There are schools that work well, and schools that work poorly. The schools that work well almost always are in middle class neighborhoods, and the schools that work poorly are in poor neighborhoods. When these students are brought together in comprehensive high schools- the lower class kids do poorly and the middle class kids do well.
There are skilled teachers, unskilled teachers, and poor teachers. The most recent evidence on Teach for America shows no particular merit in their approaches. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/teach-for-america
Research does not support the use of test scores, including value added testing as a reliable source of evaluation http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/6276/. (See prior blog on this.) The New York Times has an article today by Sam Dillon that describes the controversy well http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/education/01teacher.html?_r=1&hpw
The essence of the argument around value added testing as promoted in the Los Angeles Times series is that poor teachers should be eliminated. One assumption is that individual teachers can change the school trajectory of kids. While good teachers are important, the Broader, Bolder Approach work demonstrates that communities need to improve the educational environment, not just hire and fire new teachers. http://www.boldapproach.org/
Why do politicians and news writers avoid this broader-bolder approach? It seems that they avoid it, argue against it, oppose it, because it would require that the politicians, the communities, the news writers do something positive, not simply cause the dismissal of some teachers. Politicians would have to adequately fund the schools and the supporting health and community centers needed to promote education. (see Robles-Wong, et al. v. State of California). The communities ( and voters) would have to adequately fund the schools and health centers, and/or volunteer in these institutions to make them successful. And, the news writers, well they would have to investigate the complexity of the problem rather than turning to over simplified “solutions” that do not work.
The Los Angeles Times reports describe how even excellent teachers are not recognized. A corollary is that poor teachers are seldom assisted, coached, to improve. Yes, if a teacher is a poor teacher, and not accepting assistance and not improving, then they should be removed. But, that has seldom been tried. Look at the teacher improvement literature. All the L.A. times offers is public shame. It would be more productive to advocate for teacher assistance – and the improvement of teaching and learning conditions in low performing schools.