The Credibility Gap

What if the *solution* turns out to be a big part of the problem?

credibility gapBy Sarah Lahm
Friends, we have a problem on our hands. It turns out that experienced teachers—otherwise known as LIFO lifers—may not be causing the chasm of the achievement gap all by their lazy little selves. Now you’re probably thinking to yourself at this point: *color me confused.* After all, everyone who is anyone has been telling us for about as long as we can remember now that there is a money-back guaranteed way to boost all children up, no matter their zip code or lack thereof: de-tenurize teachers and take their golden *seniority* tickets while we’re at it. 

Meet the *edu-perts*
The argument goes something like this: once teachers are freed from workplace constraints, just like temps or Walmart clerks, students will at last begin to achieve, feet-upmeaning that the greatest achievement of all has been achieved—the magic vanishing of the achievement gap. Case study: Minneapolis. For years now, a chorus of *edu-perts* (moneyed sources with vested interests whose vast knowledge of education can be traced back to their own student days) has been telling us that Minneapolis’ gigantic test score gaps are caused by the laziness of their teachers. According to these *edu-perts,* the problem is as simple as it is outrageous. [Note: shocking information to follow.] Too many of the city’s teachers cling smugly to their eight-hour days and expect to be able to go home, put their feet up and make eye contact with their own children at the end of the day.

Inconvenient truth
But recently our world of easy answers and talking-point solutions was rocked. Two recent articles seem to tell us that—brace yourselves—experienced teachers work in the best schools with the highest test scores, while other schools, where other people’s children go, are staffed by scads of new teachers.

fraud2First, a sleuthy, enterprising reporter from Minneapolis’ daily newspaper, the StarTribune, analyzed some actual data from the state department of education. The conclusion? Despite a relaxation of the *iron-grip of seniority* in hiring, which was supposed to usher the best and the brightest into classrooms, low-income students of color in Minneapolis are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers, and their education may be suffering because of this. It turns out that a revolving door of non-old, non-seniority clad teachers may actually be causing problems, not fixing them. Whoa.

But wait, there’s more
Then, another article, from a local reporter best known for the *Kramer disclaimer* she must run in every publication, detailing her thorny thicket of ties to Minneapolis’ first family of education reform, turned up more disturbing information.  The most experienced teachers, with the most advanced degrees, are concentrated in the city’s wealthiest, whitest schools. Wealthiest, whitest, and highest test-scoring schools, that is.  Which, I’m pretty sure suddenly means that our most excellent teachers turn out to be the ones who have tenure, seniority and a teaching degree or two.

shift_happensShift happens
In Minneapolis we have been working for years to undermine teachers’ contracts, and very successfully at that. In fact, a brand new contract just passed, creating a whole new set of *community partnership schools* that are free from district-created shackles in exchange for something called *bonded autonomy.* (Don’t ask me.) And principals have been equipped with a new tool for enhancing excellence: a speedy 45 day removal process for teachers. Effectively immediately, any teacher can be selected for expedited dispatch and given the opportunity to find something that better matches his or her skills—or lack thereof.

CSI: Minneapolis
csiMeanwhile the former mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Ryback, who has fashioned a new career for himself out of talking about the achievement gap, has just announced that he plans to use *data-driven crisis* tools to tackle the city’s edu-problems. Ryback even refers to this new big data tool as *CSI MSP.* Together, with endless reams of computer-generated data, it seems, we can gather enough clues to reinvent the wheel, further monetize education, and for once *solve the mystery* of degenerate school systems. But inquiring minds want to know: will the schools that have followed the reformer playbook to no effect, or worse, with disastrous results, be treated as crime scenes?

No more Minnesota nice guy
Folks, forget the Minnesota nice. I’m going to give it to you straight. We were told that youthful enthusiasm was enough. We were sold the idea that tenure was bad for children, and that teachers with seniority were lifeless, lumpy losers whose uncheerful laziness was destroying our schools, widening the achievement gap and producing generations too unskilled for corporate America to hire. We were told that an infusion of fresh, more excellent meat was urgently needed. In fact, the University of Minnesota
even carved out a special program for Teach for America, to start in 2014, so that our schools can be saved up by temporary young teachers who have no need for job security. 

So what if the *solution* turns out to be a big part of the problem?

Sarah Lahm once worked as an English teacher and is now busy building a career as a corporate education reform crime fighter. She also has a bunch of kids who attend public schools in Minneapolis. She can be reached at or @sarahrlahm.

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  1. Loyal EduReaders know that poor minority students in inner-city schools don’t achieve because #poverty. And now I’m reading that wealthy white kids in the suburbs *do* achieve because #experiencedteachers?

    Look, let’s not have it both ways. We can tell the reformbots that #poverty is way more impactful on outcomes than schools/teachers, and we can also say that #experiencedteachers are more effective than new teachers. But when we allow ourselves to imply that #experiencedteachers are the reason that wealthy suburban kids do well, don’t our brains start to ache because #cognitivedissonance?

  2. Ross, I read this article with an entirely different lens than you did. I did not understand the article to be arguing that experienced suburban teachers actually make a difference at all — I read it as saying, in a very sarcastic way, that the arguments being made by the deformers are quite flawed because they claim that experienced teachers do NOT make a difference and, in fact, are detrimental yet the highest scoring students (all that matters to the deformers, is, after all test scores) are actually the students who have the most experienced teachers, which completely refutes their argument for ridding teachers of job protections by their own flawed standards.

    They ignore the cognitive dissonance and blithely continue to spread their lies and ignorance, successfully destroying the lives and careers of veteran teachers and ruining the education of uncounted numbers of poor children. This is evil pure and simple. Teacher of America — WAKE UP! It’s time to fight back!

    1. My brain turns off when I read words like “evil” in this context. Shame. We might have found common ground.

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