Do Principals Make Good Firing Decisions?

If principals are given the power to dismiss teachers, will they dismiss the least effective ones?

As Eric Hanushek has noted, very few studies have looked systematically at the issue of teacher dismissals and teacher quality, in part because there have been very few evaluations of teacher effectiveness that have been meaningful, but also because there have been very few instances of widespread dismissals aimed at producing a higher quality teaching force.

But a new study by Brian Jacob of the University of Michigan looks at what happened in Chicago beginning in 2004, when the school district and the teachers union signed a contract that gave principals the authority to dismiss nontenured teachers for any reason, and without a hearing. (Arne Duncan was superintendent at the time.)

Jacob concludes

I find that principals in Chicago do exercise their authority in sensible ways. Principals are more likely to dismiss teachers who are frequently absent and who have previously received poor evaluations. They dismiss elementary school teachers who are less effective in raising student achievement… These results suggest that other school districts could possibly improve student achievement if they adopted policies similar to those applied in Chicago.

The complete study, “Principled Principals: New evidence from Chicago shows they fire the least effective teachers,” by Brian Jacob, will appear in the Fall 2011 issue of Education Next, and is now available online.

A press release summarizing the study is available here.

The study is released at a time when efforts to evaluate principals are gearing up across the country. As Christina Samuels noted in Ed Week last week, groups representing elementary and secondary principals have just announced a joint plan to help states and districts create principal-evaluation tools.

In a new podcast, Eric Hanushek and Marty West discuss this new study by Brian Jacob as well as another recent study that examined teacher dismissals. The other study, “Managing the Teacher Workforce,” by Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald, looked at which teachers in Washington state were laid off when budget problems forced districts to reduce their staff numbers.

-Education Next

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