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Education reform: Can poor test scores get a teacher fired?

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The district defends it as a tool to help principals ensure that each classroom has an effective teacher. No one has been let go yet under the new policy, but at the end of the school year, the data could be cited as one criterion for not renewing a teacher's contract.

The controversy highlights a broader debate over how to improve teacher evaluations – which are "largely broken," US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said recently before a House committee.

Secretary Duncan presented the blueprint of the No Child Left Behind overhaul to the House education committee Wednesday. The plan includes a number of provisions for improving teacher quality.

For all the potential flaws, linking teacher evaluations to student achievement data is a move in the right direction, says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington. Under the status quo, she says, teachers tend to be fired only if they are abusive or break the law. Studies in a sample of districts across the United States have found that less than 1 percent of teachers earn an unsatisfactory rating on their evaluations. "We do not fire teachers because they aren't good at teaching math [or other subjects]," she says.

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