins next week.  Thank you for staying involved in the dialogue on SJI.

        The time for sarcasm and blame must end. We have far too many issues and problems awaiting smart solutions to waste time with putdowns and blame games. The election in MA yesterday was a signal that one wins public support when running a campaign absent of name calling and negativity.

        • Why do I have this feeling, Ye Grande Mephisto, that if the newly elected Senator Brown read about your patchwork quilt of liberal proto Maoism, he would have you and your apostles audited.

        • > The time for sarcasm and blame must end.

          Hello?  What?

          I was simply invoking the standard touchy feely hopey changey template and you call it SARCASM!

          This is unfair.

          I’m offended.  And disillusioned.

  5. It’s one thing to say that bad teachers must go.

    It’s another to describe what you’re willing to do to make that happen.

    So, to the author, what are you doing to make bad teachers go?

    • When these guys say “bad teachers,” they really mean the “old white Anglo teachers” as the superintendent at Alum Rock Elementary District pointed out a little too publicly on local television.  And he did a purge of over 55 “old white Anglo teachers” before he moved on to another local elementary school district.

      “Bad teachers” here doesn’t mean teachers who can’t teach, it means purging the diverse white San Jose teachers.

      • Undoubtedly, the “old white Anglo teachers” exhibited more than a politically correct amount of the problematic “white culture/values” noted, by Joe DiSalvo’s promising student teachers. 

        I expect that Joe will be scrupulously non-judgemental about the jettisoning of the “old white Anglo” Alum Rock teachers just as he was non-judgemental about his students finding “white culture/values” to be a “problem”.

      • Didn’t you already say this?

        Dale Warner Tue, Aug 25, 2009 – 12:55 pm

        You overlooked Aceves’ two-year stint as superintendent at the Alum Rock Union Elementary school district where he is fondly remembered as announcing on the TV community channel that he thought that there were too many “old Anglo white teachers” in the district.  Perhaps you find his views acceptable, but a lot of former teachers at Alum Rock certainly do not.

        • Doesn’t Chris Patterson work for a community college district?  I think they are paying him to work and not to use the district resources to blog all day for his cause.

          What is this HE fascination Patterson has with several bloggers on SJ Inside.

          Patterson should focus on online crossword games instead of being the DiSalvo Acolyte.  I wonder if these disciples of Joey ever teach, as it seems they spend all day being disciples.

        • > Didn’t you already say this?

          Are you suggesting the Mr. Warner has your permission to say this only once, and then must file it in the memory hole?

          How many times have Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Coretta King, Michelle Obama (aided and abetted by the New York Times) reminded anyone and everyone that blacks are eternally victims of white racism and white skin privilege?

          Have you communicated with any of them regarding your irritaion at their repetitious behavior?

  6. Is this San Jose Inside or the Chris and Joe Show?

    How about Judge DiSalvo ask Young Chris to organize a show to raise money for The Academy, maybe in a barn?  With homemade costumes made by Aunt Jenny?

    This constant lecturing to all of us about the Special Class of Troopers from The Land of Truth led by DiSalvo the Prophet is becoming so boring!

  7. By all reports the problem with the public school system is in not recruiting enthusiastic new teachers but in retaining them for more than a year or two, once they find out what the job is like.

  8. Some bell curve…

    “But L.A. Unified doesn’t pursue as many firings as other major districts, considering its size. The district, which has about 30,000 tenured teachers, fires 21 a year—well under 1 per 1,000—according to district statistics for the last five years. Long Beach fires 6 per 1,000, and San Diego fires about 2 per 1,000.

    A one-time study of teacher evaluations from the 2003-04 academic year, for instance, showed that 98.9% of all tenured teachers were said by supervisors to have “met standards.”

  9. DiSalvo: “Why does the achievement gap still persist in most of our schools?”

    Because educators like DiSalvo cannot understand the difference between “the achievement gap” and “the achievement gaps” as ranked by demographics. If that simple fact cannot be understood, forget educators ability to take appropriate, positive actions in the larger matter.

    “I certainly wish we could get back to the thoughtful discourse on the educational topics at hand in this forum that we had during our last semester.”

    Honesty in the discourse would help that out.

  10. The education “experts” have about as much understanding of how to “fix” the education system as medeival physicians had of curing human ailments. This idea of purging the system of bad teachers has about as much chance of success as a 15th century bloodletting to cast out the evil humours from a patient with melancholia.

    First Do No Harm. Fortunately the medical establishment now understands this most basic concept. How long before you utopian social engineers figure out that the same principle applies to you too?
    When will you step back from your hubris and see what the rest of us see- that the more you guys have fiddled with education, the worse it’s got.

  11. As the size of societies grow beyond Dunbar’s number, we are forced to create artificial tools to assess someone’s readiness or competence. Ideally, we should grant a driver’s license only to someone mature enough to drive safely. However, we have no way as a society to assess “maturity to drive”, so we (and most other societies) proxy that with age. We know that the age is artificial, as different societies have selected radically different ages to demonstrate maturity.

    Teaching has the same challenge. Educational establishments espouse grandiose statements, such as “Critical Thinkers”, “LIfelong Learners” and “Multifaceted Citizens”, as their goals, but without a mechanism to measure success, we use test results as a proxy. Of course, test results don’t actually demonstrate success in any of the stated goals, but they are easy to administer, and provide an objective measure to track “student success”, and by extension teacher competence.

    It seems to me that we can’t define teacher competence until we can find an effective tool to measure competence. Unless the only goal that matters is “Maximizing student test results”, we are not measuring teacher competence, just student’s ability to memorize.

    Let’s all of us – parents, journalists, administrators, teachers, politicians – start to look into the real issue, that of how to really measure competence. Let’s collectively put our intellectual capital into this, and stop arguing about an unnecessary, polarizing, red-herring.