We have lately heard that certain teachers are “irreplaceable.” So was the conclusion of a report by The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by Michelle Rhee to place new teachers in the classroom. TNTP always thinks big ideas that will push out experienced teachers and make room for the new teachers they recruit. TNPT is enamored with test scores as the bottom-line measure of good teaching because they are convinced their new teachers will raise test scores faster and higher than veteran teachers. Whether this is so, it is hard to say because the new teachers have never taught before and one year of data doesn’t mean much. So maybe after three or four years, it is possible to test their claims. The larger question, which TNTP never addresses or considers unimportant, is whether the ability to raise test scores is the very best way to measure who is a good teacher, who is irreplaceable.

Here is the tip-off to their self-interest: “In fact, in these districts, 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years of experience are less effective at advancing academic progress than the average first-year teacher.” Imagine that! The average first-year teachers (that is, the ones you can get if you work with TNTP) are far more effective that 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years experience! You can see where this is leading: experience is irrelevant because those great first-year teachers are better than 40 percent of the veterans. Why not ditch tenure and seniority and get rid of 40 percent of anyone who has taught for more than seven years? Unfortunately, the report laments, those ineffective experienced teachers were making more money than the average first-year teacher, which struck TNTP as blatantly unfair! Why not pay the highly effective, irreplaceable first-year teachers even more than the seven-year veterans and fire the veterans? I’m not clear about how they know first-year teachers are irreplaceable when they have no data until they are in their second year or third or fourth or fifth year. And maybe they are just good test-drill instructors. But since I don’t understand why anyone would think the way TNTP thinks, I can’t explain their thinking. Read it for yourself.

When the New York Times wrote its editorial advocating carrots and sticks, it was responding to the TNTP report, taking it as fact and truth.

Here is a different point of view about who is irreplaceable:

I was a good teacher before I went through National Boards. It was a grueling process–I had three episodes of shingles during that year, and cried the entire month of January. But I came out the other end a much better teacher, and I can document the impact I’ve had on student learning and student lives. If you’re NBCT, you’re highly effective–one might even say you’re one of the “irreplaceable” teachers that are beginning to make the news. BUT…you can’t use test scores to show student learning–it’s a much more complex and subtle process of actually looking at students as individuals and measuring learning in many ways. This is not comprehensible to anal-retentive number-crunching business-type reformers, who see the world in black and white–their world is binary. Research has shown that NBCTs are highly effective teachers. Several of my fellow NBCTs are leaving teaching for the private sector, and many others are retiring early, because of the “reforms” in education. So not only are the reformers destroying a program that increases teacher effectiveness, they’re driving effective teachers out of the classroom. I’m sad for our students, because they’re the ones that are getting the raw deal.