I wrote a blog about the culture at Microsoft, where employees are evaluated by “stack ranking,” meaning that everyone in every unit is assigned a weighting–best, average, worse. I printed comments by people who had been subject to this system, who said that it stifled creativity and collaboration. I discovered that many major corporations have a similar rating system. At Enron it was called “rank and yank.” Jack Welch of GE championed the idea of finding and firing the laggards.

Something similar is happening now in education. Many of the new state evaluation systems, designed in response to Race to the Top (a font of untested ideas), will evaluate teachers and principals on a bell curve. The bell curve decrees that a certain percentage are at the bottom, no matter how effective they are. Economist Eric Hanushek has proposed that 5-10% of teachers (based on the test scores of their students) be fired and replaced by “average” teachers; he says this will produce incredible results: we will rise to the top of the international rankings and the economy will expand by trillions, just by firing those teachers.

A reader in Memphis noticed that the plan of the Transition Planning Committee (led by Stand for Children and advised by the Boston Consulting Group) proposes stack ranking of teachers:

From p. 56 of the Transition Planning Commission’s recommendations regarding the Memphis merger:

“Measures of success
- A meaningful distribution of teacher evaluation scores—approximately 20% evaluated 1s and 2s and less than 20% evaluated 5s
- The teacher evaluation is used as the basis for professional development, decisions about who teaches, and compensation.”

Even if the distribution recommendation is simply hypothetical, it’s pathetic.

There is not a school system in America with 1/5 of its workforce comprised of bad teachers. If there were, that district’s HR department would deserve getting canned first.

But let’s assume 20% is actually a solid estimate. The district fires those teachers. Then what? Fire good teachers you’ve scored “ineffective” in the hopes of hiring even better teachers? Great idea. What teacher would want to work in that sort of system?