A Question of Competence

State Comptroller John Sharp has suggested that HISD needs to fire more incompetent teachers. But as the case of Beverly Goodie shows, it's not that simple. Just how do you tell who's incompetent? And what happens when you try?

Among the 228 recommendations that state Comptroller John Sharp made for improving HISD when he threw down his massive audit last fall, recommendation 83 has drawn little attention. It states that "The teacher evaluation process should be modified and principals should be required to prepare and monitor an improvement plan for all teachers." The audit predicts that such a change would improve teacher morale because teachers expect and want instructional leadership from principals, and would value the "interaction" with them.

Maybe. But that would assume that principals know what is wrong in every classroom and have specific ideas on how to fix the problems. It assumes that there is some agreement about what good classroom teaching is, and that there's some universally accepted way to measure it. It's true that every business needs some way of measuring the effectiveness of its employees, and that education depends totally on improving the effectiveness of its teachers. But sweeping recommendations are easy to make. Improving the schools teacher by teacher is quite another. After all, after a four-day hearing, a dozen witnesses and more than a thousand pages of evidence, the district and the state can't even agree on something as basic as the competence or incompetence of Beverly Goodie.

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