Why Should it Be Hard to Fire?

A new report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives New Mexico a “C” as its overall education grade. Sounds good, right? I mean we usually get an “F’ on these things. Actually, not really as good as it sounds.


Last year, “Leaders and Laggards” focused on student test scores rather than innovation, and New Mexico ranked 49th, better only than Mississippi and Washington, D.C.

See, this year focused on “education innovation” to determine overall ranking. When the only thing that matters (defined: student performance) is measured, we’re still way down there at the very bottom of the ranking. The exact same place as the year before.


Considering the budget crisis we’re facing, it is interesting to note that one of those measurements in which New Mexico got a worse in class score, a big red F, was in the return on investment category. I’ve been beating this drum for years. We spend, spend and then spend a lot more, and have absolutely nothing that matters (defined: increase in student performance) to show for it.

Now before some of you start claiming that New Mexico can’t be compared to other states because of our poverty levels, keep in mind this failing score was after being graded on a curve:

Student achievement in New Mexico is very low relative to state education spending (after controlling for student poverty, the percentage of students with special needs, and cost of living). This dismal return on investment earns the state a failing grade.

So, how do we start making inroads? Well, back in August I put forward a plan for education reform that would be a huge step in the right direction. If you read it, you might want to compare number two of my recommendations to the position of the teachers’ union president:


But it got an “F” and was ranked 44th for removal of ineffective teachers.

To determine that grade, the report cited a survey of principals, most of whom reported that personnel policies and unions are barriers to removing ineffectual teachers. Garcia said such policies are determined by districts, not the state.

“Districts have their local policies, whether they work with teachers or give them another chance,” she said.

Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teacher Federation president, said she doesn’t think New Mexico deserved such low marks. She said principals have discretion to fire ineffective teachers as long as they show cause.

“Is it hard? Yeah. It should be hard to fire someone,” she said. “But it’s not impossible.”

I’m sorry I don’t understand this position. Why should it be hard to fire someone? Why should it be harder to fire a teacher than say an accountant or a doctor or a retail clerk? What am I missing?

This mentality is why unions in general are struggling to find relevance. People who can’t do their jobs need to find other work. If unions decided to focus on improving the situation for the high achievers versus protecting the status quo for the underachievers, they would find they had more relevance.

More importantly, as it relates to school, they would find they were actually being advocates for children as opposed to depriving an entire generation a quality education.

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